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Equipment failures draw fire

Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty says he is concerned about Masterton Fire Brigades’ recent truck breakdowns – not only as the local minister but “as a member of the community myself”.

Last week, Masterton Fire Brigade’s ‘relief’ rescue tender – containing specialist equipment including the jaws-of-life – broke down twice.

The first failure happened while the crew was responding to a call in Riversdale, forcing the truck to the side of the road in Tauweru for hours.

The second breakdown 24 hours later prompted the brigade’s regular truck to be pulled back into service from routine maintenance.

The 25-year-old relief truck had been deployed for only two days before it failed, leaving firefighters “extremely frustrated”.

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

One firefighter said delays caused by breakdowns could be “life-threatening”.

Fenz acknowledges rectifying the situation will require an estimated $2.9 billion, and there’s currently a $900 million shortfall.

McAnulty said central government’s role is to ensure Fenz has the governance and support it needs to guarantee it is “fit for purpose for New Zealanders”, and it is supporting the organisation with a long-term capital investment programme.

The government is also in the process of looking at the transitional levy on insurance policies to meet cost pressures, he noted.

With regard to the local equipment failures, McAnulty “urges Fenz to sort this out ASAP”.

However, “ASAP” is still years away, according to New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union [NZPFU] northern branch secretary Martin Campbell.

“When more than half of your frontline trucks are too old, that is a massive problem.

“Unfortunately, the fleet is in such a state, it cannot be fixed overnight.

Information obtained under the Official Information Act in February this year showed Fenz carries hundreds of trucks beyond the recommended age limit, two of which are deployed in Wairarapa – one in Greytown and one in Masterton.

Campbell said trials are currently underway with various fire truck manufacturers, but he does not anticipate a rollout of new frontline trucks before the beginning of 2025 – a timeframe he called “unfortunate”.

Meanwhile, Fenz said it is “upgrading the fleet as quickly as we can” and that “delivery in volume” is expected from 2024, and noted the procurement process was agreed with the union.

However, for one Masterton officer – who regarded the recent truck breakdown as a near miss – that could be too little too late.

“Near misses are only indicators, but eventually something happens. I hope it doesn’t happen here – or anywhere – but there is an increasing chance.”

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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