President's Blog: Heads up 19

It is my view that a crisis of trust is upon us.

As usual there is a lot happening right now, a lot behind the scenes, a lot of personal cases are being dealt with across the country, interviews held and an appointment made for our first industrial officer for the Union, advocacy on the TCF, driver and live fire training, appliances, uniform, Covid 19 (of course) and big ups to the crews around the country and especially Auckland, the crews and the Local Officials who seem to be yo-yoing between levels and struggling to get management to enforce FENZ’s own health and safety procedures.

Its times like these where it is obvious that there are some people who have been employed at FENZ who have not come from a service organisation.  In our sector we do not have competitors and traditional models of restructuring; reducing people, costs, jobs and roles are not appropriate.  This kind of reductionism is at odds with our legislation and operating model even our CEO has stated that we are a growth organisation using phrases like “a new way of working” However, I am struggling to recognise any growth, especially in operations.

Therein lies the paradox, restructuring consultants and travelling reductionist experts do not know anything other than that, the strategies of other organisations do not fit with our service model. We have to rethink our managerial and leadership styles, our operations and actually have strategies that address public and firefighter safety that are actually measurable! We need to take the reigns back from those who are not operating at that level or for that purpose. We need senior operational staff from our ranks to step up and make a difference, to grab and push through the paradigm shift required as I fear the impetus and drive is disappearing and we will be left to languish in the emotional, non evidence based, mess that we have been used to for more years than I’ve been in this job.

We shouldn’t have to, and can’t fit more into what we already provide, we all know we need to provide more for the public, for the levy we all pay, this means having courage and strength to actually do the right thing, for the firefighters so that we can safely and properly provide timely, well trained and experienced response and for the public who deserve nothing less.

One problem is obvious, we have been led to believe that we will help form the change, the restructure, help guide the future of the organisation. However, in practice this is proving not to be true. Local Planning as a case in point, this is perpetuating a crisis of trust.

We continue to advocate the need for local planning as described in Section 21 of the Fire and Emergency New Zealand Act 2017 and specifically accounted for heavily in the new operating model that was extensively consulted on and clearly requires a “plan”. It is logical to everyone in the room during the Target Operating model design; high level and low-level design that local planning meant creating a plan. Something for the organisation, those working within it, the public and the Government can look to and see that FENZ has a forward future looking lens, be able to measure progress in risk assessment and resourcing.

A classic example of this in today’s environment FENZ supporting Volunteer crews being rostered to stay on station at nights and weekends. Clearly, that seems wrong on so many levels. In the past professional career crews were employed and on station 24/7 to maintain the appropriate level of response to the communities. In today’s environment FENZ continues to expect Volunteers who already have their own jobs to spend even more time away from their families.  There should not be an expectation that volunteers will be available 24/7 and will stay on station, or respond to hundreds of calls a year impacting on their families, their work, their employer’s productivity or income.  That is not volunteering, that is providing unpaid labour to avoid paying professional career firefighters to protect the community.  FENZ knows it, but they are having their cake and eating it too and not living their own values. Additionally, where is the concern for the resilience for the volunteers required to work one job and volunteer all night for what should be another person’s job that in fact could be their job?

Let me be clear, no one is trying to stop Volunteer firefighters volunteering.

These circumstances come down to planning.  The NZPFU have repeatedly asked for a robust system where all factors including risk in the response area, population change and forecasts, response times (including volunteer brigade response times), natural hazards etc are considered for planning purposes to meet the current and future needs of the community.  Yet such a system has yet to be presented to us.

Unfortunately, there are those in management that do not recognise that Local Planning requires a plan. It is too inconvenient for the organisations management and tells us that nothing has changed. We are all charged with using an evidenced based approach to everything we do, except however, FENZ management, they can operate in their own ad-hoc way and simply describe it as a “new way of operating” and expect that to be fine.  They appear to be reneging on their commitments of the past, not just for us but for the communities we serve. A crisis of trust exists.

Believe it or not, and I know it’s not a long bow to draw, there are people in this organisation whose values do not include service. Service to the workers, all firefighters or most importantly the public.

An example of behaviour that is creating/perpetuating a crisis of trust is the difficulty we are having getting responses from FENZ management on any number and range of issues. Issues of firefighter safety, issues like involving the Union in decision making.  There appears to be a strategy to isolate the Union or to make it very difficult for the Union to get the necessary information to ensure they are held to account on issues of safety and welfare of their workers, a key responsibility of any trade Union.

Instead of gathering information we have respectfully requested, the FENZ communications team is reporting back to ELT the activity on our social media including which members’ are commenting on the NZPFU posts?!

There’s been a lot of discussion about the UFBA and the way they’ve not handled accusations against their CEO, a former Volunteer Chief and former FENZ employee and operational leader. This simply creates a further crisis of trust, not only with the FENZ board and management and the UFBA but for firefighters and officers around the country who are members of this organisation. We do not get a choice in our membership of the UFBA, we should mobilise and hold that board to account and ask them the tough questions because FENZ management is not nor is the board.  The NZPFU no longer recognises the UFBA now as a credible organisation.  There is no way an investigation into accusations of the CEO should have been stopped by the board chair.

I stand by what I said at the beginning of this blog, we have a crisis of trust, which of course means now is the time for us all to step up.  As union members I encourage you all to step up where you can, whether it be on local, regional or national projects or simply contributing to feedback when asked by management or your Union. Our operational voices need to be elevated now more than ever to ensure this organisation moves in the right direction. You should be asking your managers to be involved in the development of your local Fire Plans Sect. 22 FENZ Act and Local Planning Sect. 22 FENZ Act 2017.

As always, stay safe

Ian Wright

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