The firefighters’ union is calling for better first aid training and support for its members as they face the prospect of responding to more medical emergencies.
A potential new arrangement with St John Ambulance could mean firefighters are called out more regularly to medical events.
“You get called to something that you don’t know what you’re doing, like a birth, we’ve had members responding to births,” says Ian Wright, president of New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union.
Firefighters are defibrilating on average about 120 patients a year prior to St John arrival according to Dan Ohs, assistant director of operations at St John.
“Those patients have on average a three per cent higher rate of survival,” he said.
The Firefighters’ union is worried firefighters will be regularly called to less serious cases. With an ambiguous line in the draft agreement that states "other incidents by exception".
It enables St John to request fire services to attend certain co-response incidents earlier, Mr Ohs says.
“We anticipate that this would be one to three times a day."
Mr wright said: "If this MOU gets brought in place, we’ll know that any time of the day or night we could go to someone that’s not dead, that we’re not trained to treat, we don’t have the right equipment to treatment to treat them, it’s just not fair.”
Increasingly dealing with death is taking a toll on firefighters.
“Our suicide rate in the last few years has gone, you know, crazy,” says firefighter Jeff Shrimpton.
The stresses of the job, according to Mr Wright can cause post-traumatic stress disorder issues, eating disorders, sleeping disorders and increased anxiety.
Firefighters are calling for more support to match the increase in their workload.
“We’re really trying to understand the implications, so our goal is to make sure that our people are trained for what they are going to attend and the ambulance sector provides that training,” said Brendan Nally, Fire and Emergency New Zealand deputy chief executive.