An internal Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) report into its response to Cyclone Gabrielle indicates staff lacked the proper training to deal with a disaster of that scale or the right equipment. FENZ has already taken steps to be better prepared next time.

Two volunteer firefighters died in a landslide in Auckland, which a previous report – in July 2023 – attributed to not being adequately trained in identifying landslide risk.

“It’s Fire and Emergency’s usual practice to carry out reviews of significant incidents to learn from them and to support ongoing improvement,’’ National Commander Russell Wood said. “The review found opportunities for improvement around the planning and administration processes that support Fire and Emergency personnel during such significant and intense events.

“Severe weather response is a new and evolving capability for Fire and Emergency and is not one of our legislated main functions. We acknowledge we have a way to go to ensure we are prepared, trained and equipped. We will use the Key Insights to improve our organisational approach to planning and operational procedures. We will also use these Insights to help us prioritise and improve our training, equipment, resourcing and how we support our people.”

Several deficiencies have already been rectified, including the establishment of six specialist water rescue teams across the country and relevant personal protective equipment.

FENZ has also purchased personal safety locators and weather-proof tablets, so that the Urban Search and Rescue team can actually identify where staff are. The report found that the breakdown in the telecommunication system, in areas such as Hawke’s Bay, left FENZ staff isolated in the field and ill-informed about the progress of the emergency response.

Enhanced response training programmes have been designed to help all FENZ staff recognise what’s required of them in a natural disaster. “While many of our frontline people have these skills as individuals, we are now implementing crews of firefighters with all these skills who can then respond to natural disasters or adverse weather events as a team in districts most at risk,’’ said Wood.

“We are an organisation expert in fighting fires, providing specialist response such as Urban Search and Rescue, and helping in other emergencies when the call is made. “We have not, until recently, been required to play such a major part in responding to such severe weather events.

“With climate change already impacting us we can anticipate an increase in the frequency and intensity of significant weather events and we need to continue to prepare for this eventuality.

We are committed to making the improvements identified in this operational review so we can continue being there for New Zealanders.”  

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