Management failed New Zealand fire service
Canterbury’s firefighters have “finally been heard” after a damning report found their senior managers were disorganised, isolated, and failed to support their staff with basics such as food and water as they fought to save lives after the February 2011 earthquake.
The New Zealand Fire Service yesterday released an independent review of its management team in the first 12 hours after the earthquake hit.
The review, carried out by West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service chief executive and Chief Fire Officer Simon Pilling, found that while operational firefighters responded with great courage, they were failed by their management on a number of levels.
Firefighters were not provided with food or water in the first few hours, key machinery was not mobilised and communication was poor.
Firefighters had to rely on cellphones due to radio infrastructure going down, and it was six hours before operational staff heard from the three senior managers who were in the city.
The latest inquiry follows an internal review last year, which identified a “disconnect” between staff and managers that had not been addressed.
Other key findings in the latest report included:
Executive officers who were immediately available and reported for duty lacked organisation.
No critical mistakes were made, but opportunities to review command structures and options were not taken.
More support could and should have been provided to operational crews and commanders at rescue sites.
Some long-standing workforce relationships were brought to the surface by the event and exacerbated problems.
It dismissed claims that management did not act professionally.
New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union southern president Denis Fitzmaurice said the report vindicated the concerns the union had over managers’ actions that day.
“They didn’t do the job we needed them to do. The resourcing, the food, the water and to organise the sites in a way that the operational officers actually on the sites didn’t have to think about that.”
He said staff were satisfied they had finally been heard, and their concerns acted on.
National Commander Paul Baxter said some of the problems identified in both inquiries had already been remedied.
These included changes in personnel at senior management level in the region, which had improved the working relationship with staff.
Baxter said those first few hours were “always going to be difficult”.
“We didn’t have food and water for a start. With the amount of rescue workers coming into the operation, there was scant information about where people were even operating,” he said.
However, “once calm came about, much better incident management evolved”.
Baxter said he commissioned the external inquiry because he continued to hear from staff that “everything hadn’t been heard” despite last year’s internal review.
Baxter estimated the cost of the review at less than $20,000.
The Fire Service would work with the union and staff to develop a joint action plan based on the review’s recommendations, which would be implemented regionally and nationally, he said.
– © Fairfax NZ News