Sunday, November 28

Concerns about fire brigades could fade as staff are mandated vaccinations

Firefighters have been told they need to get vaccinated, and there are concerns about what emergency coverage will look like when the first vaccination deadline passes on Monday.

Firefighters fight a fire that broke out at the Maui RV rental facility in Māngere, south of Auckland, on the morning of 3 September.

Some firefighters are frustrated that proof of inoculation will not be required. (file photo)
Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

It is unclear why the Covid-19 mandate was not publicly announced, nor if it applies to the police. Anyone whose role puts them in close contact with active medical personnel should be vaccinated.

The news of the mandate only reached the fire department 11 days ago, despite the fact that the deadline for vaccines is the same as for teachers announced much earlier: the first dose before November 15 and the second on January 1.

Volunteers make up four-fifths of the 13,000 Firefighters and Emergencies (FENZ) operational and community workers, and some staff members are concerned about the future of smaller rural stations if firefighters refuse to be vaccinated.

Other firefighters are frustrated that proof of inoculation will not be required as they are only asked to make a statement about their vaccination status.

FENZ said in a statement that many staff members must be vaccinated to perform their duties. “Our people work alongside medics on incidents and attend schools when responding to emergencies and to provide fire safety education,” said National Commander Kerry Gregory.

“The order applies to any function in which a person is within two meters of a health professional who provides health services to the public for more than 15 minutes or where the work of our people requires contact with children or students. Around than 13,000 of our people in operations and communities Order-based roles are covered by the order, including volunteers.

“The government has made this requirement into law, and Fire and Emergency must comply with it. We have now begun to securely collect information on vaccination status to comply with the order.”

RNZ has also asked the police if its personnel are covered by the mandate.

Despite how close the first dose deadline was to November 15 when the government issued the vaccination order on October 22, it appeared that FENZ had little time left to deliberate on what functions the mandate would cover.

“The 2021 Covid-19 Public Health Response (Vaccines) Order was published on October 22,” Gregory said. “We worked at the pace to interpret how this applied to Fire & Emergency and our work, obtaining legal advice and working closely with our unions and associations.

“We continue to keep our people updated at all times. We informed our people what roles were covered by the order on October 29, once the work had been completed, and that people in those roles would have to receive their first vaccination. before November 15th. “

FENZ continues to work on the implications of the mandate and to keep staff up-to-date, he said.

A spokesperson said FENZ would have a better idea next week of the ramifications for staffing and coverage once the deadline for the first few doses of vaccination passes.

FENZ remains silent when sharing Covid-19 data

FENZ declines to say whether the Ministry of Health (MoH) shares information on locations of positive Covid-19 cases or isolated contacts. More than 2,000 people with the virus currently live in their homes.

It follows three fire evacuations in an Auckland apartment block in a month where at least one person had Covid-19.

FENZ declined to say if it had Covid-19 information about the North Shore complex prior to the call, which was triggered by sprinklers or an automatic alarm.

“When attending any call across the country, Fire and Emergency personnel have a variety of measures to protect themselves from possible exposure to Covid-19,” Gregory said. “They wear protective gear, which can include masks, medical gowns, gloves and glasses, and socially distance when possible.”

When the incidents were triggered by 111 calls, people would be asked if there were any known cases of Covid-19 or isolated people at the address, he added.

The Health Ministry defended its decision not to publicize the building as a place of interest, despite two evacuations on October 8 that saw people without masks and without distancing themselves in the adjoining parking lot.

Subsequently, firefighters were notified of the diagnosis and an orange sign was posted on the Rosedale Road building.

Rosedale later became a hotbed for infections, but the ministry declined to say how many cases were related to the apartments, which have been used as social housing.

RNZ asked the Health Ministry if the person tested positive before evacuation for fire or if he isolated himself as a close contact.

In a statement, the ministry said that, for privacy reasons, it did not share information about people, including when they tested positive and their normal place of residence, unless there was a specific public health reason for doing so.

“The focus of posting locations of interest is on locations where contact trackers don’t have a good idea of ​​who was there at the relevant time, which may include large apartment complexes,” said a spokesperson.

“However, for some of these places, we have a good understanding of who was there at the relevant time and an effective means of contacting those people through existing communication channels and networks.

“These situations are closely handled by contact trackers, who can determine that the location does not need to be added to the list posted online.”

He did not say how many cases, if any, were linked to that exposure event, and said the following on why he would not publish suburban-level case numbers: “We are not currently routinely publishing information on Auckland suburbs. where cases are found. This helps ensure that there is a focus on testing in the suburbs where it is needed. “

Rosedale, Redvale and New Lynn were the first suburbs identified as areas where the ministry was encouraging testing, because last month they had high rates of positive results but a low proportion of tests.

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