Wife of Invercargill firefighter and cancer survivor shares her story

When my husband rings me from work, almost due to clock off from a day or night-shift, it is almost certain he will inform me that he is working a ‘double’ – an overtime shift after his normal shift is about to end, resulting in him working for 24 continuous hours. Last week, these constant overtimes and 24 hour shifts resulted in my husband, Senior Firefighter Brent Wilson, working a total of over 116 hours over 10 days to cover vital shifts at the Invercargill Fire Station. Despite him and many other firefighters who did the same, their trucks were still undermanned on several occasions.

When I first met my husband nearly 20 years ago, a family friend told me that my partner being in the fire-service wasn’t a job, it was a lifestyle; one with a good work-life balance, sufficient pay and equipment, and decent management. However, this lifestyle has gradually turned into one where Brent, and other firefighters across New Zealand, are constantly struggling with broken down trucks, insufficient equipment, poor pay, and understaffing issues leading to constant overtime, all under poor management who refuse to acknowledge any issues.

Frequently absent from home due to constant overtime, sometimes Brent isn’t home for more than 24 hours at a time, or almost a week has ticked by before our daughter’s are able to have a conversation with their dad consisting of much more than “hi” or “bye”.

Brent was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer in April 2021, which was undoubtedly caused by years of exposure to toxins in his occupation. The cancer diagnosis caused countless moments of physical and emotional stress on Brent and I, and our kids. One of these moments being when I sat at his bedside after his major operation in Dunedin, knowing his devotion to his job was almost certainly the cause of this, and wondering if he was going to be ok. The worry was also shared by his friends at work and as if their staff shortages weren’t bad enough, fellow firefighters had to cover Brent being absent from work for 4 months.

Without constant overtime, the low basic wage created a decent amount of financial stress on us too. And to top it all off, despite the World Health Organization recently confirming that firefighting is carcinogenic, ACC has still declined Brent’s claim for compensation. This means that our stressful battle continues with Brent and the NZPFU Lawyers trying to overturn this decision, not just for him but for the health and wellbeing of his fellow firefighters throughout the country.

Please take the time to have a look at the #firecrisis site so that my husband and his fellow firefighters can continue doing what they love helping people and our communities.