Well a lot has happened since my last blog. Firstly, thanks to everyone who sent in their submissions on the proposals for the organisational structure and application of rank. An unprecedented level of engagement from our membership since the 90’s!

The major fire at the convention centre in Auckland happened, thankfully only a few minor injuries, however a lot of frustration around facilities for firefighters, aerial appliances and tactics. I’ll talk further on this later and interesting to hear and see what could have developed into a major fire in Wellington this week, was extinguished extremely efficiently and quickly using 2 HEP’s (hydraulic elevated platforms, old terminology) aerials immediately showing the value of having aerials in service.

There is still so much going on behind the scenes that needs communicating. National Union reps are still heavily involved in all aspects of training, from training course attendance and policy refinement, building the policy and process around live fire training including safe systems of work and decontamination, swift water rescue training, trainer ID and development and more policy.I note that new improved flash hoods have been issued to the live fire trainers at NTC as they are our most exposed members, this is ahead of a planned review of our current hoods.

Our reps and SME’s are involved and trying to get traction in the type 3 fleet space with a set of requirements being prepared for a tender process for our future fleet. Regarding the aerial fleet, we asked Local committees to identify SME’s. This group will be led by Vice President Joe Stanley and will meet in Wellington soon over a day or 2 to work through the Union’s position on an aerial strategy. This strategy will then be presented to FENZ fleet governance group as the official Union position. This is the same process we used when developing our position around rank and amalgamation which is still the most useful and coherent approach seen regarding rank and role.

We are developing our responses to FENZ’s proposed performance measurement framework. This is a piece of work that should allow measurement against what we say we will do and what we actually do in terms of response, reduction, prevention and recovery. This document needs strong input from operational firefighters, experienced Fire Risk Managers and Comcen Dispatchers so that we can effectively measure performance, identify opportunities for improvements and specific differences for geographical areas and not just maintain the status quo

We are progressing a strong Union position on the review of the Fire and Emergency Levy. This process was initiated by Minister Tracey Martin and is led by the Department of Internal Affairs. It will be undertaken in two parts, the first part will end on 5 Feb 2020 and the next part could be out to 1st July 2024 depending on the outcomes of part 1. We will keep you across our submission to the DIA and our early thinking is a property (real estate) levy, vehicle registration levy, one that can be scaled up depending on any increase in activities due to our increased mandate from Section 12 of the FENZ Act 2017, one that makes strong connections to the work we are required to do under the Act and the different ways of working identified in the Operating Model.

The 31st annual Union conference is being held in Invercargill this year between 27th and 29th November. We have a very busy agenda, including presentations from Firesuper trustees, Australian UFU delegates and more professional development of our Union reps by an external consultant following up on conference in Auckland earlier this year.

Back when we had a joint CEO and National Commander, Paul Baxter, he was very big on owning our limitations and mistakes so that we could all learn and develop and make us safer. The Union was on board with this and encouraged our members to be vulnerable, honest and open about what happened at incidents so that we all could benefit from any insights. So, imagine my disappointment upon hearing the comments from some commanders when asked to comment on the Auckland convention centre fire. Comments like nothing would have changed around having the proper number of aerials in attendance earlier, statements like the smoke isn’t dangerous and plenty of others that will hopefully be dealt with in the reviews.

I am frustrated with the position of senior people not being completely open and honest about the inadequacies of response by aerials, not owning those facts and seemingly ignoring or covering them up completely, undermining everything we have been trying to achieve in those opportunities to be honest, acknowledge any shortcomings and to ultimately allow us to prepare better in the future. I am confident that many firefighters will see this missed opportunity by our leaders to be open and honest, not only in front of the public but more importantly in front of their firefighters, to lead by example.

I urge all Career Professional Firefighters to continue to open and honest, to be vulnerable so that we can all learn and grow and NOT to follow the example set by some senior managers/commanders by denying and covering issues up.

We have learnt lessons too; the media can grab onto phrases and comments and use them out of context to sensationalise certain aspects of the job. I was disappointed in our lack of information control/security around the well-crafted survey conducted by the Auckland Local. Unfortunately, this was not reflected in the coverage of our concerns in the media and we will continue to raise issues and concerns in the appropriate forums and reviews moving forward.

Sadly, the behaviour of some of our commanders in the Auckland debrief is consistent with what we saw during the review of the Tasman fire.If you believed everything that came out of senior people within FENZ it was a roaring success. Unfortunately, the review into the Tasman fires paints a different picture. One where opportunities abound, to reduce confusion, improve strategy, tactics, direction and command, improve structures, improve cohesion and providing impetus to increase training in many aspects and roles. After reading this review, I can see why rural needed to be brought into FENZ. There needs to be major investment in the rural sector, and it is less about appliances and more about leadership, command and control and coordination and training, training, training.

This Tasman review gives even more credence to the Union’s view that rural needs to be kept separate from urban. That rural managers/commanders need further development, that rural prevention, education and reduction work needs a lot more work! FENZ need to worry less about trying to get rural to be able to cross over into managing and commanding urban fires and have them concentrate on their specialty, rural fires and incidents. There is more than enough work there to warrant rural only managers.

Which brings me to the drive to unify or unification. To me, the term unification has been overused and misused and misunderstood. To be unified or to achieve unification we all need to be unified in our thinking, i.e. what we are here for, the protection of lives and property and unified in our actions, i.e. we all respond in our own ways to achieve what we are here for, the protection of lives and property.

Unification isn’t unification of function. Organisations do not need to unify functions, i.e. have everybody doing what everyone else is doing which is what is being proposed. NHQ for instance is unified in thought and action but not function. The payroll people aren’t expected to do what the legal people are expected to do and so on. But we all work towards and have that common unified goal, saving life and property.

Despite my reservations around the unification the NZPFU will be ensuring that throughout the process the bar will remain high and that our safety, professionalism and leadership is NEVER compromised.

As always, stay safe

Ian Wright 
New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union

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