4 Aug 2016

Firefighters blacklist truck over safety fears

4:25 pm on 4 August 2016

The Fire Service is defending the use of its new fleet of vehicles after the firefighters' union blacklisted an Auckland truck over safety fears.

The black-listed fire truck.

The blacklisted fire truck Photo: Supplied

More than 200 faults in the new line of appliances were reported across the country, and the Fire Service spent more than a year trying to fix them.

The Pump Rescue Tender vehicle stationed at Auckland City Fire Station was the first of its fleet to be bought in January last year.

The truck carries vital rescue equipment and is on the front lines of emergency callouts. But, over the past year and a half, faults started appearing, from broken door handles, to faulty throttles and water containers.

New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union northern branch secretary Boyd Raines said it was alarming, and putting the lives of firefighters at risk.

"There is a risk to them if there's a loss of water while they're inside a building," he said.

"The firefighters have lost their trust and confidence in an essential firefighting tool, that's causing them a lot of frustration."

When the Auckland City truck refused to start, the firefighters decided to blacklist it - and go back to using an older, more reliable vehicle.

It was the first time in 20 years such a drastic move had been taken, and Mr Raines said it sent a strong message about the rest of the fleet.

"When a truck won't start, to respond to a call, they feel a big sense of failure and anger."

Mr Raines said he had been getting reports from other offices around the country where firefighters were considering not using the new vehicles for call-outs if they knew that older appliances were on their way from other stations.

"In my 30-odd years in the Fire Service, I've never heard of that before... I've never seen problems with appliances to this scale."

The union had been working with the Fire Service to resolve the issues but it had taken a long time, and more problems kept arising, he said.

Repairs carried out across the fleet, public not at risk - Fire Service

The Fire Service said most of the issues, such as faulty door handles, had been fixed and replaced across the fleet.

Auckland and Northland region manager Kerry Gregory said the blacklisted truck only needed a battery replacement, but for the firefighters it was the last straw.

"They went back to start it and it wouldn't start, from the firefighters' perspective that is just totally unacceptable, and certainly not anything we would want to happen.

"The frustration that had been built up over a long period of time, fixing all the little things to get it right, that frustration came to a head where it was like - OK, we're going to black the truck."

None of the problems in the vehicles raised any safety concerns at all, and he was confident neither the firefighters nor the public were at any risk, he said.

But he said it was going to take time to win back that trust.

"It's a hurdle that we're going have to get over, and that will only come with time.

"People will get reassured as we get on top of all these issues and start getting the reliability that we expect from the truck, then the confidence will build."

Mr Gregory said the new trucks, which were custom built using parts from several local and international companies, were still under warranty, which had covered the repairs.