'Barely managing': Lack of aerial fire trucks putting firefighters at risk, union says

A fire ravaged a scrap metal yard in Papakura yesterday. Photo / NZ Professional Firefighters Union

Firefighters are having to take unnecessary risks because there are not enough aerial trucks in the fleet to help fight big fires from above.

So says the NZ Professional Firefighters Union, which is now calling for more specialty trucks, or continue to risk firefighters’ lives and potentially, the public.

However, Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fenz) said its appliance fleet, including its aerial appliances, is “safe and suitable” for the job and the public’s safety is not at risk.

Fenz area manager Geoff Purcell said aerial appliances are serviced regularly to ensure they are maintained to a high standard.

Fire crews battled a fire at a Papakura scrap metal yard yesterday. Photo / NZ Professional Firefighters Union
Fire crews battled a fire at a Papakura scrap metal yard yesterday. Photo / NZ Professional Firefighters Union

A massive blaze ripped through a scrap metal yard in Papakura, South Auckland, about 8am yesterday, requiring up to 10 fire crews from around Auckland.

Three aerial appliances were sent – from Ellerslie, Parnell and Te Atatū, West Auckland, the union said. Three other aerial Auckland appliances are out of action.

One was damaged at the Waikeria Prison siege, the union said, and the other two were damaged coincidentally on the same day, including one at a station in Papatoetoe, which would have been the closest unit to respond to yesterday’s fire.

The Te Atatū aerial appliance at the Papakura scrap yard fire yesterday. Photo / NZ Professional Firefighters Union
The Te Atatū aerial appliance at the Papakura scrap yard fire yesterday. Photo / NZ Professional Firefighters Union

The union’s Auckland local secretary, Martin Campbell, told the Herald one of the three aerial trucks responding broke down as they fought flames yesterday.

“We are barely managing with what we’ve got,” Campbell said.

“All three of [the available] aerial appliances were at the fire in Papakura. If there was another [fire] yesterday, we wouldn’t have been able to respond to it.

“We would’ve been screwed.”

Had another aerial appliance been needed, the one in Hamilton would have been brought in – leaving that city vulnerable if a big fire happened at the same time too, he said.

A South Auckland scrap metal yard yesterday where a fire broke out. Photo / NZ Professional Firefighters Union
A South Auckland scrap metal yard yesterday where a fire broke out. Photo / NZ Professional Firefighters Union

Campbell said the union had stressed to Fire and Emergency NZ the need to buy newer trucks or more aerial appliances to add to the fleet.

“Heavy aerials rescue people and they are the vehicles that are used to extinguish the big fires from above or, in the Papakura situation, far-reaching.”

When an aerial appliance cannot come to a scene, firefighters have to go deeper into a building, for example, to attack a fire – putting their lives further at risk, he said.

Campbell said Fenz needed to make a “significant investment” to build its fleet.

Purcell said Fenz’s Auckland aerial appliances were less than 25 years old, the age limit for the appliances under its “aerial wtrategy”.

“Our national aerial replacement programme is on track and we have begun a project to acquire four new aerial appliances,” he said.

“If there had been another fire in the Auckland region that required an aerial appliance during the fire at Hunua Rd, we had plans to redeploy an aerial appliance if needed.

“As with all major incidents, we will be reviewing our response in the spirit of continuous improvement for the future.”