The state of Auckland's specialist fire engines is so poor that during a plastics factory fire with multiple explosions, one broke down and had to be parked up on the side of the road.

And two smaller specialist trucks based at Ellerslie and Papatoetoe were broken down overnight two weeks ago, leaving fire crews scrambling to adequately cover South Auckland in the event of a major fire.

On top of that the Auckland city aerial was also broken down for at least a day this week before it was back in working order on Friday.

However the New Zealand Fire Service denies there is a problem with the ageing fleet saying they are regularly maintained and that firefighters and the public can be confident they are protected.


The New Zealand Professional Firefighters' Union said it was so worried about the situation it feared a major fire could put firefighters' lives and Auckland residents at risk.

Auckland Local vice-president Boyd Raines said the general state of greater Auckland's aerial fleet, which included two heavy aerial trucks, a relief heavy aerial with turntable ladder shared with Hamilton, and three smaller aerials, was generally poor.

An aerial truck is a specialist unit worth more than $1 million featuring either a basket or ladder that can extend 30 metres, or eight storeys high. Five of the six have a water pump.

The union said it was virtually unheard of anywhere else in the developed world for a city the size of Auckland to have this "incredibly low number of specialist trucks".

"The firefighters have to have the resources to be able to do their job properly and the public have to know we can help them when they need help," Raines said.

A review of the plastics factory fire in West Auckland on September 27, which the Herald has seen a copy of, found "maintenancing and servicing issues" impacted the effectiveness of the aerial fleet, most of which was deployed that night.

The 20-year-old heavy aerial relief fire engine which was parked up during a massive plastics factory fire because of a broken water pump. Photo / Nigel Capon.
The 20-year-old heavy aerial relief fire engine which was parked up during a massive plastics factory fire because of a broken water pump. Photo / Nigel Capon.

The union said the 20-year-old relief heavy aerial had to be parked up because its water pump was not working.

"This is not good use of $1.2 million worth of equipment," the union said.


"This was further impacted by the limited number of on-duty operators available on the incident ground," the report said.

One firefighter was injured during the incident after he became dehydrated while working in the basket of an aerial for more than three hours without a break.

"When you start running out of trained operators on a fire ground it's because they don't want to train people, because it costs money to train people," Raines said.

However Auckland city area manager Richard Twomey said the relief aerial was still in good condition and its water pump was fixed the next day.

Twomey said the two smaller aerials which broke down 10 days ago only had minor mechanical faults, one being a computer malfunction, and the other one was undergoing a scheduled maintenance repair - which was ongoing until the following Wednesday.

Both stations at Ellerslie and Papatoetoe were provided with standard fire trucks to cover the night.

"The city was well covered. It's not a major catastrophe."

He said the union was "mischief making" and that "trucks break down all the time" but the fleet was not particularly old and not run down.

Each appliance had a scheduled maintenance and replacement programme and were well looked after by the Fire Service and firefighters who used them, he said.

Twomey said firefighters and the public could have absolute confidence in the Fire Service's ability to adequately perform its duties.

He said there was no cost-cutting on training firefighters in how to operate aerials and that no-one had raised any concerns with him over the fleet.

In January the union blacklisted 11 of Auckland's Fraser-MAN fire trucks after an engine's pump lost pressure during a house fire.

Auckland's aerial fleet

Heavy aerials with basket extending 30m

• Auckland city: 1; 5 years old

• Parnell: 1; 10 years old

Heavy aerial relief with turntable ladder extending 30m
• Shared between Auckland and Hamilton; 20 years old

Small aerials with basket extending 17m
• Ellerslie: 1; 9 years old
• Te Atatu: 1; 9 years old
• Papatoetoe: 1; 7 years old.