Residents of a burning building were forced to jump two storeys to safety, with one woman badly injuring her leg, because a high ladder fire truck could not respond sooner, the union says.
The incident unfolded at 4.30am on Friday when fire broke out in flats above shops in Eden Terrace, Auckland.
Several people had to jump from balconies to survive, some landing in bushes. Two were taken to hospital and are now in a stable condition.
The woman who injured her leg fell through a plastic roof as she tried to escape the blaze, Fire and Emergency New Zealand [FENZ] said.
However the New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union said a cost-cutting measure introduced by FENZ last July meant a heavy aerial appliance - which has a high ladder for such rescue operations - was not allowed to respond when the first emergency call came in.
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That's because FENZ changed its response so that Auckland's two high ladder trucks, which extend up to 30 metres, do not respond to first alarms, many of which are false alarms.
But Auckland local secretary Martin Campbell said the union had been warning FENZ since about the risk of not responding a high ladder truck immediately.
"When the first truck got there they found people stuck on the upper balconies trying to get off. It was a very well involved fire.
"A woman has tried to get off herself and whether she has jumped or she has fallen through the roof, she has quite severely injured her leg."
The first responders called for the aerial appliance which arrived six minutes later, but residents were already jumping.
"It's the difference between those people being able to be rescued by our aerial ladder or self-evacuating which is what I think has happened with this poor woman."
A second aerial appliance arrived 10 minutes later but had problems setting up because hoses being used to fight the fire had to be moved.
On top of that, one of the aerial trucks has broken controls in the cherry picker which means the ladder cannot be operated from the top, has broken communications which means firefighters up the ladder cannot talk to those controlling it at the bottom, and has faulty stabilisers that keep the truck stable when the ladder is extended.
Campbell said the hazards and risks had been consistently made known to FENZ by the union.
The issue was highlighted during the SkyCity convention centre fire when the union said aerial appliances could have brought the fire under control much faster if they had been sent immediately.
He wanted immediate reinstatement of aerial appliances responding to first alarms and an overhaul of the specialist vehicle fleet across the country.
However FENZ region manager Ron Devlin firefighters arrived at the New North Rd fire within five minutes of the first call to 111 and found the building well-ablaze.
"By 4.50am there were seven fire trucks at the scene. All of these were carrying at least a 10.5m rescue ladder – high enough to reach the first floor of a building."
He said after crews arrived at the front of the building, they were made aware that two people were attempting to make their own escape from the rear first floor balcony.
"While doing so, one fell through a plastic roof and was injured. They were then assisted by the neighbour whose property they landed in and a police officer."
Devlin said fire trucks or specialist vehicles were dispatched if the officer in charge of an incident decides they are needed.
"As with any incident, we are looking into what occurred and if there are any lessons we can learn for future."
He said FENZ was currently reviewing the national aerial appliance strategy and had started a project to purchase a small number of new aerial appliances to replace some of the older vehicles.