Emergency staff risk life and limb

By Amy mcGillivray

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The cost of injuries Western Bay paramedics and firefighters have suffered has almost tripled in three years.

St John Ambulance officers had five claims approved last year totalling $50,224 more than three times the $15,835 paid out for 11 claims in 2010, ACC figures obtained by the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend show.

Firefighters at the Tauranga, Greerton, Mount Maunganui, Te Puke and Katikati stations had compensation approved for 26 injuries last year with a total cost of $35,576 almost triple the $13,044 claimed for 20 injuries in 2010.

Fire Service Bay of Plenty Coast area manager Murray Binning said the jump in the cost of claims could be attributed to about half a dozen staff members who had prolonged periods of time off work due to injuries requiring surgery in the past 18 months.

"There's a variety of causes. Some have occurred on the incident field and some on the drill grounds. They've resulted in some quite serious injuries which have put guys off for three to four months."

One firefighter was injured during a training exercise when a steel door came down on him and cut him so badly he needed surgery, Mr Binning said.

A number of other staff members needed surgery on their knees, backs and shoulders as a result of niggling injuries received on the job. These strains and sprains were the most common and problematic type of injury, he said. Burns were fairly common but often minor.

Every possible step was taken to ensure firefighters were safe but it was a dangerous job, Mr Binning said.

"By nature, it is a dangerous profession and we acknowledge that. We like to think our training, our equipment and our personal protective equipment mitigate those hazards and by and large they do.

"But we still have injuries and we always will.

"When a building's on fire and people go running out, we go running in."

Soft-tissue injuries, such as strains and sprains were responsible for all of the $50,224 paid out and the 341 days off work for St John Ambulance officers last year.

St John Bay of Plenty district operations manager Jeremy Gooders would not comment on specific cases for privacy reasons.

"Frontline staff and volunteers are often exposed to hazardous and challenging environments as they respond to emergency situations and transport patients. When injuries occur support is provided by St John to enable rehabilitation and facilitate return to work once recovery is complete."

ACC paid out $57,295 to 23 Western Bay of Plenty police staff who were injured last year less than the $91,533 claimed in 2011 and $75,683 in 2010.

The injured officers needed a total of 93 days off work last year.

Fractures, dislocations and soft tissue injuries were the most expensive and required the most time off. Other injuries included lacerations, punctures or stings; dental injuries; industrial deafness and pain syndromes. Western Bay of Plenty police area commander Inspector Clifford Paxton said staff did an important and sometimes dangerous job. "We take the safety of our staff seriously and we continue to work to reduce the risk they are exposed to.

"Of course any results which show that the risk is being minimised is pleasing to see, however, we do acknowledge that the role is one which at times can expose our members to dangerous and unpredictable behaviour."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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