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Grieving firefighters’ plea for change after third mate ends his own life | Newshub


JOHN PARKER: “I think everyone’s hurting.” “We might not all be showing it, or we’re hiding it…” “Um, but I think everyone here is hurting.” The pain is still raw, a month on from Patrick Sarjeant’s death. A loving husband, a caring dad, and a strong firefighter. A good mate too, to Brett Cowper and John Parker. BRETT COWPER: “Just like that, he’s gone.” Patrick is the third firefighter they know who’s ended their own life. They’re calling for crews to look after each other. PARKER: “Reach out, talk, but also, it’s a two-way street.” “Make sure that you’re the person that’s looking out for your peers…” “And your loved ones and ask the question…” “‘Are you okay?'” The data on staff suicides is unreliable… But the union says it’s a crisis… And Fire and Emergency bosses say they’re listening. NALLY: “Suicide amongst firefighters is happening.” “It is something that we must face up to and deal with.” In Australia, career firefighters are twice as likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder… Than the public. And it’s known that in New Zealand they also have a much higher risk of mental health issues. One of the main reasons is the number of traumatic incidents they attend. These are jobs they’ve always attended… But five years ago, they began taking on more medical work from St John. Fire and Emergency crews are trained in CPR and the use of defibrillators… And are now often first responders to what’s known as Purple Calls… Or non-breathing patients… They’re the most serious medical events and traditionally have had low survival rates. Since 2013, purple calls have increased nationwide. In Auckland city, numbers have skyrocketed 1600 percent. Counties and Waikato, 200 percent. And they’ve doubled in Whanganui and East Otago. What fire crews are now doing is working. Nationally, the number of people surviving cardiac arrests has doubled. But the personal toll among crews has also increased dramatically. NALLY: “If it was ever alright to think along the lines of ‘harden up’…” “It’s certainly not alright now.” A new report commissioned by FENZ concedes it could be doing better. It found programmes could be better resourced. There’s no training to deal with the traumatised family of patients on callouts. There are no peer support refresher courses. And there’s an overall theme of disconnect between headquarters and the frontline. Union boss Wattie Watson says fixing these issues is crucial not just for the crews… But for their families as well. WATSON: “Their mental health is really at peril.” “And it’s really one of the hardest things, I think, for families to realise that…” “They’re sending their person out to respond to the community…” “Knowing that they’re probably going to get them back broken at some point.” FENZ now has 32 on-call psychologists across the country… Available to firefighters and their families. It’s also training all leaders to recognise psychiatric issues among crews. NALLY: “The biggest change is the attitude and culture of our leadership…” “We’re saying to our leaders…” “Get out there, it is okay not to be okay…” “Look after your people, it is your prime responsibility…” “Look after your people.” That’s a heartening message for frontline firefighters like Brett and John to hear… Because they know what they’d rather be doing with mates like Patrick. PARKER: “I’d rather be holding a fishing rod on a boat…” “Than holding another coffin, you know, casket.”

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