Firemen can't be de facto police

By Anna Wallis


The incident in Kawhia where a police officer was beaten needs a great deal of examination as to what happened and how it can be prevented.

But one of the elements of that nasty incident was the calling in of firefighters to help with police work.

These two emergency services have long worked side-by-side, often attending the same events, but the calling in of firefighters to back up police needs to be looked at closely.

Firefighters are not a de facto police force. They do not have the training nor resources to act as such. If the Kawhia policeman needed help, it should have come from the police force.

In emergency situations it is patently obvious that they may be called in. So will civilians for that matter.

But, in the Kawhia case, the arrest of someone for traffic offences and not meeting sentencing conditions was not a crisis.

This is not an excuse for what went on. But when did we get to a point that a police officer, thinking an arrest might be difficult, calls in the fire brigade?

Firefighters are already acting as paramedics in many call-outs when they get to a job before St John, or if St John - or other ambulance service - is unavailable. Defibrillators and other medical equipment are essential on fire vehicles. But do we want them to be a hybrid firefighter/paramedic/police officer?

It makes sense if they are the first on the scene to have some skills. But it shouldn't be an excuse for extra responsibilities to creep in, leaving firefighters - both professional and volunteer - with not only the job of fighting fires but also expected to have the knowledge to save lives in lieu of medical specialists. That is an incredible burden to place on them.

If we are going to change the way firefighters operate - or just acknowledge how they do operate - there needs to be a rethink of our emergency services, what skills they have and what money they get.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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