This week I’ve visited Christchurch, spending time with our crews and Comcen staff who were on duty at the time of the mosque attacks on 15 March, and also with the Police and Civil Defence.

I listened to our people share their frustrations that they couldn’t play a more active role in protecting the people of Christchurch that day. Given the horrific and uncertain nature of the unfolding event, Police was the lead agency. Their priorities were to stop the killing and ensure the area was safe, then to get aid to the victims.

Early in the incident timeline there was an indicator that further attacks were possible. Therefore, given the uncertain nature of events our assigned task of being held in reserve for a possible fire-related attack, for back-up medical support elsewhere and for the provision of specialist equipment, was appropriate.

Even though we were allocated only a support role that day, Fire and Emergency personnel now have a leading role to play in Christchurch to help rebuild public confidence. Now more than ever, we need to role model to the public not only what we do, but also what we stand for, both in Christchurch and across New Zealand.

Judge Coral Shaw’s review of our workplace policies, practices and procedures to address bullying and harassment at Fire and Emergency plays an important part in that stance. As Fire and Emergency we have a responsibility to ensure we are welcoming and respectful to people of all ethnicities and religions. Our job is to protect people and make them feel safe. To do that we must be able to connect with people from all backgrounds. 

Some of you will recall that when Judge Shaw’s report was released on 24 January, I undertook to release an action plan within eight weeks. That timeframe was to ensure we kept focus and momentum on the changes we need to make.

Last Thursday marked eight weeks. However, following the Christchurch mosque shootings we decided to delay releasing the action plan out of respect and acknowledgement of those coming to terms with such a terrible act.

We will release the action plan next week on Tuesday 2 April. Please look out for an update from me with more information then.

The Prime Minister has now announced there will be a national remembrance service at Christchurch’s Hagley Park this Friday, with the service to be broadcast around the country. We are making arrangements for formal Fire and Emergency representation at this and other key events. If you would like attend your local event informally, please discuss this with your manager; we are supportive of our people attending but need to ensure we keep operational continuity.

Like all New Zealanders, Fire and Emergency personnel have been deeply affected by the events in Christchurch on 15 March. The ways we process this horrific event will differ from person to person. Please remember to take care of yourselves, look out for your colleagues and friends, and access the range of support services available to you if you need to.

If the intent of the shootings was to drive a wedge between different groups in New Zealand, the outpouring of grief, the huge piles of flowers laid outside mosques, and the vigils all over the country have shown the exact opposite. New Zealand is a special country and we can all be proud to be part of it.

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