South’s firefighters lead counselling statistics

Southern firefighters are leading the country in accessing counselling.

New figures have also revealed one in five professional Fire and Emergency NZ (Fenz) staff in the South have used a "psychological first aid" peer support programme, amid a significant increase in the number of medical and crash calls for the region’s crews.

About 10% of the 204 career Fenz staff in Region 5 (Otago and Southland) used employee assistance programmes contracted by the organisation in the first half of last year, more than double the proportion of paid staff in any other region using the programmes, according to data released under the Official Information Act.

Over the same period, 20% of paid staff in the South used the Fenz peer support programme.

The Otago Daily Times last year reported firefighters across Otago were attending a steadily rising number of crashes and medical calls — the number of rescues, vehicle crashes and medical incidents attended by fire crews in Otago had increased by nearly 40% since 2014.

A Fenz spokesman said the employee assistance programmes provided counselling and related services.

In comparison, the organisation’s peer support programme was the first port of call for firefighters needing help, the spokesman said. Peer support was described as a "psychological first aid and early intervention programme",  delivered in-house by trained Fenz staff.

"Peer support is accessed when work-related issues, including critical incident issues, are affecting someone’s wellbeing and operational readiness."

Staff were referred to the employee assistance programmes by peer supporters when required.

However, a much lower proportion of volunteer firefighters were accessing help compared with paid Fenz staff, the figures showed.

Sixty of the 1866 volunteers in the South (3.2%) used peer support between January and June last year, while less than 1% used the employee assistance programmes.

The Fenz spokesman said it was unknown why a much lower proportion of volunteers sought help compared with paid staff.

Asked why a greater proportion of career staff in the South accessed employee support last year compared with anywhere else in the country, the spokesman said two traumatic events involving the deaths of colleagues in 2017 might have led to more firefighters in Otago and Southland seeking help.

That said, a majority of career staff accessed the employee support programmes for issues arising from outside the workplace. The spokesman said 36% of all issues raised by paid Fenz staff related to work.

Of those, about 13% were linked to "critical incidents", such as motor vehicle accidents and medical events.

Beyond peer support and employee assistance, Fenz also made psychologists available to staff and volunteers. The figures revealed 6.4% of career staff and 2.4% of volunteers in Otago and Southland used psychologists between January and September last year, the highest proportion of volunteers in the country, and the second-highest ratio of career staff, behind Region 4 (the rest of the South Island).

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