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Union: ‘Public put at risk’

A staffing crisis is putting the public at risk, says the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union [NZPFU] after just one operator was fielding emergency calls for the entire Lower North Island.
NZPFU said that on Wednesday night a single dispatcher was on shift at the 111 communications centre in Wellington. The centre responds to emergency calls for the central region, including all of Wairarapa.
“A team of five should be in this emergency centre.
“Fire and Emergency New Zealand [FENZ] is funded to respond to crisis not create a crisis. Instead, there were just empty desks and queuing phone calls.
“FENZ had failed to employ enough staff – putting the public at risk.”
NZPFU said FENZ “didn’t care” that a team of call takers and a second dispatcher were missing.
They said that, after logging in and putting on their headsets, the pair could not leave the building for 12 hours.
The dispatcher also said there were no breaks except for quick toilet breaks.
“I sat there hoping like hell the s**t didn’t hit the fan, because we would get smashed.”
FENZ national manager of communication centres Gavin Travers said that three centres across the country took 111 calls and dispatched fire trucks.
“They operate as one virtual communication centre and assist each other when needed.
“If any one communication centre is busy, overflow calls will divert to the other centres.
“This is business as usual. Each call is picked up by the next available person in any of our three communication centres in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.”
However, NZPFU said that on Wednesday night Christchurch was also short-staffed and Auckland was operating at a minimum level.
“FENZ is refusing to address the staffing crisis and 111 calls can only be answered and dispatched in other centres if there is sufficient staff in those emergency centres too.”
Travers said the unexpected absences were unable to be covered at short notice.
“A dispatcher based in the northern communication centres helped the central communication centre until 1am.
“This did not impact the safety of the public – no 111 calls went unanswered.
Travers said the central communication centre was currently training and bringing on board six new trainee dispatchers.

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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