Well we made it back to level 2 without any Professional Career Firefighter infection which means stations remained open and operational. This is in itself a remarkable achievement particularly when you consider what has happened around the world with infection rates amongst firefighters and other first responders. The vigilance in maintaining our bubbles, strict cleaning and sanitising protocols and good solid operational instructions that were developed in collaboration with career firefighters for the whole of FENZ, really has kept everybody safe at work and at home also.
Thank you everyone for doing your bit.
Level 2 will bring it’s own set of challenges with movement and association rules being relaxed. We must remain just as vigilant with physical distancing and our cleaning and sanitising protocols as our bubbles expand in size and we begin to move more freely again. The risk of infection is still there and this next phase will be critical, even though it appears the threat of uncontrolled community infection has passed.
We have a lot to be thankful for. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge all of the Professional Career firefighters that worked on the protection protocols, the operational response levels at local, regional and national levels, our Union leaders who contributed to numerous and lengthy phone conference calls (almost daily in the busiest of times), keeping everyone in the loop, explaining protocols, procedures, mitigating the odd strange decisions being made by some local managers and all our individual concerns regarding PPE.
At the frontline of the Union’s response to PPE has been Justin Murtha from Christchurch. He has done a power of work on standards of PPE, identifying and advising us on what is appropriate and safe for our firefighters to use across the organisation. The evidence Justin provided was compelling and accurate and forced FENZ to concede and finally adopt our recommendations and requirements. I think one of the major challenges was being seen and accepted as emergency medical responders. If it wasn’t for the work of Career firefighters like Justin and Chris Lind explaining and influencing decision makers at Government level, we would still only be seen as Firefighters.
As mentioned in my last blog, we still need to be mindful of Covid fatigue. And yes the irony of that is not lost on me when that’s all I’ve written about so far! However, We must try and be aware of the pressure and weight on our members, our managers and our families. This pandemic will have affected people in many different ways and members, management and families may be acting out differently, or exhibiting altered behaviour without being particularly aware of it. So lets be gentle, lets be aware and share with each other when we notice those changes or alterations. Be kind when you do, and most of all, lets be open to the possibility that this could have changed us, that we may not be aware and therefore lets receive the feedback/information/observations openly and calmly and take some time to reflect, chat to family about it, friends and colleagues and understand and adjust if necessary.
Branch elections are upon us (nominations close at the end of May so not long to go!) and this means the make up of the National Committee. This national structure was developed in the mid eighties, when there were various local Unions, all with their own structures and independent ways of operating. During this time the Union’s were amalgamated to created alignment, strength and efficiencies, this led to the creation of the three branch’s which still stand today - Northern, Central and Southern. This amalgamation also aimed to provide broarder representation from the firefighters across the country on a new National Committee. Both the President and the Secretary’s of each branch became National Committee members, along with the National President, National Vice President and the National Secretary which form the National Council. The responsibilities on our branch officials are heavy, they need to operate in broader and deeper ways in the Union. Branch officials need to maintain communication, connectivity and negotiations with Local officials as they are the first port of call for assistance and advice should they be struggling to influence issues at their local levels. Of course, experience will be gained, there are opportunities for training with the CTU, support from others in the National Committee level, including the council and of course Secretary Wattie Watson who has seen it and dealt with it all in her time!
National Committee members need to be able to read, listen and analyse information and ideas. We rely on our experience while critically considering the benefits and risks. There will be documents to read and comment on and we are not only looking for yes or no’s but reasoned discussions and arguments so that we develop the union’s position or policy on a reasoned basis. We value your experience and different perspectives and while you may not have any speciality subjects per se, you may be a point of contact for an SME, providing feedback and a Union based view on the effects of decisions on the membership and the operation of the organisation as a whole.
I have attached a link to the Duties/Powers/Entitlement of Branch Officials here. The Honoraria is under review.
We are also looking at possible rule changes to include branch Vice Presidents on the National Committee. We are also looking at rule changes that will enable a representative from across the 3 Communications Centres on the National Committee.
We are still working with FENZ to get some traction and action around the Auckland Taskforce recommendations.
We are still waiting on the provision of market pay data from Korn Ferry. We are aware that the State Services Commission has issued guidance for public organisations regarding pay rises during Covid. It is interesting to see that advice recommend that any pay adjustments should go to frontline staff and the lower paid, both of which are professional Career Firefighters.
We have had discussions with FENZ around the recognition for medical response work they committed to in the last round of negotiations. Sadly, despite committing to recognising it, they are saying that there was no budget set aside to meet their commitments. This is still an imperative for the Union and we are working on some alternative solutions until FENZ can meet their commitments. Needless to say there is important and pertinent work to be done by the NZPFU at this time.
That said the Council is beginning to focus on next years negotiations. Very early thinking and planning before bringing in the National Committee, Branch’s and Local’s. Last year we changed the way we process remits to the National Conference. We are splitting them up into process/rules and negotiation claims. We are also planning to be more open about the claims for wages and conditions than previously. We are confident this will result in better outcomes for our members.
Finally, a quick reminder. When the medical response protocols change, officers and crews will still have a responsibility to get full situational awareness around Covid infection or illness at emergencies. We should limit initial exposure whilst securing information and then advise crews on the appropriate minimum level of PPE. I have highlighted the minimum, as we have never stopped firefighters from wearing maximum available protection. In this instance, The minimum PPE for normal medical response calls is a N95 mask, goggles/glasses, medical gloves and long sleeves (ie: wildfire jacket) with the addition of donning coveralls for all medical calls that involve viral symptoms or COVID-19. If viral issue or COVID-19 is unknown, a firefighter can still wear the coveralls as part of their PPE. It is the same principle as airway protection for post fire overhaul. After 45 mins and a continuous clear reading from the gas detector, firefighters can wear APR’s on their mask. If a firefighter wants to wear the maximum available protection, their positive pressure BA, we wouldn’t stop them. Apply the same logic to all emergencies. Minimum protection is just that.. the bare minimum. It is also important to understand that the decisions made about the PPE to be worn at any incident are made after conducting a proper risk analysis. Our main objective is, always, to respond to emergencies with professionalism.
Please remember, we need your personal email addresses so that you can vote in this years Branch elections! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your address if you haven’t already done so!
As always, stay safe