Fire and Emergency workforce granted two-week extension to get first vaccine dose, union blames failure to plan

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) has been granted a two-week extension to get its workforce vaccinated, with the firefighters' union saying that's because of failed planning.

The Ministry of Health granted FENZ an extension to the mandatory vaccination health order deadline for a first dose late on Friday night, changing it from November 15 to November 29. 

New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union (NZPFU) national secretary Wattie Watson told Newshub it will be a tight race to get the unvaccinated, vaccinated. 

"FENZ failed to prepare, which is a problem we have for a range of issues across FENZ. I think the two weeks are going to be very tight, but I understand that is the extension that has been sought."

Fire Emergency New Zealand national commander Kerry Gregory told Newshub Watson's comments are wrong. 

"I refute that, we have done an awful lot of planning right up to the announcement of the health order."  

Watson worried if the extension wasn't provided, FENZ wouldn't have been able to provide a solid service. 

"There was a real risk that FENZ would not have been able to provide the same level of and standards of service that you get now, depending on where the unvaccinated firefighters, including volunteer firefighters, are. That could well have left us in short and unable to respond in particular areas."

Gregory says he is confident FENZ have the staff if some are lost to the vaccine health order. 

"We will obviously recruit if we lose those staff, but we obviously don't want to lose staff." 

Watson says FENZ needs to consult with the unvaccinated members because the workforce can't afford to lose staff. 

"FENZ rely very very heavily now on all career firefighters undertaking high levels of overtime in order to keep the trucks on the run. Even a small drop in available firefighters will have a huge impact on the availability of those trucks to get out the door."

Gregory told Newshub two weeks is enough time and noted FENZ completed a survey asking staff if they are vaccinated or not and whether staff intend to get vaccinated. 

"We know that there are around 100 of our career firefighters who have advised us that they are not vaccinated or they don't intend to be vaccinated so those 100 people are who we will be working through around the next step."

The workforce has until January 2022 to receive their second dose of the vaccine.