Major shake-up in Fire Service

RESIGNED:  Selwyn and North Canterbury fire region manager Ross Ditmer
RESIGNED: Selwyn and North Canterbury fire region manager Ross Ditmer

Canterbury Fire Service's top management has undergone a major shake-up, with four of six bosses leaving their roles in the past year.

The latest to go is Selwyn and North Canterbury fire region manager Ross Ditmer, who tendered his resignation last week and is on leave until his final day.

Ditmer's departure is the latest in a series of executive-level changes. The departures come after months of intense scrutiny of managers' actions after the deadly February 22, 2011, earthquake but senior Fire Service management say the staff changes are not related to any criticism.

A report by West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service chief executive and Chief Fire Officer Simon Pilling, released last month, found some senior managers were disorganised, isolated, failed to support their staff with basics such as food and water, and communicated poorly on February 22.

The service has also been criticised by witnesses giving evidence at the inquest for eight people who died in the CTV building collapse. Evidence suggesting a lack of leadership at the site has emerged at the hearing.

Assistant national commander Trevor Brown, now based in Christchurch, said the Pilling report's criticisms of the Fire Service had "absolutely nothing" to do with staffing changes.

The Fire Service was being reorganised with eight fire regions becoming five, he said, and some job descriptions had changed so each region had an identical management structure. Some Canterbury roles had disappeared, he said, with some officers taking up newly created positions.

In the past year, many managers who held senior roles have moved on. They include:

- Former regional manager Rob Saunders, who is now director of innovation and business integration at Fire Service national headquarters.

- Steve Barclay, who was in charge of the central Canterbury (Selwyn) fire district. He has moved to a training role at the Woolston training centre.

- Former quality assurance manager Raoel Dijkstra, who declined to take part in the Pilling inquiry because he had left the organisation.

- Former assistant area manager Dave Burford retired in July.

Deputy chief fire officer Greg Crawford remains in his role, while Christchurch metro area manager Dan Coward is also in place, having recently returned from a secondment with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.

Ditmer said the Pilling report was not a factor in his resignation.

He is not mentioned in the report. He said he had been considering a new opportunity for about six months.

"This decision was made by me, for me," he said.

Ditmer made headlines in 2009 after taking charge of a fire scene in Rangiora after drinking alcohol at a barbecue.

Mary Jean Chaston, 87, died in Christchurch Hospital after the September 20, 2009, fire that started from an electric blanket in a bedroom at her Rangiora home.

Firefighters left her in the burning house because they believed she was already dead.

A Fire Service investigation and a separate inquiry by a Wellington QC cleared Ditmer and Saunders of any wrongdoing.

Brown said Ditmer's resignation "came out of the blue".

Brown said he had been in separate conversations with Ditmer and the local fire service union, before Ditmer's resignation, about "how we will move forward".

"My interest was having a very strong functioning fire service in Christchurch. It deserves that."

The Press