Firefighters' injury toll revealed

By Brendan Manning

More "robust" safety policies for local firefighters has resulted in more workplace injuries taking place while training - instead of on the job.

Fire Service Wairarapa area manager Brendan Nally said local firefighters suffered few accidents on the job.

In the year to date, there have been six recorded injuries in the Wairarapa fire fighting area, all were minor and no time was lost. They cost the service $724.

Sprains are the most common injuries among firefighters, and Mr Nally said most were suffered while training.

Paid staff trained daily and sprains occurred while running up stairs or tripping on fire hoses.

"We used to get a number of injuries with people getting out of fire engines, but we've mostly fixed that."

Staff were now trained to leave the truck while facing inwards, instead of "jumping out".

Of the country's 1789 full-time and 8371 volunteer firefighters, 448 were injured in 2011 - resulting in $1.2 million in injury-related costs.

The Fire Service responded to 68,000 callouts last year.

New Zealand Fire Service spokeswoman Karlum Lattimore said the organisation had "robust" systems to respond to accidents or near misses.

Older occupational injuries, which rarely occurred these days, included smoke inhalation, burns and broken ankles from firemen poles, she said.

"They'd come screaming down the poles and break their ankles ... that's why they don't use the poles anymore."

There were 115 burns-related injuries recorded nationally last year - making it the 16th most common injury.

New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union secretary Derek Best said firefighting was dangerous work, and injuries were relatively common.

"With the best will in the world you can't make absolutely perfect protective clothing - there's always a compromise.

"Contrary to popular belief, burns weren't the biggest risk to firefighters, rather "the insidious exposure to a lot of chemicals and the potential for that to cause cancers", Mr Best said.

The last death of a career firefighter was in April 2008, when senior station officer Derek Lovell died following an explosion at the Icepak Coolstore in Tamahere. APNZ

- Wairarapa Times-Age

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