Strategy highlights importance of firefighter psychological welfare
It could be assumed that firefighters only fight fires but the Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) National Māori Advisor, Piki Thomas says there's more to the job than just that.
“E hia kē ngā tāngata rerekē, ngā mahi rerekē i ēnei rā tonu, ā, ko te whakarauora tāngata i roto i ngā tutukinga motokā, ā, te rauora i ngā tāngata kua waipuketia, ā, te whakarauora i te hunga kua raru i ō rātou nā mahi katoa.”
In 2013 Fire Emergency New Zealand attended more than 5800 medical emergencies, last year those numbers doubled to 10,600.
New data suggests that mental illness and suicide rates are on the rise among NZ firefighters.
While there have been about three suspected suicides in the workforce nationwide in the last year, Groff Purcell, the Fire Service National Area Commander says this isn't an issue isolated to just firefighters.
“Psychological well-being is not just a Fire and Emergency issue it's a national issue across the country and we know that three times more males than females commit suicide. And we're an organisation that has a high percentage of males. Those numbers will relate to our personnel as well.”
Lifeline is a support service for people who are struggling with a wide range of issues and Renee Mathews, Auckland's Lifeline Clinical Manager believes it is important that frontline staffs are trained appropriately.
“It's important that frontline staff get training on coping strategies and being aware of what might happen after you see something really traumatic.”
According to Thomas, they have different support strategies in place to keep Māori firefighters safe.
“Kei reira hoki ngā tūāhuatanga e hāngai ana ki te ao Māori - ko te karakia tērā, te kōrero ā-kanohi tērā, he mahi kōrero ki waenganui i ngā rōpū Māori anō hoki tērā. Nō reira koinei ngā tūāhuatanga kua tāpirihia ki te rautaki tautoko i te hunga Pākehā me kī.”
Meanwhile, Thomas says research is ongoing within the workforce to establish whether or not there's a connection between the job and the mental wellbeing and cases of suspected suicide among its workforce.