Conflict-of-rank stance 'may endanger lives'

17:00, Apr 19 2010

Lives and property could be put at risk after a Christchurch firefighter was banned from helping his volunteer brigade, a fire chief says.

Sumner Volunteer Brigade chief fire officer Alan Kerr said he was "riled" that a young firefighter had been told he was no longer allowed to volunteer after becoming a full-time paid firefighter.

"It's unfortunate. A situation could occur where lives or property could be put at additional risk because we are down a man," Kerr said.

The Sumner brigade struggled to find volunteers as most residents did not work in the area during the day, he said.

New Zealand Professional Firefighters' Union president, Steve Warner, said the decision was made last week to decline the firefighter's request to remain a volunteer mainly because of conflicts with rank.

Volunteer brigades such as Sumner – which came under the Christchurch Fire Service jurisdiction – often attended the same jobs as paid city crews.


A situation could arise where a paid firefighter could hold a higher rank in their volunteer brigade, Warner said.

If paid and volunteer brigades were to both attend an incident, the firefighter in his volunteer role may take command over his official superior, he said.

"We don't have a problem if a Christchurch firefighter became a volunteer in a district outside of the area, where they were unlikely to go to the same job," Warner said.

Volunteer cases were considered on individual merit, he said

Kerr said he could understand that a rank clash, from the union perspective, was a valid problem, but that was not relevant in this case.

The firefighter was young, did not hold any position of rank, and would not have been sent to jobs outside Sumner, he said.

"If any paid firefighter is willing to put the time into their community, he should be allowed to," Kerr said.

Christchurch Fire Service area manager Dan Coward said the Fire Service did not comment on union policy.

However, he backed staff who wished to support their local communities.

The Press