It’s been quite a while since my last post, we have been extremely busy but here goes!

Trying times ahead for us all. It’s very sobering reading, listening and viewing what is occurring around the world and what appears to be more than just around the corner for us.

I am taking a lot of heart and confidence from our Prime Minister and the way this Covid 19 has and is being handled by Government.

I am now confident that FENZ is working productively towards ensuring operations is to the forefront of the organisations thinking and planning. But make no mistake, this shift has not happen by chance or by good planning but by a united, informed and determined approach by the NZPFU which has ultimately demanded a more collaborative process and none of you will be surprised that Secretary Wattie Watson is to the forefront here!

What is most comforting is that we now have Uniformed operational firefighters and Professional Firefighters Union members in positions of influence, guiding policy and procedures, asking the tough questions as well as enabling solutions. They are holding the organisation to account, ensuring that the service will be able to still provide a service as this virus grows but maintaining safety for our front-line staff. I am sure you would have noticed this influence in the messaging coming from the National Commander which is now reflecting that contribution and containing more appropriate and usable information.

We now have very experienced Union members on every Regional Covid group across the organisation.  This was not the case at the beginning of this crisis, and I would like to point out one specific regional group who were functioning as such to ignore the voice of the career fire fighters completely, who incidentally undertake the bulk of the work in the region.  At this point I should acknowledge the support of our National Commander who personally helped us remedy this oversight.

We are now in the position where we can reassure our families that the risks we face have be well considered and mitigated across all levels in the organisation.  As emergency service workers we all carry the burden of potentially falling ill and/or contaminating our colleagues and families. This burden will be felt particularly heavy to parents, whose children will be listening and worried for their parent firefighters, I encourage you all to discuss the actual hazards and the steps we are taking to keep ourselves and them safe. Having strong guidance and procedures around our work should give us and our families assurance.  

We have to be vigilant, there are people in very senior and responsible management positions within FENZ that are not operational and have limited experience in the urban context. It is critical through this tranche 2 and 2b phase that is coming up that our SSO’s and SO’s who are extremely well qualified and experienced put their hands up as advisors, and commanders, as operations advisors, there needs to be a focus, a distilling of all the peripheral information back to operations for these senior managers, particularly at this turbulent time.  Yes, we need experienced rurally focused people too, we all know there is much to do in that space to keep the public safe, however, the population and call density is urban, we will need to work hard to stay at the table and to ensure we remain focused, strategically minded and operationally balanced.

It is our clear position that due to the current pandemic and its requirements for attention, that Tranche 2 and 2b is put on hold till later. Now that clearly we are at alert level 4, all other work priorities are taking a back seat. The proposals that were due to be promulgated March April clearly now have to be put on hold. It is also our view that reaction and now the planning of response phase to the pandemic are leading us to reinforce our views that the proposed structure is not operationally sound.

It is still important to understand that there is still some business as usual work that we are doing within the Union and that we must continue to do as firefighters. There are now regular cleaning regimes in place at every station, it is critical that these become business as usual twice a day at least. Handles, phones, light switches, keyboards and computer mice.   We still need to present ourselves to the public as calm, informed, professionals that we know we are.

Now is a great time to start or finish that study we’ve been putting off. Pump op training on station, Skills maintenance, Covid response preparedness and give the stations a deep clean and drive by visits to risks and buildings for familiarisations.

I am very mindful that we are aware of and protect ourselves against fatigue around the whole Covid virus issue and the screeds of written material that is readily available through social media. It is critical that we remain up to date with all information and processes required for response and safety of ourselves and our families.  However, care must be taken to take time away from reading and listening to discussions around the stations and home to keep ourselves as sane as possible!

We need to be aware and understand the stress this will be putting on our older members and those who have pre-existing conditions too. Let’s take the time to give them a call and catch up with them over the phone and keep them updated on station life.

Finally, we can take comfort from our professionalism, skills and training that places us in a great position to be leaders in the wider community and specifically our officers and informal leaders on station and crews. We deal with the unknown, the unusual, the dangerous and the scary on a regular basis. We need to step up again and again, we need to respond to the need of the organisation and the public. These responses will be different than what we have all been used to, movements, cover moves to assist areas that are struggling for crews, perhaps different hours, longer hours perhaps, we can handle this, we will handle this. We have already shown great leadership at Regional Covid groups and especially the two National groups. Justin Murtha from CHCH continues to do stellar work on the whole of organisation work group and Alan Collett on the National Ops work group continues doing fantastic work. New arrivals continue to bolster Kate Hill and Jason Hill, Chris Lind, Quin Webster and James Martin-Bond, Craig Gold and Cam Grylls, all Union members and senior leaders in operations, thought leadership and strategy leadership. We and FENZ would all be in a far worse place if it wasn’t for the work of all these people/members.

Remember, crews rarely need managing, however they always need leading.

Stay safe

Ian Wright
New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union

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