A firefighter who broke three ribs and punctured a lung in a lockdown rescue says even the simplest of jobs can cause serious injury.

The Tauranga firefighter, who wanted to be named only as Bruce, was hospitalised on April 15 after being hit by a rescue basket dangling from a helicopter above Moturiki (Leisure) Island.

Bruce and his colleagues had rushed to the rescue of a man who had broken his ankle falling six metres onto rocks near the blowhole on the island at Mount Maunganui beach.

He glanced up and saw the rescue basket swinging towards him, blown by the wind from the helicopter blades, and tried to leap out of the way.


"If I didn't it would have hit me on the scone," he said.

"I thought 'I gotta get out of here' and dived to the left, but I wasn't quick enough."

Bruce landed heavily on the rocks at the same time the basket hit him.

"I hit the deck just as it hit me."

He now has broken ribs, a small pneumothorax caused by a "tiny puncture" in his lung, and part of his vertebrae is broken.

Bruce has been at home recovering since the incident, but hopes to be allowed back to work soon on light duties.

He's just one of hundreds of Fire and Emergency NZ staff who are injured on the job each year.

Information provided to the Herald shows firefighter injuries range from temporary hearing loss from fire truck sirens, to being hit by falling debris while fighting a fire.


Bruce said there was "just so much" that could unexpectedly cause an injury on the job.

"It's a job that every time you go out the door, you always think of some sort of danger in the back of your head. Even for medical calls, you just don't know what's there.

"None of us expected that basket to move."

Other risks firefighters faced included exploding gas bottles, and air bags going off during a car crash rescue, he said.

Bruce has been recovering at home since the April 15 incident. Photo / Supplied
Bruce has been recovering at home since the April 15 incident. Photo / Supplied

In files provided to the Herald by Fire and Emergency NZ, few of the injuries suffered by firefighters in the past year were related to burns, and those that were were relatively minor. For example, one person received a steam burn through their gloves during house fire training.

More common injuries appeared to be sprains and strains; many firefighters noted pain from lifting equipment.


Staff described straining and tweaking legs, shoulders, arms and necks through activities as such as rescuing cows from creeks, running out hose reels across uneven ground, and putting on breathing apparatus.

Other injuries appeared to have little to do with actual Fire Service work - one person in Southland simply tripped over after spotting an acquaintance.

"I saw someone I knew and waved, this distracted me and I tripped over on a curb in the
car park, landing heavily on my ribs," the injury report read.

Another person in Waikato described falling off a stool while trying to move another stool for a co-worker at morning tea.

But others were more serious, including a ceiling panel falling on a firefighter's helmet in Taranaki during an "internal fire attack".

One incident in Waitematā left a firefighter with a burn to their finger after a lead that was plugged into the fire engine dashboard exploded in their hand.


In another incident in South Canterbury, an employee fighting a fire in a garage fell into a pool of oily water in a mechanical pit in the floor.

An officer who went to help him out of the pit also fell in on top of him, hurting his own ankle.

Many injuries, while considered at least moderately severe, did not require any treatment.

One that did end with doctor treatment was a firefighter in Waitematā who experienced "vertigo" after a siren went off nearby.

The person was donning their uniform near the fire engine when the driver accidentally bumped the siren button.

The incident report said the siren "stunned" the officer, "who experienced vertigo".


The officer sought medical treatment but said their hearing had now returned to normal.

Other injuries included a hurt knee after falling through fire and water-damaged floor, a torn bicep from pushing a car, and a burn from hot sap falling from a tree during a vegetation fire.

The documents show 306 staff, including paid and volunteer firefighters, had to take time off work because of injury or illness suffered at work in 2019.