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Dude, where’s our truck?

Firefighters feel they are screaming into the void as Masterton station’s specialist truck fails again, leaving life-saving equipment on the engine bay floor.

Rushing to a serious crash on State Highway 2 in Eketahuna this week, warning alarms sounded on Masterton’s rescue tender.

Station officer Tony Gibbs said the issue with the tender’s alternator was a recurring problem, and the third time it had sounded this year.

“It’s extremely frustrating. It happened in September and they haven’t fixed it properly.

“Before that, it was offline for three weeks for a service.

“It’s our specialist rescue tender so carries all our medical gear, equipment for extractions, line rescue gear, hazmat, gas detectors, thermal imaging, and foam gear.”

He said the crew made the decision to continue to Tuesday’s car crash, turning off all sirens and lights to mitigate the engine overheating.

Emergency services responded to the two-car collision at 4.45pm, near the Anzac Bridge.

A car travelling 100kmh had ploughed into a vehicle parked on the side of the road.

Both drivers were injured in the collision.

“It was a heavy impact, but both vehicles remained upright,” Gibbs said.

He said the alarm resulted in the truck being immediately taken offline once back at the station, leaving the region with only one rescue tender in operation, and the Masterton crew using a 25-year-old relief truck.

“We asked an after-hours mechanic to meet us at the station, but it’s not fixed.

“Most of our gear is now on the engine bay floor, or in a ute.”

He said the risk to the public and firefighters was very real.

“When we get a call we get the location and event type, and you’re updated with information along the way.

“Now we have to make a decision about what to take.

“Potentially we could be leaving gear behind that we desperately need.”

New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union [NZPFU] secretary Wattie Watson said failing trucks was a daily occurrence.

“It’s a shambles and it’s a real safety issue for the firefighters and who they are responding to.

“Unreliable appliances are just systemic across the country. You only have so many relief trucks. It’s just the perfect storm.” Auckland firefighter and NZPFU appliance representative Martin Campbell said there was no such thing as “a quick fix”.

He said the issues pre-dated Fire and Emergency [FENZ], with a historic lack of maintenance and investment meaning many trucks were operating beyond their lifespan.

“This goes right back to the New Zealand Fire Service. It isn’t new to firefighters.

“We have an awful lot of our fleet between 15-25 years old.

“I know there are some 30-year-old trucks in use, meaning some of them are older than the guys riding in them.”

Campell said a fix would be five to 10 years away and require an investment of “real money”.

“How do we dig ourselves out of this ginormous hole we are in?

“Hopefully, we will see some sort of pathway and strategy out of the current negotiations [between FENZ and the union].”

FENZ Wellington district manager Nick Pyatt confirmed Masterton’s rescue tender was off-station recently for a number of minor repairs, “programmed to occur together so a relief appliance could be brought on to replace it”.

He said the issue that took the truck “off the run” on Tuesday had been addressed in a recent service.

“Further investigations occurred today and a solution has been implemented.”

Pyatt said issues were to be expected in a fleet of 1240 vehicles, which was why the trucks were serviced regularly and plans were in place to cover resources.

“The Masterton station contains three more appliances and two 4×4 utility vehicles that are also available for response.

“On this particular occasion, the appliance was still able to attend the incident along with another appliance from Eketahuna.”

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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