Members will remember that some time ago the Local raised several concerns with Fire & Emergency around the planning and staffing of the Prada and America’s Cup.
After a devastating house fire in Parnell, where the closest appliance at Parnell was unable to immediately respond due to a lack of staffing provided by FENZ for the America’s Cup, an Official Information Act request was lodged requesting information on the planning, staffing and general preparation for the Cup and marine response capabilities of Fire & Emergency.
The Local has finally received answers to our request, albeit after the event, however, some of the answers received are quite alarming:
Q. We asked if Fire & Emergency had a tactical, operational or local plan for maritime incidents on the Waitemata Harbour.
A. No Fire and Emergency does not have a maritime response capability in Auckland.
The Local is astounded that Auckland, the "City of Sails" has NO maritime response capabilities provided by Fire & Emergency. Waitemata Harbour is one of the country’s busiest harbours, Auckland has a major port facility, several large marinas, berthing for "Super Yachts", shipyards and boat manufacturing, berthing for fishing and trawling fleets, and a countless number of boating ramps allowing recreational boat owners access to the Harbour.
According to Fire & Emergency, they only provide a small cache of equipment, based at Parnell, to allow firefighters to respond to "land-based fires on any of our islands". FENZ focuses on local marine rescues as Category 1 Search and Rescue Operations under control of NZ Police. However, as career staff know, firefighters can and do respond to fires on vessels on the Waitemata Harbour all the time, a fact that FENZ seems to conveniently forget. Our firefighters respond to these incidents with little to no on-water training or operational procedures. Instead of robust operational procedures and training, Career staff are forced to rely on experience and common sense to deal with marine incidents, some of which can be complex and resource demanding.
Q. Was any additional training carried out for Fire & Emergency personnel in preparation for the America’s Cup?
A. Training was provided by NZ Police Maritime Unit, which consisted of Safety on Vessels, Vessel Equipment, Person Overboard, Slow speed boarding, setting up firefighting equipment.
This training was conducted in less than 4 hours with no associated level of qualification. In fact, the Local believes this is the same training that all personnel that board Police Vessels receive and wasn't specifically designed for, or intended, for firefighters. Simple questions such as asking firefighters if they could even swim were not carried out.
Unfortunately, in the Local’s view, this is a serious accident waiting to happen.
Q. How much was budgeted and allocated: for training of Fire & Emergency personnel; implementation of any planning; additional Fire & Emergency staff costs for the America’s Cup?
A. No specific budget was allocated for planning or training for the America’s Cup event.
This is staggering; no additional training funding had been allocated or budgeted for the event, and staff were required to take part whilst maintaining business as usual operations. An international sporting event of National significance shown around the world had no allocated funding for training, planning or operation. It was only through direct pressure from the Union that Local Management finally agreed to staff the Parnell "Boat Van" with firefighters, in addition to the normal firefighting truck at Parnell, to prevent a repeat of the house fire response that had occurred.
Q. If Fire & Emergency is dependent on another organisation, is there a Memorandum of Understanding?
A. There is NO Memorandum of Understanding that addresses maritime capability.
Once again, the Local is amazed that no official agreement exists detailing how emergency response organisations can, and should, work together for maritime response. With us being an island nation, the Local would have assumed that official response agreements would be in place between Fire & Emergency and the major maritime response organisations such as NZ Police, Coast Guard and the NZ Defence Forces.
With the Fire Emergency Act specifically giving FENZ a mandate to respond to transport accidents, of which events on the water are considered as such, one would be forgiven for assuming that they had the capability to fulfil that mandate. Rather, it seems that FENZ decides if it has the "capability to assist”, then it can (and does) choose to opt out and leave it for other emergency organisations. This is a clear dereliction of duty and is a gross failure of FENZ to fulfil their statutory mandate.
Instead of seeking additional funding, staffing and training from the Government to ensure that it can fulfil its obligations as defined under the Act, FENZ Executive Leadership choose to hide behind legal technicalities, deciding whether the organisation has the capability or additional capability for any function, calling it a matter for FENZs’ discretion.
The Local is disturbed that the safety of the public of New Zealand is at the mercy of the discretion of Fire & Emergency and its "capability to assist". In reading the Act, one would not be wrong to think that this would instead be an obligation to lead. The Local believes that the drafters of the Fire & Emergency Act intended for the organisation to plan for and respond to various emergency events, of which maritime incidents are one specifically named. It is unlikely that the drafters envisaged that FENZ would not have the capability to respond as they mention it specifically in the Act. The Union would expect that the Board, through the Chief Executive, would ensure that the additional $300 million in funding provided by the Government on the creation of Fire & Emergency would be used to ensure that the organisation is adequately resourced to carry out ALL of the functions in the Act, otherwise why have them in there in the first place.
Unfortunately, this is but one example of Fire & Emergency "dropping the ball" when it comes to planning, staffing, resourcing, fleet, equipment and responding to the multitude of different emergency types that face the public of New Zealand in the 21st Century. Local planning for future event types, population growth, urban sprawl, firefighter staffing, all seem to have been ignored by FENZ.
A movie once popularised the phrase "Show me the Money", and this has never seemed more appropriate than now.
The Union will continue to put questions to Fire & Emergency through Official Information requests asking for answers to these very important questions, and we will keep members up to date as we learn more.