Firefighters call for change in face of traumatic call outs

Source: 1News

Frontline firefighters are calling for a review of an agreement mandating both they, and the ambulance service, attend every life-threatening call. They say they were never consulted and the added responsibility hasn't been followed with support.

Amiee joined the fire service to save lives, but eight years ago, the job drastically changed.

“We weren't prepared for it and we weren't prepared for the exposure of what we were going to and the after-effects of it.”

In 2014, St John, the Wellington Free Ambulance and the Fire Service signed a memorandum of understanding requiring fire crews to go with ambulance staff to all life-threatening calls.

Fire Service Deputy National Commander Brendan Nally says there was a motivation to relieve the increasing pressure faced by paramedics.

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“We saw that the ambo sector was struggling and they saw that we could help and so it was the coming together of the organisations with the goal of supporting New Zealanders.”

But Amiee, now a senior firefighter, says those on the ground weren’t provided with the resources needed to handle the increased workload.

Senior firefighter Aimee.

“Unfortunately the amount of calls that we are now responding to, our level of support hasn't changed.”

And now, as ambulance crews face increasing demand, firefighters are now often first on the scene at life-threatening incidents.

But while Fire and Emergency say it provides the support required for this work, those on the ground disagree.

“Do you think that workplace first aid is enough training for us to respond to the stuff that we go to?

“No.

“We go to the worst of the calls, we see the worst of things.”

New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union National Secretary Wattie Watson says while ambulance shortages must be addressed, it’s the job of the Government.

“Career firefighters are predominantly supposed to be co-responders, but it’s not co-responding when you're waiting 40 minutes for an ambulance to turn up; it's not co-responding when you have to put a burns victim in the back of your truck and take them to [the] hospital because there is no ambulance coming.”

During this story, 1News interviewed Fire and Emergency staff inside several Dunedin-based stations. But before filming was finished reporters were told by Fire and Emergency that they were no longer allowed to enter the building or talk to staff.

“All they’re doing is perpetuating the pressure of silence and that can only be disastrous for mental health,” says Watson.