Topic: Health

Native Affairs – Helping The Helpers

By Wepiha Te Kanawa

A warning the impending Fire Service merger may increase trauma amongst first responders.

Firefighters around the country could be called out to more traumatic emergencies once they merge with their rural counterparts in July, says Fire Service spokesman Piki Thomas.

“As a result of that widening of the scope of the work that we currently do and what's expected by the community, we are also exposed to a wide range of incidences these include the fatal incidents.”

Currently, when there is a fatality, Thomas says the Fire Service provides wrap around support services for fire officers to help them cope with the event. If the number of incidences increases then so will the need for help.

The New Zealand Mental Health Foundation says, 25% of New Zealanders will experience some form of anxiety disorder in their lifetime.

Thomas says the Fire Service has steps in place to support their officers dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or mental health issues related to their work. But he did not know how many fire officers had asked for or received help.

He says they can’t help if the officers don’t ask for it. “We do need the staff to also put their hand up and identify to let us help them along this journey.”

Former soldier and volunteer Fire Fighter Maaka McKinney is one of few first responders that has publicly admitted he experienced PTSD and depression at work.

“At the time I was a bit scared I kept it in the back box I didn't tell anybody what I was experiencing. I didn't communicate with family, I didn't communicate that with other people that were very close to me. So eventually that PTSD became a depression.”

To raise awareness about mental health amongst first responders, McKinney has walked and cycled from Invercargill to Cape Reinga. McKinney wanted to make the journey on his own but the army and first responders refused to let him walk alone sharing their own stories with him.

“Especially being a Māori male, to admit that I have depression on social media and online through post-traumatic stress that's a huge step forward. So I'm telling people hey look at me.”

McKinney is expected arrive at Cape Reinga on Friday.

Fire Service New Zealand and the Rural Fire Service will become ‘Fire And Emergency New Zealand’ in July. 

If you're suffering from depression and need help contact the Lifeline on 0800 543 354.