Head of firefighters' association under investigation over sexual assault, harassment allegations

A volunteer firefighter has told 1 NEWS she was sexually assaulted by the head of the United Fire Brigades Association, Bill Butzbach, almost five years ago.

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Bill Butzbach, from the United Fire Brigades Association, is now the subject of an independent investigation.

Sarah, one of two accusers whose last names have been omitted by 1 NEWS to keep their identities anonymous, said the association boss phoned to apologise to her the day after it happened, back in 2016.

“[He] said he’s not a good drunk and he wouldn’t do it again. And I was actually impressed with him doing that and I thought that things might go back to normal, especially if I didn’t do or say anything.”

She said what followed was months of bullying.

Documents obtained by Sarah under the Privacy Act reveal senior members within Fire and Emergency discussed her complaint against Mr Butzbach with him, offering him the chance to edit letters intended to be sent to her.

“He said he’d get his people against me and he did.”

Sarah’s complaint is one of two against Mr Butzbach, who has been stood down as chief executive of the United Fire Brigades Association while the independent investigation is carried out. This follows an earlier investigation carried out in 2018 by a senior public and employment law barrister.

The other complaint involves the alleged sexual harassment of Dean, a former volunteer firefighter.

“He was in front of me and he was just rubbing himself all over me. The next day he rang and profusely apologised. He said it shouldn’t have happened, that he’d been drinking, and that he was sorry about it.”

He alleges Fire and Emergency NZ has protected Mr Butzbach on more than one occasion.

“It’s rotting from the top.”

Another former volunteer firefighter described Fire and Emergency as an “old boys’ network” and said Mr Butzbach is “considered untouchable because he’s so senior”.

1 NEWS has spoken to half a dozen people who say they have experienced or witnessed Mr Butzbach sexually harass and bully other volunteers.

It’s understood there have been multiple attempts in the past to have these issues addressed by both the Fire Service and the association

Emails shown to 1 NEWS also reveal complainants informed the Minister for Internal Affairs, Tracey Martin, about the allegations made against Mr Butzbach.

She said she has not got involved as it’s not part of her ministerial role.

“I don’t have any responsibilities or any abilities to instruct anybody in any of the unions. Secondly, I cannot involve myself in [the] day-to-day processes of FENZ.”

Martin also told 1 NEWS that work is underway to see if legislative changes are needed to fix Fire and Emergency’s complaints process.

“Something is obviously wrong, because otherwise this topic, these women, wouldn’t be coming forward in this way.”

1 NEWS can reveal Fire and Emergency chief executive Rhys Jones was also made aware of the allegations.

Mr Jones has refused to be interviewed by 1 NEWS about the issues for more than a month, and today said he was unable to speak about individual complaints.