An increase in traumatic crashes on Western Bay of Plenty roads has resulted in more firefighters seeking professional help to cope.

Data released to the Bay of Plenty Times under the Official Information Act reveals more than one Bay firefighter a week was referred to a counsellor or psychologist last year.

From January 1, 2018, to September 30, 2018, 30 firefighters received counselling. Another 21 firefighters were referred to a psychologist. Of these, eight psychologist referrals were for work-related reasons. The other 13 were for personal issues such as relationships, grief and loss.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand figures for the Bay of Plenty region also included Coromandel and the East Coast. A more specific breakdown was not provided; director Bella Sutherland cited individual privacy.


The safety, health and wellbeing of firefighters was of paramount importance, Sutherland said.

The nature of firefighting these days meant "our people encounter a wide range of risks to their physical safety, work-related health or psychological wellbeing".

Since the merging of volunteer and paid firefighters on July 1, 2017, free, independent counselling was made available to all personnel and their families. The merger also established many volunteer brigades as first responders to medical matters.

In previous years, the number of firefighters in the Bay's coastal area, which ran from Ōpōtiki to Waihi, were referred to a counsellor or psychologist 11 times in 2015, five times in 2014. There were no referrals in 2013.

Ōmokoroa fire chief Ian Blunt said there had been an increase in crashes his crew were sent to these days and with it "comes the extra stress our volunteer firefighters incur, having to deal with the carnage caused".

Blunt said he made a point of allowing his brigade the option to opt out of responding to car crashes, choosing to manage traffic instead.

"I am ever mindful of the fact that exposure to this type of trauma can affect volunteers and if we can reduce the incident [or] accident rate, then we can reduce the pressure on our staff," he said.

Last year, 18 people were killed in 17 crashes in the Western Bay. The year before, 14 people died.


Katikati firefighter Brendan Gibbs said their crew often talked things through after an incident, particularly if someone could not be saved.

"Often the guys say it's a pity there's nothing more we could have done. There's always that disappointment and 'what if we got there earlier'," he said.

"Often when you are home later on after the situation, you start to reflect on it, it hits home."

Te Puke fire chief Glenn Williams, who is an adviser for the organisation's safety health and wellbeing work stream and president of the United Fire Brigade Association, said there was a lot of work being done to care for the wellbeing of firefighters.

The evolving role of firefighters these days meant many were managing medical events as well as traditional firefighting tasks "and having firefighters exposed to the impacts of that".