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A truck breaks down, twice

In the same week as two fatal crashes in Wairarapa, the region’s capability to respond to motor vehicle accidents was halved.

While responding to a call in Riversdale on Tuesday last week, Masterton Fire Brigade’s rescue tender – one of only two vehicles in the region carrying specialist equipment including ‘jaws-of-life’ – broke down.

An issue with its alternator forced the 25-year-old ‘relief’ truck to the side of the road in Tauweru, and the crew had to make do with a four-wheel drive ute for close to five hours.

Masterton firefighters never made it to the incident, with the Riversdale volunteer crew stepping in to respond.

Just over 24 hours later, at 4.47pm on Wednesday, the truck broke down again. The second alternator failure prompted Fire and Emergency [Fenz] to pull the brigade’s normal truck from routine maintenance, putting it back into service at 7pm.

It’s not the first alternator issue for the station’s firefighters, who had their rescue tender pulled from service immediately after responding to a serious crash in September last year, due to repeatedly sounding alarms.

Multiple Masterton officers said the latest incident highlights the legacy issues with Fenz’s aged and failing fleet, which has led to trucks that aren’t fit for purpose being forced on crews.

“Our rescue tender is a good truck, but we get sent these as reliefs, and nobody seems to look after them,” said one.

“But we have to take what we can get at the moment.”

Another officer said the situation is “extremely frustrating” for the frontline staff and puts lives at risk.

“There’s a lot of work involved, shifting all that gear off the truck, just for an alternator belt.

“It would have delayed a response to a motor vehicle crash by at least 30 minutes.

“That’s life-threatening and can be the difference between life and death. That golden hour is from the time of the crash to the operating theatre, not from the time we get there.”

Fenz Wairarapa group manager Craig Cottrill said Fenz’s response capability was “not greatly impacted” by the recent mechanical issues, and that it demonstrated the station’s adaptability and commitment to keeping the public safe.

A spokesperson for Fenz said the organisation is aware of the national fleet’s age and is “upgrading the fleet as quickly as we can”, acknowledging that it will take significant investment to do so.

“The legacy condition of many of our around 1750–strong fleet, when Fenz was established in 2017, varied significantly from fit-for-purpose vehicles to those in worse condition.

“Regardless of age, we will always maintain our fleet so it is in safe working condition.”

Tomorrow: Part two

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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