No high-ladder fire trucks available between Hamilton and Dunedin

The appliance had to be towed away after breaking down on the way back to the station. Photo:...
The appliance had to be towed away after breaking down on the way back to the station. Photo: Supplied
The fire crisis has reached a breaking point, with the last remaining high-ladder trucks between Hamilton and Dunedin unavailable.

The last truck for the lower North Island broke down last night, and now the last truck for Christchurch has gone offline for servicing.

Thorndon senior station officer Mike Thomason and his crew attended a job at Malvina Major retirement village in Khandallah, Wellington, about 6.30pm last night, taking their last 100ft ladder truck to the job.

"On its way back from that fire call, the transmission ceased to function and we literally just had to pull over on the side of the road," he said.

The firefighters tried to fix the engine and even called out mechanical help, but the appliance couldn't be restarted and had to be towed.

The appliance, a Thorndon ladder, is the only device capable of reaching more than 18 metres, and now the closest device needed for anything more than that for the Lower North Island is in Hamilton.

Wellington is supposed to have two trucks reaching 100ft - which Thomason said is about eight to 10 floors of a building - but one had already been out of action with mechanical issues. Now both are unavailable.

"We're currently borrowing one from the Hutt Valley. It's 17 metres, which at best gets us about four or five floors up the side of a building, which is insufficient for the high-rise stuff we have in Wellington and, obviously, now the Hutt Valley doesn't have one."

The taller appliance also had a "basket" on top of the ladder so three or four people can walk into the basket and be lowered to the ground.

The borrowed appliance didn't have a basket, so rescued members of the public would have to climb out on to the ladder and climb down to the ground, which could be difficult depending on each person's physical capabilities.

Fire and Emergency Te Ūpoko region manager Bruce Stubbs said the truck was at a workshop being assessed by a specialist mechanic.

"There are two 17m aerial appliances in the Wellington district," he said in a statement.

"These are based at Newtown and Avalon. There is also an elevating monitor based at Seaview. The elevating monitor can spray water from height, but does not take firefighters up.

"It is rare for an aerial to aid the escape of people from a burning building. In the initial stages aerial fire appliances aren't usually used for firefighting in high rise buildings where people live because firefighters use the fire safety measures and equipment inside the building – for example sprinkler systems, internal firefighting water systems (risers), protected access and egress pathways.

"Aerial fire appliances are primarily used to deliver water from height onto a fire, as an observation platform, to prevent fire spread to neighbouring buildings, or to provide lighting. If aerial fire appliances are sent to an incident they are not used until we know that any people still inside the building are out of the way of the water jets."

Fire and Emergency has more than 1240 fire trucks and specialist response vehicles across the county.

"In any large vehicle fleet like ours, from time to time it is expected there may be issues. That's why our vehicles are serviced regularly and we have plans in place to cover trucks that may be off the run."

Now the New Zealand Professional Fire Fighters Union has announced the Christchurch ladder truck, which reaches 32m, has also gone offline for servicing, leaving no high-ladder trucks between Hamilton and Dunedin.

Christchurch crews are now using a converted concrete mixer in its place.

The news of the breakdown comes in the midst of what the union are calling the "fire crisis", as they struggle with significant staffing issues across the country.

The Remuera and Botany fire trucks were offline today, and Mt Roskill and St Helliers trucks were offline yesterday due to these staffing issues.

The union has also claimed that the staffing issues were a factor in a house burning down in Porirua on Friday night.

"A house in Porirua was destroyed by fire overnight. At the same time, one of the Porirua fire trucks had been moved to Wellington City because there were no firefighters," they said.

In a joint statement, the union and Fire and Emergency NZ said they were currently working on a process to "re-engage constructively in collective bargaining".

"A mutually agreed third party will be engaged to support and assist this re-engagement," they said.

"The industrial action currently underway remains in place, but this will not impact our career firefighters' ability to respond to emergency incidents".

Both parties have agreed not to engage in media interviews about the issues to be progressed through the collective bargaining process.

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter