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Crews called to cover

Remutaka has been without a fire crew as firefighter staff shortages in central Wellington meant Remutaka Fire Station had to be called in to cover shifts.

The shortage left Remutaka Hill, Whitemans Valley, Maymorn and parts of Kaitoke Regional Park without a dedicated fire crew to respond on Saturday.

Neighbouring stations were expected to cover areas normally covered by Remutaka. In the past, Featherston Fire Station had responded to fires on both sides of Remutaka Hill, including in March this year when a campervan exploded on the Wellington side.

In response, an alert was raised by the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union [NZPFU], who say underfunding by Fire and Emergency New Zealand [FENZ] has caused staff shortages, which were resulting in a ‘fire crisis’.

District Manager Nick Pyatt said Remutaka officers were called in to help relieve sick leave in the Te Aro.

“Yesterday [Saturday] we had two frontline fire appliances booked off service in Wellington due to staff availability. Like many organisations we are dealing with higher than normal levels of sick leave at the moment, which is impacting the availability of our personnel.

“We made arrangements to cover these appliances, as is usual when fire appliances are unavailable. This included bringing an appliance from Remutaka Fire Station to Wellington City Station for the day to ensure the city was covered while there were significantly higher numbers of people in town.”

Pyatt said the movement of the truck meant other fire stations had to cover the area left by Remutaka’s absence.

“Upper Hutt continued to be covered by Trentham and the neighbouring volunteer stations.

“We continued to respond to all emergencies across the district.”

The same day saw critical staffing levels at 111 call centres across New Zealand, with empty desks across the northern, central and southern communication centres. At times, just three call-takers were working, covering the entirety of New Zealand.

Firefighters have said it was not just better wages they were striking for but were facing burnout from working sometimes 100-hour weeks, had poor working conditions, no mental health support and were driving trucks and using equipment that was in urgent need of repairs.

Union members began a partial strike on June 13 after 99 per cent of members rejected an offer put forward in April.

Before launching strike action, negotiations had been going on for over a year.

While the strike would not yet affect firefighters’ response to emergencies, it would stop members from completing mandatory administrative tasks including gathering statistics, non-essential paperwork, training and attending conferences.

NZPFU was contacted but was under a mutual agreement with FENZ not to engage with media while bargaining was underway.

George Shiers
George Shiers
George Shiers is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age interested in politics and social issues. He reports regularly on a range of topics including infrastructure, housing, and transport. George is also the Tararua reporter and helps cover police, fire and court stories.

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