Saturday, November 27

New Zealand’s largest fire trucks keep breaking down and no new orders

Nearly two years after the SkyCity convention center fire, the nation’s largest fire trucks continue to break down and no new ones have been ordered.

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Fire trucks lined up in Auckland’s CBD as crews work on the New Zealand International Convention Center fire in October 2019.
Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

There is still no national strategy to replace trucks, called antennas.

This is despite the convention center fire investigation a year ago calling for one, saying it was “overdue and … amounts to a gap in updated policy.”

Auckland and Wellington have been down to one each, of the largest ladder trucks, in recent weeks.

Gray Lynn firefighter and union leader Martin Campbell said he asked the area manager about the endorsement. “He said there is no contingency if this breaks down.”

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) said Auckland will get its repaired truck back this week, leaving one still under repair.

“The public can be assured that we have the ability to respond to emergencies,” said FENZ.

He has an instruction for Auckland crews not to bring large ladder trucks to initial calls.

This is partly to avoid “wear and tear” and also because it is more efficient, FENZ said.

Campbell said that’s not safe.

“They’re trying to wrap the truck in cotton, and they basically told us to shut it down … unless we go to an incident where flames are coming out of the windows,” said the branch secretary of the Auckland Professional Fire Brigade Union. .

“Instead of thinking, ‘What is the safe tactical strategic decision?’ [officers] they have in the back of their minds, ‘Will I be disciplined if I call for an aerial device?’ “

But the FENZ headquarters in Wellington rejects it; an antenna would shut down if requested by an officer in charge, said Te Hiku North Region Manager Ron Devlin.

Firefighters put out the fire Tuesday.

An antenna used in the SkyCity fire in Auckland in 2019.
Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

‘Forgotten the forecast’

Firefighters accuse FENZ of a lack of urgency that they say has left the heavy air fleet fragile.

“They have just forgotten about forecasting, planning and strategy, and they have just neglected the heavy air fleet,” Campbell said.

FENZ pushes back.

“The public can be assured that our fleet is safe and suitable for the job,” said Deputy Executive Director for Organizational Strategy and Capacity Development Russell Wood in a statement, after declining an interview.

The fleet is set up based on a 2003 strategy. Research by SkyCity and the union have noted that this does not take into account Auckland’s rapid population growth and the expansion of multi-story infill housing.

Heavy trucks (types 5 and 6 with 32 m long ladders) are located in Auckland (two plus a reserve), Wellington (two) and one in Hamilton, Dunedin and Christchurch; three of these seven have recently been repaired. There are another 18 Type 4 light aerial with 17 m ladders throughout the country.

Several firefighters, whom RNZ agreed not to name, say problems continue to crop up with the large aging antennas, and that they can take months to fix.

Breakdowns complicated the response to the SkyCity convention center fire in October 2019.

the Research Report August 2020 shows that the only large antenna available was the oldest in Auckland – a backup machine over 20 years old.

Two newer large trucks were ready for repair.

In the end, the teams had to call one from Hamilton and one from the repair shop.

This left the city unreserved “to provide surge capacity,” according to the investigation.

The SkyCity fire was difficult to reach, under the roof, so “having more antennas there earlier would not have changed the outcome,” FENZ told RNZ.

The investigation said that the 32m ladders barely reached the top of the SkyCity roof, and suggested that FENZ consider purchasing antennas with a longer range; London has been doing this since [

fatal Grenfell Tower fire] of 2017.

‘On track’

Two years later, FENZ cannot say whether Auckland will have bigger antennas or not.

“Any decision on expanding Auckland’s overall air capacity will be included in the air strategy review,” Wood said.

The new strategy should be ready next year.

However, even without a strategy, FENZ is moving to buy four new large antennas. This was “on the right track” and not dependent on strategy, Wood said.

No new trucks have been ordered and delivery could take many months.

Wellington Firefighters Union President Clark Townsley said the air strategy meetings he is a part of have only just begun.

“My biggest concern … has been the lack of urgency.

“We have seen $ 7.5 million invested in the rebrand, and only $ 6 million has been allocated for new antennas.

“People call 111, they expect a trained professional with modern equipment to do the job, not 25-year-old vehicles that are cared for for their entire lifespan,” Townsley said.

The lack of a dedicated antenna for training was also a big gap, he said.

Wellington up to one

Wellington has two Type 5s, but one is broken and will take another two months to repair.

Townsley said the truck needed ongoing repairs; at one point, the cage at the bottom of the ladder was leaning forward during checks: “there was a possibility of injury” if he had been on a job, he said.

FENZ’s approach has been to replace heavy antennas for around 25 years. Serves them every three months.

A firefighter told RNZ that rust was recently found on the ladder of the oldest machine. It is certified once a year, as FENZ is exempt from the usual semi-annual controls.

“How can a 12-month safety inspection on the aerial boom be better than a 6-month one?” a firefighter asked in an email to RNZ.

Russell Wood defended the maintenance record.

“We make sure that [firefighters] they have the tools and support they need to operate safely and protect the public, “he said.

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