This year's NZFS Forum included the latest on the Volunteer Sustainability Survey, a recap on the Christchurch Earthquake response by Paul McGill, and a presentation on the organisation's financial status. Below are some of the highlights from the forum:
Volunteer Sustainability Results Coming Soon
Rachel de Haas of the New Zealand Fire Service reported on the results of the recent Volunteer Sustainability project undertaken by the Human Resources team.
Much of the information that came out of the survey was not surprising, she said, including the fact that word of mouth is the most effective way to recruit new volunteers and that unawareness of what is involved or not knowing anyone at the brigade was the biggest barrier. Results also showed that there is a lack of consistency in recruitment practices between regions and a lack of support to brigades in identifying specific attraction strategies.
On the topic of engagement, de Haas reported that levels are mixed, and that it appears that the NZFS is missing key opportunities to enhance engagement. Once again, it was no surprise that NZFS volunteers feel most valued when they have quality resources, are appreciated by other NZFS employees, and when they have genuine feedback into national initiatives.
The current way the volunteer workforce is structured does not encourage brigades to recruit to a variety of brigade support roles, and there is little or no training for volunteers who carry out administrative or brigade support duties, yet administrative processes for brigades are increasing. De Hass reported that training content and delivery needs to be relevant to the needs of individual brigades.
De Haas also identified some areas of improvement to aid retention. Among others, she said, expenses and reimbursement policies for volunteers need to maintain currency and relevance to the volunteer workforce.
De Haas said that work on the project will continue over the next few years, and that next steps will include publishing the complete research report (due out this month), planning for the recommended initiatives and the development of a new intranet.
The Canterbury Earthquake: Next Time Could be Different
While the Fire Service has not yet completed a full review of the Canterbury Earthquake, the initial sentiment shared by Mike Hall, Dame Margaret Bazley, and Paul McGill is that they are pleased with the Fire Service response.
In his presentation, Paul McGill provided an overview of the chronology of events in the first three days, the NZFS incident management arrangements, Urban Search and Rescue deployment, and consequence and crisis management.
The key, he said, is to learn from it and understand that next time it could be different, depending on a variety of factors. He said initiatives are already being put in place to improve readiness.
McGill made an interesting comparison between the Canterbury Earthquake, which measured 7.1 and hit at 0435 hours, causing no fatalities, and the recent Haiti Earthquake, which struck at 1653 hours at a magnitude of 7.0, and claimed the lives of 230,000 people.
Below, as McGill pointed out, are some of the factors that could be different next time:
- Severity: A 7.8 quake (e.g. Hawkes Bay 1931) has 7 times more ground movement than the Canterbury quake.
- Time of day: Canterbury quake occurred at 0435 on a Saturday morning. A different time would likely have resulted in deaths and/or persons trapped.
- Topography: Canterbury has largely flat terrain. A similar quake in Wellington would be likely to cause landslides and more disruption to transport routes.
- Weather: There was little rain for several days after the event. Heavy rain would make all operations more challenging.
- Entrapments: Persons trapped would require a 24/7 rescue operation and place much higher demands on USAR & emergency services.
- Fires: Luckily, there are no natural gas pipelines in South Island.
New technologies will allow the Fire Service to introduce some exciting improvements in the coming years in various areas. Specifically mentioned during the Fire Service Forum were the following:
- Digital radios - the Fire Service is now in the process of changing fire appliance radios over.
- Allternatives for pagers, with the possibility of replacing them with interactive mobile technology that would enable firefighters to indicate whether they are able to respond to calls.
- New NZFS small and medium tankers, the first of which was on display outside of the conference.
- “Hot fire” training capabilities at the National Training Centre.
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