Fire Service accused of widespread bullying

Fire Service accused of widespread bullying

A 3D investigation has uncovered allegations of bullying within the Fire Service, with firefighters saying they have been bullied out of the service.

The programme has obtained copies of a report that says bullying is a serious problem. But the Fire Service says this report is a "complete fabrication" and bullying is "a very small concern".

Decorated during his nine years in the Kaiapoi Fire Brigade, Brent Cairns' problems started with a petty row when he used his fire truck to water some trees at a mayoral ceremony. Things escalated and he was eventually discharged from the brigade.

"It's been very unfair," says Mr Cairns. "I believe it's been unethical and the way I've been treated is unprofessional."

Ian Thomas was also with the Kaiapoi Fire Brigade for 33 years, eventually becoming deputy chief. He would do a full day's work as a truck driver then attend emergencies at night. He's just retired.

"Just the treatment I've been getting, singled out," says Mr Thomas. "I can't do anything without somebody not putting the knife in as such, but questioning my actions. I've been picked on, victimised – someone there over you telling you what to do all the time. It's peer pressure; it's threatening."

The Fire Service says morale has improved since Mr Cairns and Mr Thomas left Kaiapoi. But they're not alone. You can't underestimate the hurt some volunteers feel when they leave the jobs they love.

Jude Marks wanted nothing more than to help people. She went to help a diabetic woman at a hotel south of Christchurch.

"I knew it was critical because she was having seizures," she says. "It was telling me that her brain was shutting down because it needed the glucose."

But Ms Marks had previously been told by the fire chief she could not give medical treatment while officially on a fire service callout, even though she had qualifications as a third-year nursing student, just about to graduate, and was a former St John ambulance officer.

A series of allegations followed Ms Marks' dismissal, and some went back seven years.

Like other volunteers 3D spoke to, Ms Marks says it was the lack of a proper dispute process that left her disillusioned and out of her job. The volunteers are not covered by employment law and don't have a union.

The Fire Service says "it is important everyone in a brigade follows the rules". But some of the brigades say they don't feel supported.

In the small seaside community of Mangawhai, north of Auckland, locals say 15 volunteers have left in the past few years. It's become so bad that at times there are not enough qualified volunteers to staff the trucks in an emergency.

A mediator concluded that the brigade was "severely dysfunctional". The area boss found that "dysfunction [in the brigade] has the potential to put public safety at risk". The community is up in arms.

Two former volunteers at the Mangawhai Fire Brigade claim they were bullied out and the Fire Service let it happen.

Watch the video for the full 3D report.


The Fire Service has complained about 3D's story on bullying. The following is a statement provided by their barrister Matthew McLelland QC.

"From the information that I have received there seems to me to be overwhelming evidence that the purported Mahitahi report is not authentic.

"The Fire Service has been totally open with TV3 and has provided it with all the information it legally can which at the very least raises very serious doubts as to the authenticity of that document.

"Even on TV3's own information (excluding that provided by the Fire Service) the only inference that can reasonably be drawn is that the report is not authentic.

"In these circumstances it is inconceivable to me that TV3 would broadcast a story including serious allegations against the Fire Service and its staff based in large part on a report it knows or, given the information available to it, ought to know is not authentic.

"Any programme which is based on an unauthenticated report will of course be seriously misleading to the public, obviously in breach of the Broadcasting Standards and there is a high probability that one or more of the Fire Service's personnel will be defamed.

"That TV3 should be prepared to broadcast such a programme in circumstances where it knows, or at the very least ought to know, that the report is not authentic is in my view very serious and would be viewed extremely dimly both by the Broadcasting Standards Authority and the Courts.

"For TV3 to continue with this programme in the face of what can only be described as overwhelming evidence would in my view be considered to be reckless in the extreme.

"All of the circumstances outlined above would also, on any fair and reasonable approach, lead TV3 to question the motives of its source.

"It seems to be that the Fire Service has done everything it possibly can to prove to TV3 that the report is not authentic.

"For whatever reason, TV3 has chosen to ignore the information that has been provided.

"It is of note that TV3's responses to the Fire Service information simply add to the doubts about, and confusion surrounding, the purported report."