Last week we continued the campaign for presumptive legislation to recognise firefighters’ occupational cancer with more visits to Members of Parliament.

We are continuing to meet with Members of Parliament across the political spectrum to inform them of the wealth of evidence that has demonstrated the nexus between firefighting and occupational cancer; the preventative measures taken to reduce the risk and the internationally accepted mechanism of presumptive legislation to ensure firefighters’ can access their entitlements as they would for any other work-related illness.

NZPFU is indebted to the IAFF and international expert/firefighter/lawyer Winnipeg Firefighters Union President Alex Forrest for his incredible energy and dedication to having firefighters’ occupational cancer recognised. Understandably the scheduled campaign was impacted by the devastating shootings in Christchurch. However Alex remained focused and tirelessly travelled the length of NZ meeting with MPs, media and hundreds of firefighters to educate, and promote the need for the recognition of occupational cancers.

  • Five media interviews
  • 10 meetings with MPs and relevant officials
  • Briefing NZPFU Union Committee
  • Briefing FENZ ELT
  • 14 station visits including in Wellington, Hastings, Napier, Christchurch, Invercargill, Dunedin and Auckland

In addition to the campaign for presumptive legislation, the NZPFU continues to push for better uniform and decontamination procedures to reduce the impact of exposures where possible.

The NZPFU has requested that FENZ undertake the following actions with urgency:

  • Undertake due diligence in determining the best hood available to minimise the absorption of toxins and carcinogens. The hoods have not been reviewed for about 10 years and in recent times technology has developed considerably in developing hoods and fabric for better protection. A review of the best practice in hoods is long overdue and needs to be done with priority.
  • In the interim every career firefighter and trainer should have access to a clean hood for every fire and training exercise. A cache of hoods should be available so that all used hoods are sent for cleaning after every fire, or live-fire burn. We ask that every station/training ground ensures this is provided and that it is standard operating procedure to use a clean hood for every time.
  • Decontamination including shower facilities should be available at or after every fire.. Trainers are a priority due to the known repeated exposures and are to shower in between each live fire burn. There are decontamination units available for deployment to fires, or firefighters should be relieved so that they can shower within the hour.
  • Trainers should be issued with 4 sets of PPE so that they can comply with the required decontamination/cleaning procedures and have a clean set for every burn. Trainers should have the priority for additional sets of PPE.
  • FENZ seek the appropriate medical advice/procedure for screening for occupational cancers and offer the testing to all career firefighters and trainers. Trainee firefighters should be offered screening at the start of their training which would provide a clear baseline before being exposed through training. All other career firefighters should also be offered and be encouraged to undertake the necessary screening so that any change can be identified and acted upon. For example, male firefighters should be encouraged to have PSAs tested in their 40s and 50s – much earlier than the general population due to the known significant increased risk of prostate cancer.
  • The NZPFU continues to pressure FENZ to offer PFAS blood testing, and to test all training grounds in the first instance. FENZ is brining international expert Commander Mick Tisbury to New Zealand to provide critical information and assistance for the appropriate testing and screening for PFAS. While we are pleased that FENZ is now seeking advice from the experts, this matter needs to be given urgency to ensure all practicable steps are being taken to provide a safe workplace.

In unity, 
Wattie Watson 

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