8 Dec 2018

Nine Fire and Emergency staff sacked for misconduct in south

11:25 am on 8 December 2018

By George Block for the Otago Daily Times

Nine Fire and Emergency NZ staff in the South have been sacked or resigned in the past four years, following upheld complaints of bullying, harassment, inappropriate behaviour or poor performance.

Fire truck

Fifteen complaints of inappropriate conduct have been upheld against Fire and Emergency NZ staff in Otago-Southland. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

They were among 35 Fire and Emergency personnel in Otago-Southland investigated for allegations of misconduct since 2014.

Information released under the Official Information Act shows 30 of the staff were volunteers, while five were paid professionals, the Otago Daily Times reports.

Twenty-six of the allegations were upheld, seven were found to be unsubstantiated, and two investigations are ongoing.

Fire and Emergency NZ would not disclose which stations the sanctioned staff were based at or provide further details on the breakdown of paid staff and volunteers for each type of misconduct, citing privacy concerns.

The most common type of misconduct investigated in recent years was "inappropriate behaviour" - 18 such incidents were recorded and 15 substantiated.

The substantiated complaints led to two dismissals, two resignations, four final warnings, one written warning, one verbal warning and five staff being retrained.

A Fire and Emergency NZ spokesperson said inappropriate behaviour was defined as any breach of its standard of conduct.

"This ranges from inappropriate comments to conflict between brigade members."

Five incidents led to harassment or sexual harassment investigations, two of which were substantiated, leading to both staff resigning.

Three allegations of bullying were substantiated, resulting in one dismissal, one final warning and one resignation.

An assault earned one Fire and Emergency NZ staff member a criminal conviction, and another assault led to a diversion.

The sole "health and safety" misconduct incident led to the staff member involved being demoted.

All three allegations of poor performance were substantiated, resulting in one dismissal and two demotions.

The percentage of upheld complaints as a proportion of staff in Otago and Southland was 1.67 percent, out of 159 paid employees and 1400 volunteers in the region.

Fire and Emergency people and capability director Brendan Nally, of Wellington, said the organisation had a "zero tolerance" policy towards bullying and harassment.

"However, as with any large organisation, there is the occasional instance where individuals don't behave according to the high standards of conduct that we all expect in the workplace," he said.

Fire and Emergency NZ was formally established last year following the amalgamation of the Fire Service, the rural fire authority and dozens of rural fire districts and territorial authorities.

Earlier this year, it commissioned an independent review, led by retired judge Coral Shaw, of workplace policies to address bullying and harassment.

Firefighters under fire

  • 26 incidents substantiated, seven unsubstantiated, two investigations ongoing.
  • Two staff resigned following harassment/sexual harassment allegations.
  • 15 substantiated incidents of ''inappropriate behaviour''.
  • One dismissal, one final warning and one resignation for bullying.
  • Two substantiated allegations of assault, resulting in one criminal conviction and one diversion.
  • One dismissal and two demotions for poor performance. 1.67 percent of staff (including paid and volunteer) in Otago-Southland subject to upheld complaints since 2014.

This story originally appeared in the Otago Daily Times

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