Two senior fighters say they feel 'underappreciated', call on Fire and Emergency NZ to 'stop playing games'

Senior firefighters say they've never felt so "underappreciated" as fire staff walked off the job on Friday morning in a last-ditch effort to improve pay and work conditions.

Mediation failed once again last week, leading members of the New Zealand Professional Fire Fighters Union (NZPFU) to strike for an hour - between 11am-12pm on Friday. 

There are nearly 2000 union members - with 94 percent in favour of putting down hoses on Friday. 

National secretary Wattie Watson said the disrespect to workers has been unfathomable and is accusing Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) of being dishonest and deceptive. 

Emergency calls will still be answered during the strike, with volunteer firefighters left to fill the void. 

Terry Bird, NZPFU Auckland president, told AM on Friday the union is striking for a range of reasons. 

"I think for quite a long period, Fire and Emergency hasn't invested in resources and its people and it's reached a point in time where we're going enough is enough. We need to make it known to the public and we need to try and improve our conditions," he told AM co-host Ryan Bridge. 

To sum up the state of some of the firefighter's equipment, Devonport Station officer Chonell Ford said the truck they drove to AM's interview broke down on the way. 

"Twenty years in the job and I've never seen it this bad. I'm absolutely gutted with how things are going at the moment," she told AM alongside Bird. 

"Trucks are breaking down on a daily basis. The truck that I was in to get here broke down on the way here this morning. We got it working again, but they're going to have to get workshops to have a look at it." 

This isn't the first time a truck has broken down. Two fire trucks broke down at the scene of the massive Christchurch scrap yard fire in Woolston, Christchurch, according to the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union.

"I don't know the details, but a lot of our trucks are getting very old and they're past their use-by date and our service providers are doing their best to keep them on the road. It's a pretty tough work environment for a truck," Bird said.

Ford said the current environment as a firefighter is the worse she's experienced. 

"I've never felt so underappreciated in 20 years in the job. It's so disheartening to be responding to a fire call and the truck breaks down, coming home from a fire call and the truck breaks down, at a fire call and the truck breaks down," she said. 

"There's nothing worse as a firefighter when you're wanting to do your job and not having the right equipment to help you do it." 

Two senior fighters say they feel 'underappreciated', call on Fire and Emergency NZ to 'stop playing games'
Photo credit: AM

Bird had a very simple message for FENZ.

"I think we need to stop playing games actually. I think that this is probably another delay tactic," he told AM.

"We've been going for 14 months and my understanding is that we go genuinely every time to negotiate and bargain and there are delays and delays and delays. 

The hour long-strike across New Zealand could have drastic consequences for Kiwis who experience a fire during the strike period. 

"They're not going to get the prompt service they deserve and they pay for in the fire levees," Ford said. 

"It's absolutely gutting for all of us on the shop floor today to be doing what we're doing. We don't want to be doing it."  

Bird added: "Fire and emergency are rolling the dice here and they've had opportunities to do more and they haven't. I can't believe it's got to this point, but it has and we've threatened to take industrial action and it's got to the point where we don't have any choice". 

Deputy National Commander Brendan Nally said it's very disappointing the NZPFU is going ahead with the strike on Friday despite the chance to call it off and get help to bring industrial bargaining to a conclusion.

"We asked NZPFU to make a joint application to the Employment Relations Authority for facilitated bargaining - and to withdraw their current strike notices while this went ahead," Nally said. 

"Disappointingly, the NZPFU has not responded to either of our requests. Instead they have issued further strike notices for two more one-hour full work stoppages on Friday September 2 and Friday September 9.

Auckland City Fire Station.
Auckland City Fire Station. Photo credit: Newshub

Nally said FENZ are making their own application to the Employment Relations Authority for facilitated bargaining.

"We and the NZPFU have been bargaining in good faith for more than 12 months for a new collective agreement. This has included mediation over the last four weeks, but we remain a significant distance apart," Nally said. 

"Mediation has effectively broken down and we’ve reached an impasse. We believe both parties will be unable to make further progress in the bargaining, without the assistance of the Authority.

"We also believe that bringing in an independent third party to make recommendations is the right thing to do to bring an objective lens to the situation and to ensure that we have the best chance of bringing the bargaining to a conclusion."

Watch the full interview with Terry Bird and Chonell Ford above.