A fire chief is looking to limit its callouts to help the morbidly obese because it's injuring firefighters and taking them away from "real emergencies".
Fire and Emergency New Zealand [FENZ] Christchurch metro area commander Dave Stackhouse is clamping down on calls from hospitals, rest homes and morgues to help lift obese people as a result.
In a notice sent to the area's 200 volunteer and 170 professional firefighters on August 28, Stackhouse said FENZ crews were increasingly being called to assist with non-medical and often non-emergency lifting incidents.
"These calls not only make our crews unavailable to respond to actual emergencies but also result in a high number of injuries to our staff," Stackhouse wrote.
In a Memorandum of Understanding between FENZ and St John, firefighters respond to calls from ambulance staff for help with the lifting or extrication of patients in emergencies.
"The MoU states that lifting assistance shall be confined to emergency transfer of patients going for further medical care."
But Stackhouse said FENZ crews should not normally be used for:
• Lifting patients for routine transfer from hospital to their homes
• Supplementing inadequate St John crews in non-emergency lifting situations
• Or lifting bariatric patients at hospitals, rest homes, care facilities or mortuaries.
"There is an expectation that these agencies should have in place procedures and protocols for dealing with this within their own business practices."
But Stackhouse said such calls were happening with enough regularity to cause injuries to firefighters.
There had been at least 14 "strains and sprains" during the past two years caused by the heavy lifting, Stackhouse said, with varying severity and time off work.
"If the person is in urgent need of medical care and they [St John] need assistance then under the MoU we'll help them with that, of course.
"But we won't respond under red alert if it's not life-threatening."
Stackhouse said officers in charge should not respond to the "commercial" patient lifts without approval from the area commander.
"When approval has been pre-arranged and agreed these events shall not be considered as emergency responses and shall be undertaken as a routine call."
Wellington acting area commander Dave Key said the city's nine stations mostly only responded to emergency lift requests but he said non-emergency lift assistance can pose a problem.
"What it can do is it can affect our operational capability to respond to other things that come along."
He said there had been some injuries over the years and it usually happened when firefighters were trying to manoeuvre a large patient in a tight space.
Manawatu area commander Mitchell Brown said lift requests in his region mostly centred around extreme situations where patients could weigh as much as 300kg and needed emergency hospital care.
"Potentially they've got to come down stairs but the patient is that large they have to find an alternate route out of the house to get the person to hospital."
That included the removal of windows and doors which firefighters took control of.
South Canterbury area commander Paul Henderson said he was "carefully monitoring" the types of lift requests and he questions non-emergency calls with ambulance area managers after the event.
He said some of his firefighters had received injuries lifting heavy patients in confined spaces such as from a toilet.
Henderson said he classed such a lift request an emergency.
FENZ acting national operations manager Esi Pauga said firefighters would assist with heavy lifting when resources were available.
He said all career firefighters were trained in heavy-lifting techniques as part of the recruitment process.
"These sessions cover the impact that lifting heavy objects, including people, can have on their bodies and safety techniques to prevent this."
They are also covered as part of volunteer firefighters' on-station training.