Findings into Fire and Emergency's culture and complaints process released

1:09 pm on 8 December 2022
Fire and Emergency board chair Rebecca Keoghan, MNZM (left), Helene Quilter QSO and Belinda Clark (right).

Photo: RNZ/Angus Dreaver

The Public Service Commission has found Fire and Emergency has not done enough to fix its bad culture, and stronger leadership is needed at all levels.

In April, the commission announced it had appointed Belinda Clark QSO to lead the review to assess what changes had been made since FENZ was found by an independent judge to have a culture of bullying and harassment.

Fire and Emergency (FENZ) board chair Rebecca Keoghan, MNZM, had requested the commission for a review.

It found FENZ had undertaken a lot of work to address the issues in the three years since, including with a positive workplace programme, new FENZ values, a code of behaviour, and respect and inclusion workshops, but it still had much work to do.

"Some progress was made by these initiatives and they have had a positive effect on the culture," Clark said.

"However, the measures overall as have not been as effective as they needed to be. And I found the development of a workplace culture has only partially been achieved."

The agency's Behaviour and Conduct Office, which was established in response to that judgment, was falling short and and the new report has found poor behaviour remain "that are causing harm to people and tarnishing Fire and Emergency's reputation".

"Greater independence is required on the management and resolution of complaints about bullying, intimidation and sexual harassment," Deputy Public Service Commissioner Helene Quilter said.

"Leadership needs to be front and centre of cultural change within the organisation."

She said it was evident more work needed to be done to ensure FENZ was a safe and inclusive workplace.

The processes for complaints in FENZ were not fit for purpose, Clark said.

"It is in fact deepening the trauma that's experienced by victims of bullying and harassment.

"In fact, there were so many issues that people told the review they had no trust in the process and no confidence in Fire and Emergency to investigate and handle their complaints fairly and effectively."

Complainants talked of the huge stress created by the length of the process and the uncertainty of it, with over a third of complaints a year old.

They told the review they felt that there was a lack of information being provided to them and it was being kept secret from them.

"This is particularly so when quite high level information around timeframes, next steps in the process and so on is not provided," Clark said, adding that led to concerns over impartiality.

FENZ's Keoghan said it was clear the complaints process had not been adequate and there was a need for an independent handling of complaints.


Clark wanted an independent advisory committee to fix the agency's culture and a stand-alone code of conduct to be introduced.

The investigation of complaints against FENZ personnel should be moved to an independent body, which should accept all new complaints and have the discretion to reopen any complaints made since FENZ's establishment upon request, she said.

"I've also recommended that FENZ should safeguard the wellbeing and safety of complainants while their complaint is being investigated," which would include counselling support and offering independent advocacy services, she said.

She said FENZ needed to adopt a 'zero-tolerance' policy to harassment and bullying, and there should be one clear code of conduct across all parts of the organisation.

It also needed to have a workforce which reflected New Zealand's diverse society, she said.

Among career firefighters, 5.47 percent are women and 17 percent of volunteers are women. Clark said that needed to change.

An independent body for conduct complaints was necessary for these reasons, Clark said.

The review said leaders at all levels of FENZ needed to have clear performance expectations to take responsibility for culture change.

"Leaders should be chosen and promoted based on their people management skills as well as their technical skills," Clark said, adding that training to deal with poor behaviour needed to be prioritised.

FENZ accepted all of the recommendations of the review.

It said some of the recommendations would be quick to implement but some would take more time and consideration.

FENZ's Keoghan said they were committed to improvements.

"Our intentions were good, but we have fallen short in terms of implementation and where we need to be," she said.

"I also have very clear expectations that all of our Fire and Emergency teams, unions, and associations will support the recommendations as we implement them.

"We knew we needed to change, that's why I asked for this review when I started as chair of the board. Change is needed urgently, and we will do that."

She said she had no tolerance for bullying, exclusion, harassment or any poor behaviour.

"If firefighters, professional or volunteer, do behave inappropriately, they will be and are being swiftly dealt with."

Future implementations to improve culture would not be discrete like previously, she said.

Deputy commissioner Quilter said there was no one silver bullet recommendation to improve culture but collectively, the recommendations would help make change.

How did the review come about

In 2018, Judge Coral Shaw reviewed the organisation and, as well as finding a culture of bullying and harassment, reported there were unacceptable levels of sexism, racism and homophobia.

In the years since the Shaw report, a number of firefighters have accused Fire and Emergency of failing to properly deal with their complaints of sexual assault, harassment or bullying.

Earlier this year, RNZ revealed a volunteer firefighter who was convicted of sexually abusing his son was allowed to remain on his brigade. He was only discharged after he was sentenced.

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