The NZPFU is supporting research into the preparedness of firefighters at incidents involving chemical or biological toxins.

Chemical and biological hazard incidents both accidental or intentional present problems for fire fighters whom in a crisis situation may have to work quickly with limited knowledge of the toxic agent to save lives and also protect themselves and the public. New Zealand fire fighters are mandated by legislation to respond and manage incidents that involve hazardous substances. Firefighters and casualties are sometimes themselves exposed to toxic agents that may be encountered in a wide range of incidents including medical incidents with biological hazards (pathogens, bacterial, virus) chemical suicides, clandestine laboratories, industrial accidents and residential properties. Safe and effective response requires “preparedness” that includes sound planning, protocols and procedures along with training, equipment and correct PPE that collectively provide “safe systems of work” to ensure a positive outcome for both casualties and firefighters.

The research is being undertaken by NZPFU member and Hawkes Bay SSO Bryan Dunphy as part of his Masters degree endorsed Occupational Safety and Health. The focus is the health and safety of firefighters in New Zealand and includes a survey of firefighters to collect their experiences of personal exposure, any injuries sustained as a result of responding to an incident involving a hazardous substance or any near miss. The 32-question survey also covers issues such as training and preparedness with responses ranging from not confident to extremely confident for various listed scenarios. There is also an ability to make additional comments.

The NZPFU webmaster has coordinated with the University of Otago technical assistance to ensure the protect the confidentiality of the participant. The demographic information collected will be age, sex, length of service, specific job role - Firefighter or Officer, and ethnicity. The involvement in the survey and the provision of any demographic information is voluntary.  Every NZPFU member who is a firefighter and/or fire investigator will be invited to participate in the voluntary survey. The research has met the University of Otago ethics standards.     

Each invitee will receive will receive an email inviting voluntary participation. The email will be sent from brydun@hotmail.com this week. Please check your emails including the junk folder if you have not received it by the end of this week. Before accessing the survey the participant will be asked to read a Participant Information Sheet (PIS) which includes all information about the survey, the research and an explanation and undertaking as to confidentiality. The PIS includes a consent form before clicking on a link to acknowledge having read the information and consents to take part in the survey. In recognition that recalling incidents may cause distress, the contact details for support and assistance are also provided. As this is a purely voluntary survey, members may choose not to even open the survey if they wish. You can also pause the survey and return to complete it at another time.

The survey responses are all managed in accordance with University ethics requirements. Bryan will get the completed surveys but will not get the identity or email address of the person who completed the survey. The University will know whether the person emailed the survey responded to the survey but will not get their responses to the survey. That way the survey is kept anonymous but the necessary security protections are place to ensure the emailed links cannot be used more than once to prevent someone completing the survey more than once, or distributing the survey to others. Without that security in place the research’s credibility is at stake.

The credibility of research is also reliant on a reasonable cohort of survey participants. The NZPFU encourages our members to participate as this work will assist in identifying training and preparedness needs for types of response that can be particularly dangerous. We also respect the right of our members who choose not to participate.

In unity,
Wattie Watson
National Secretary

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