Fire trucks lined up in Auckland’s CBD as crews work on the NZ International Convention Center blaze in October 2019. Photo / RNZ
By Phil Pennington of RNZ
Almost two years after the SkyCity convention center fire, the nation’s biggest fire trucks keep breaking down and no new ones have been ordered.
There is still no national strategy to replace trucks, called antennas.
This despite the investigation into the convention center fires a year ago which requested one, saying it was “overdue and … amounts to a gap in the updated policy.”
Auckland and Wellington have been downsized to one each, one of the biggest ladder trucks, in recent weeks.
Gray Lynn firefighter and union leader Martin Campbell said he asked the regional director for back-ups. “He said there was no possibility if it broke down.”
Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) said Auckland will pick up its repaired truck this week, leaving one under repair.
“The public can be reassured that we have the capacity to respond to emergencies,” said FENZ.
He has Auckland crews instructed not to take large scale trucks on initial calls.
This is partly to prevent “wear and tear,” and also because it is more effective, FENZ said.
Campbell said it’s not sure.
“They are trying to wrap the truck in cotton and basically told us to lock it… unless we are going to have an incident where flames are coming out of the windows,” said the secretary of the Auckland branch of the Union. professional firefighters.
“Instead of thinking, ‘What is the tactical and safe strategic decision?’, [officers] have in the back of their mind, ‘Will I be disciplined if I call for an aircraft?’ “
But FENZ headquarters in Wellington rejects this; an antenna would be triggered if an officer in charge called one, said northern Te Hiku region director Ron Devlin.
“Forgotten about foresight”
The firefighters accuse FENZ of a lack of urgency which, according to them, has weakened the heavy air fleet.
“They just forgot about foresight, planning and strategy, and just neglected the heavy air fleet,” Campbell said.
“The public can rest assured that our fleet is safe and suitable for the job,” Deputy Director General of Organizational Strategy and Capacity Development Russell Wood said in a statement after declining an interview.
The fleet is configured based on a 2003 strategy. SkyCity’s survey and the union pointed out that this did not take into account Auckland’s rapid population growth and the spread of multi-story infill housing.
Heavy trucks (types 5 and 6 with 32m long ladders) can be found in Auckland (two plus a reserve), Wellington (two) and one in Hamilton, Dunedin and Christchurch – three of those seven were recently under repair . There are 18 other Light Aerial Type 4s with 17m ladders all over the country.
Several firefighters, whom RNZ has agreed not to name, say problems continue to resurface with aging large antennas and can take months to resolve.
Blackouts complicated the response to the fires at the SkyCity convention center in October 2019.
The August 2020 investigation report shows that the only large antenna available was Auckland’s oldest – a back-up machine over 20 years old.
Two newer large trucks were under repair.
In the end, the teams had to call one from Hamilton – and another from the repair shop.
This left the city with no reserve “to provide surge capacity,” the survey said.
The SkyCity fire was elusive, under the roof, so “having more antennas there sooner wouldn’t have changed the outcome,” FENZ told RNZ.
Investigation indicated that the 32m ladders only reached the top of SkyCity’s roof, and suggested that FENZ consider purchasing antennas with greater range; This is what London has been doing since the deadly Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.
Two years later, FENZ cannot say whether or not Auckland will get larger antennas.
“Any decision to expand Auckland’s overall air capacity will be factored into the air strategy review,” said Wood.
The new strategy should be ready next year.
Yet even without a strategy, FENZ is preparing to buy four new large antennas. It was “well advanced” and did not depend on strategy, Wood said.
The new trucks have not been ordered and their delivery could take several months.
Wellington Firefighters Union President Clark Townsley said the aviation strategy meetings he was a part of were just beginning.
“My biggest concern (…) was the lack of urgency.
“We saw $ 7.5 million spent on rebranding, and only $ 6 million was allocated for new antennas.
“People call the 111, they expect a trained professional with modern equipment to do the job – not 25-year-old vehicles that are groomed throughout their lifespan,” Townsley said.
The lack of a dedicated training antenna was also a big gap, he said.
Wellington to a
Wellington has two Type 5s, but one is broken and it will take another two months to fix it.
Townsley said the truck needed ongoing repairs; at one point, the cage at the end of the ladder tipped forward during checks – “there was a risk of injury” if she had been at work, he said.
FENZ’s approach has been to replace the heavy antennas at around 25 years old. He maintains them every three months.
A firefighter told RNZ that rust was recently found on the scale of the older machine. It is certified once a year, the FENZ being exempt from the usual half-yearly checks.
“How can a 12 month overhead boom safety inspection be better than a 6 month inspection?” asked a firefighter in an email to RNZ.
Wood defended the interview file.
“We make sure that they [firefighters] have the tools and support they need to operate safely and protect the public, ”he said.