Christchurch fires: why were career firefighters stood down on first day?

Posted: February 18, 2017 by Admin in At the coalface, Class Matters, Community organising, Firefighters, Morbid symptoms, New Zealand politics, Unions - NZ, Workers history, Workers' rights
Pic: Stuff

Pic: Stuff

by Susanne Kemp

This is a question the union (NZ Professional Firefighters Union) is trying to get the answer to.

In a NZPFU press statement on Friday (Feb 17) the union’s secretary, Derek Best, revealed, “Christchurch Fire Service Crews (career firefighters) were stood down and told to return to Stations while the catastrophic Christchurch fires continue to burn.”

Derek further stated, “Rural Fire Officials in charge of the incident stood down all career firefighters battling the blaze. The order to stand down was given at nightfall in day one; leaving career firefighters frustrated, bewildered and disappointed.

“The fire was left to burn out of control and the frustrated firefighters could see the flames from their Stations. Ninety minutes later, the alarm was and re-raised and Christchurch firefighters responded back to find the fire had gained significant momentum and was seriously threatening many properties.

“As a result of returning to the locality from which they had been stood down from, they saved at least six houses from total destruction.”

As the union press statement noted, this raises the question of  whether any houses at all would have been lost if the career firefighters were not stood down.

A crucial point in the tactical command decisions made on the first day, which the union describes as “significantly flawed”, is where decisions are going to be made.  As the union statement noted, “Incidents must be controlled on the incident ground – not in an office many kilometres away.”  Moreover, as Derek Best also noted, “career firefighters never leave a fire unextinguished.”

The union is calling for an urgent full and independent Inquiry into this incident.

What happened in this case also emphasises the importance of what the union is saying about the new Fire and Emergency service (FENZ).  Current plans, which essentially ignore all the points made by the union in its submission on FENZ, involve putting at the top of the new outfit a bureaucrat with no experience in the industry and giving more power to rural fire chieftains at the expense of career firefighters.

What happened on the Port Hills might just be a small taste of what we can expect if FENZ goes ahead in its current planned form.  As we’ve said here before, the whole of the working class has a stake in ensuring the best possible fire and emergency services.  Get informed about what is being proposed with FENZ and why the firefighters’ union is arguing against much of what is currently being set up.

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