FENZ’S own investigation into the deaths of two Muriwai Volunteer firefighters exposes systemic failures by the organisation in planning, hazard identification, training and appropriate resourcing. The report was hot on the heels of a damning NZQA External Evaluation Review Report into FENZ-provided volunteer firefighter training.

It is the NZPFU’s view that FENZ has failed the Muriwai firefighters, their families and the community. The NZPFU extends its sympathy and support to the families, friends and crews deeply affected by the two line-of-duty deaths.  We hope that FENZ is held accountable to ensure all necessary changes in planning, training and response resourcing are made and done so promptly so that no other family, crew or community has to suffer.

The Muriwai investigation report documents FENZ’s failure to have a centralised planning system that identifies risks and hazards and suggests stations/brigades include a “local landslide susceptibility risk profile in station risk planning activities”.  The Muriwai fatal landslide occurred during Cyclone Gabrielle two weeks after the Auckland Anniversary extreme weather event.  Applying the Muriwai Report suggestion, in the future FENZ places the responsibility and accountability on the local volunteer brigade to have surveyed its response area to identify the landslide risk, and to have reviewed its response area for that risk post the previous storm.  That is absurd aspiration as only specialist geo-technical experts with access to relevant and current data would be able to assess land stability and risk that is not visibly evident.  It is also an unforgiveable attempt to shift the responsibility and accountability for the identification and incorporation of risks into planning and operational response requirements from FENZ management to firefighters including volunteer firefighters.  

It is abhorrent for FENZ to abdicate its responsibility and accountability and to place such unrealistic expectations on brigades. FENZ has failed to undertake the necessary planning as required under the Fire and Emergency Act 2017.  To push the sole responsibility for hazard identification and management down to brigade level is not complying with that requirement and is putting firefighters and the community at risk. The failure to plan has resulted in the key issues the NZPFU highlighted in its Fire Crisis campaign with a fire appliance fleet on its knees and critical state of career firefighter numbers. We have repeatedly raised issues with FENZ’s direction in training, incident command and control and failure to focus on emergency response preparedness.

That includes the lack of planning and resourcing to meet the needs of emergency response including the increasingly common extreme weather events.  FENZ’s response to the Auckland Anniversary extreme weather event was significantly hampered by the lack of planning and preparation.  USAR and NZPFU representatives repeatedly raised prior and post that event the failure to stand up USAR and other available response in time.  It is outrageous that the whole of the Auckland region does not have a fully staffed technical rescue tender as it is ghost-manned. This is despite Local Government support for 24/7 career staff to be appropriately resourced.

FENZ and all other emergency agencies had prior notice of the expected path and intensity of Cyclone Gabrielle and the likely impact it would have on the Auckland region (that had just sustained an extreme weather event that NIWA reported as an entire summer’s worth of rain within a few hours). Four people died in that event including one by a slip in Remuera, and firefighters performed successful rescues from a Manukau Heads house crushed by a landslide.   The potential for widespread flooding and slips was evident.  The danger to the public, their homes and the firefighters was foreseeable.  The Muriwai investigation report lists the preparation undertaken by FENZ and other than standing up the RCC, USAR and the Papatoetoe-based technical rescue tender and establishing staging areas the emphasis was sending out National Safety Notices – none of which prepared or forewarned of possible landslide risks. Nothing was done to prepare for response in landslides or slips.

The Report claims that FENZ is developing a ‘learning package for slip awareness and considerations for responding to land slips”.   The NZPFU understands minimal work has been done but it is not intended to be training at the level where firefighters can assess risk of lands movement types or where land movement signs are not obvious or visible. It will be aimed at increasing awareness of the potential risk and warning signs.

The Report recommendation to review of policy, procedures and training programmes is timely and comes days after the release of a damning NZQA report into FENZ’s volunteer firefighter training.

Damning NZQA Review

The NZQA External Evaluation and Review Report dated 29 June 2021 focused mainly on the Level 2 Volunteer Qualified programme is an epic fail for FENZ and damning when compared to the 2018 Review where NZQA “was confident in both the educational performance and capability in self-assessment of FENZ”.

The Review found FENZ lacks purpose, oversight and resourcing and does not have in place key systems and procedures.

The report is about the management of training and qualifications and not reflective of the dedication and work of the trainers. 

The report found “there are significant gaps and weaknesses in the ability of (FENZ) to support educational performance” and the “evaluators were not assured that the programme is being delivered in accordance with the NZQA approval documents given no programme change applications, organisation and legislative developments, and the move away by FENZ from delivering unit standards”. 

Key findings include:

  • The value, purpose and focus of FENZ is undefined.
  • FENZ is yet to have a governance structure in place as a training provider, and lacks governance support and backing.
  • A quality management system and related academic policies and procedures are not in place.  A management system is in draft but yet to be consulted on.
  • There is insufficient capacity, capability and resourcing to effectively service FENZ as a  Government Training Establishment.
  • FENZ has failed to undertake any programme reviews since 2017 and was unaware that the last date of assessing the Communicators (dispatchers) programme was 31 December 2022.
  • Volunteer Firefighter Trainees arrive at NTC without the required prerequisite skills that should be developed on-station at local brigades.  This results in trainers having to provide additional training which impacts the overall learning opportunities for the cohort.  
  • Trainers also have to develop learner support plans for those that do not successfully complete the training but there is no oversight or monitoring to ensure that training is done or that the trainees receive the appropriate upskilling before returning to NTC.
  • Previously FENZ undertook a mapping exercise which identified three unit standards are not being consistently delivered but FENZ has not remedied that issue.
  • FENZ uses expired unit standards and no pre-moderation of assessment materials.
  • While FENZ data records approximately 80 percent of volunteer firefighter trainees complete the programme only a third of those were awarded the NZQA qualification.  This means there is a lack of oversight or supporting evidence to verify the programme has been successfully completed.
  • There is a lack of quality review processes to ensure the programme is current and the design and delivery meets the needs of the organisation.
  • While trainees provided positive feedback there is no coordinated process to ensure trainees are uniformly prepared for practical training.
  • Previous actions to improve are yet to be implemented.
  • Significant and “yet to be managed” gaps exist in the management of key education-related compliance accountabilities.

The Review lists 8 requirements to be undertaken for FENZ to comply with the NZQA Rules and Regulations, and a further 16 recommendations for improvement.

FENZ has just undertaken a restructure of training which will do nothing to address the issues raised by the NZQA.  

These reports are just two of the latest examples of FENZ failing to have the necessary procedures, resources and personnel in place to undertake necessary emergency response safely. 

FENZ executive management and Board must be held to account for the dire state the organisation is in evidenced by damning external and internal reports.   

Clearly wholesale and urgent change is needed for the protection of the community, and the safety of all those that respond under the FENZ insignia.

In unity,
Wattie Watson
National Secretary  

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