The New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union has responded to claims of sexual misconduct from a group of volunteer firefighters.
In a blog post, NZPFU president Ian Wright said he’d struggled to sleep since hearing the sexual assault and harassment allegations, first reported by 1 NEWS.
“The stories of these courageous women revealed a sea of desperation, inaction, cover-ups and just downright disgusting behaviour within some Volunteer Brigades and by some individuals including those they went to for help.”
1 NEWS has spoken to five volunteer firefighters who say they have experienced sexual assault, harassment, and bullying by colleagues within Fire and Emergency New Zealand.
Mr Wright said while professional firefighters are not part of the incidents reported, they still have a duty to keep “work families safe”.
He also expressed concern over continued broad statements about the entire agency’s "culture" needing to change.
“Not all of our culture needs to change. These sexual attacks and acts of aggression did not occur because of a culture. These were individuals who felt they had the right to abuse, demean and assault women.”
But, he said, if the alleged cover-ups and attempts to force complainants out of the service are an ingrained "culture" within the leadership of the organisation, FENZ chief executive Rhys Jones must condemn it.
“I feel Rhys Jones missed an opportunity to put some very clinical and direct statements specifically calling out behaviours that are abusive, assaulting and in some cases illegal. These women talk about delays, poor communication, a boy’s club closing in on the victims and a general lack of action across many layers of the organisation, to me this is the culture that needs to be addressed.”
Mr Wright said any female members, volunteer and professional, are able to approach the union for support.
Mr Jones, Fire and Emergency New Zealand's chief executive, is yet to front to 1 NEWS about the allegations made.