Work already underway to address dire mental health outcomes

The Report (attached) of the Whanaungatanga Wellbeing Survey is grim reading with nearly one in three career firefighters meeting the criteria for one or more mental ill health indicators and Communication Centre dispatchers reporting this highest rates of mental health issues when compared to other roles in the organisation.  In addition to the exposures to trauma through emergency response, the survey found only 6.6% career firefighters felt supported by FENZ as an organisation.

The high levels of mental ill health are deeply concerning.  The survey report is significant as the participants were surveyed on the exposures to trauma through emergency response, and the impact of organisational factors on their experiences at work.

The census survey was independently conducted online in March 2023 by Auckland University of Technology as part of the Whanaungatanga Programme.  The survey was open to FENZ employees 1736 participating including more than 70% of firefighters and a high rate of Comms Centre staff participating.  The high response rate means the report is an analysis of one of the highest-quality data sets on the mental health of first responders internationally. We thank all NZPFU Locals responsible for the high participation rate through by engaging with members on the importance of the survey and supporting them to participate.

The March 29023 survey provides a baseline of participants’ mental health and the survey will be repeated in 2024 to assess any impact of interventions initiated during  that period.

The purpose of the survey was:

  • To measure current levels of employee’s mental health
  • To measure organisational factors like perceptions of accountability and support
  • To look at how those factors impact on the employee’s mental health
  • Establishment a baseline in order to be able to measure the effectiveness of any interventions put in place

Some of the key findings of the March 2023 survey included:

Mental ill health indicators

  • 92.8%  firefighters and 39.0% of non-uniformed personnel reported at least one Post Traumatic Events (PTE) exposure (directly, indirectly or witnessed) in the last 12 months of their work with FENZ
  • 40.1% of firefighter and 19.1% of uniformed managers were exposed to 20 or more PTE exposures in the last 12 months
  • Uniformed Comms Centre staff reported the highest rate of PTE exposures with 74.5% in the last month and 81.8% in the last 12 months
  • In general the prevalence of mental ill health indicators increased with length of service
  • The findings of mental ill health are consistent with international prevalence rates of depression, anxiety, and PTSD in firefighters and other emergency responders

Perceived organisational support

  • Nearly 3 in every 4 surveyed reported a strong sense of pride in being part of FENZ but that sense of pride declines as the length of service increases.
  • Only 13.2% of all respondents and 6.6% of firefighters felt supported by FENZ as an organisation but 80.7% reported positive perceptions of support from co-workers
  • One in 4 reported feeling prepared to serve their community and rates were highest among non-uniformed managers (43.4%) and lowest among uniform firefighters (19.0%).
  • One in 10 survey respondents agreed that the organisation exhibited accountability for its actions and 23.8% held positive perceptions of organisational competence.
  • Those who felt supported by FENZ as an organisation were between 5-12 times more likely to express a strong commitment to the organisation and 2-5 times less likely to express and intention to leave the organisation
  • Perceptions of support between uniformed and non-uniformed staff were low
  • Cynical attitudes towards the organisation were between 2 and 4 times less likely among those that held positive perceptions of organisational support, accountability and competence.
  • About a third of all respondents agrees they could freely bring up issues without fear of reprisal and this was higher among non-uniformed managers (64.3%) and the lowest rates among uniformed firefighters (24.4%) and communications centre staff (25.9%)
  • About a third of those surveyed reported turning up for work when unwell with higher rates reported for  uniformed comms centre staff (46.6%) and other uniformed employees (40.8%)

Maladaptive coping mechanisms

  • Uniformed firefighters and uniformed managers had the highest rates of potentially hazardous drinking patterns while the communications centre staff had the lowest rates with the heavy episode drinking on at least a weekly basis, and at least a month much higher among males.
  • A third of uniformed firefighters and 27.4% of all respondents reported high emotional numbing (detach from emotions to deal with distress and trauma) which increased with increasing years of service.

Positive wellbeing

  • About a third of all respondents and a third of uniformed firefighters reported high life satisfaction for their overall quality of life
  • Communication centre staff has the lowest rate of high life satisfaction at 19%
  • Uniformed firefighters had the highest rate of job satisfaction (44.7%) with 42.1% of all respondents reporting job satisfaction (job security, positive workplace relationships, high autonomy and low-levels of work-related stress).
  • 32.7% of survey respondents and 34.5% of uniformed firefighters reported high levels of resilience
  • Employees with 3-5 years’ service reported the lowest rates of high resilience (28.4%)
  • Post-Traumatic Growth is the potential for positive change following traumatic or life-changing circumstances.  Overall 29.2% of all respondents reported high levels of post-traumatic growth with uniformed firefighters (26.5%) and communications centre staff (22.4%) reporting the lowest rates.  

We cannot ever fully mitigate the impact on firefighters and comms centre dispatchers regularly exposed to trauma while serving and protecting the community, but we can improve and work to eliminate the workplace environment and the organisational factors that are causing harm to mental health.   

The low rates of perceived operational support is not a surprise as NZPFU members have been reporting low levels of trust in their equipment and fleet which directly impacts on their ability to protect the community and their own health and safety.  The disconnect from FENZ as an organisation and the lack of accountability by management for their actions also not a surprise but we now have a credible independent report that demonstrates the impact that has on wellbeing and mental health.  

The 2023 Wellbeing Survey is just the start of the story.   

In addition to the survey workshops have been undertaken and an interventions project team has been established in Te Hiku (Region 1) listed below with Jeffrey Shrimpton and I attending as NZPFU representatives.  This is a pilot for the identification, discussion and implementation of interventions to be put in place to address key stressors identified in the survey.  This is being done on a pilot basis and the impact of those interventions will be assessed in part through a repeat of the wellness survey in 2024. Work is also being done to put in an appropriate process to identify appropriate support and interventions for the communications centre staff.

These interventions will be in addition to any other initiative or programme including the NZPFU-FENZ Psychological Supervision Pilot that was launched recently. For more information on that pilot including who can participate go to https://www.nzpfu.org.nz/news/psychological-support-and-supervision-pilot-launched/. We are pleased to report a third of the available places have already been snapped up.

Interventions Project Team
Blair Kiely (Group Manager, IDT Chair) 
Kate Bone (Principal Advisor, SHW) 
Andy Chappell (National Manager, Wellbeing) 
Josh Darby (SFF, Project Lead) 
Ivan Millan (SO, Akl Local, Blue) 
Jamie Whitehead (SO, Akl Local, Green) 
Becs Gray (Programme Manager, NHQ)

District Manager
Brad Mosby (DM, Counties)  

Group Manager
Dave Woon (GM, City) 
Phil Larcombe (GM, Counties) 
Rochelle Martin (GM, City) 
Shaun Thornton (GM, Waitemata) 

Firefighter
Steve Bolton (SSO, Auckland, Green) 
Brad Harvey (SSO, Counties, Blue) 
Terry Bird (SO, Waitemata, Local President, Green)  
Leon Mallard (SFF, Counties, Red)  
Nicky Lafferty (SFF, Waitemata, Brown)  
Reuben Otto (SFF, Whangarei, Red)  
Zoe Feau (FF, Waitemata, Blue) 

While the focus of the Wellbeing Survey Report has been primarily firefighters and comms centre staff, we recognise that the organisational stressors affect all members. The  NZPFU is committed to active involvement in the identification and introduction of effective and safe mental health initiatives and programmes for all members. 

In unity,
Wattie Watson
National Secretary

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