Firefighters keep diary to record Newtown 225's mechanical woes

8:13 am on 18 May 2023
Wellington Loafers Lodge fire

Newtown 225 is one of seven Type 5 trucks nationwide. A similar one was in action at the Loafers Lodge fire in Wellington. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

A second truck with a very long ladder was not available to firefighters rescuing people off the roof of the Loafers Lodge because it has been broken down for some time.

Frontline firefighters have been keeping a diary of Newtown 225, which has had 469 days in a row out of service - ever since it froze up at a house fire in Kilbirnie in February last year.

It has spent just 45 days in operation since July 2020.

Asked if having the Newtown 225 large truck at Tuesday's fire in Newtown would have helped, FENZ's regional manager and assistant national commander Bruce Stubbs told RNZ he did not know.

"There's been some mechanical problems with it, so we are working with our fleet provider to get that back on the run."

The truck's total days in service, when it was able to fight fires, are:

  • 2021 - 12 days
  • 2022 - 33 days
  • 2023 - zero days.

Its absence leaves the city and region with just a single truck with a 32m-long ladder, which rescued five people off the lodge's roof.

Newtown 225 is one of seven Type 5 trucks nationwide, plus three old relief trucks.

A smaller Type 4 truck with a 17m-long ladder was also at the Newtown fire. There are 16 Type 4s nationwide.

Flames seen in the top storey of the Loafers Lodge building in Adelaide Road, Newtown, Wellington.

Flames seen in the top storey of the Loafers Lodge building in Adelaide Road, Newtown, Wellington. Photo: Supplied / Axel Dann

Fire and Emergency has previously said it was "rare" to use ladder trucks to rescue people.

The firefighters' union and FENZ management have been at loggerheads over fleet resilience and strategy for at least three years. FENZ has been working on a new aerial strategy.

Newtown 225 is an extreme but not isolated case of truck problems. For instance, at a big car scrapyard fire in Woolston last August, three fire trucks played up, including - FENZ said later in an OIA response - Christchurch 214, which "lost power and control to the boom. All lights went off, and no control was available".

The Newtown 225 diary says: "This isn't a crack at any individual or organisation - just a summary of events highlighting some of the cracks in the system that sum up our frustration."

Paraphrased excerpts from the diary of Newtown 225 (some dates approximate):


  • July - Diary is begun by noting a hydraulic leak.
  • August - Truck off for its scheduled 10-year refurbishment of its aerial ladder equipment.
  • 17 December - After the refurbishment, it failed testing.
  • 21 December - The appliance heads to Wellington anyway, with the Newtown crew asked to accept it before Christmas 2020. They refused until the faults were fixed. "We thought that after a 10-year refurbishment, the vehicle should be in 'mint' condition."
  • New Year's Eve - Still off the road.


  • 17 February - A suspension problem.
  • 4 March - On the run for approximately three hours. Faulted because the officer's external door handle broke.
  • 12 March - Back on run, but three days later an electrical fault, two days after that an airbag fault, and on 21 March a hydraulic leak and subframe crack detected.
  • 18 March - Heading north for suspension and chassis repairs, Newtown 225 blew a coolant hose on the Desert Road.
  • 16 September - Suspension levelling problems.
  • 12 November - The main boom froze when just out of the cradle.
  • 12 December - Rubber mounts for cage damaged, "OK to train on but not drive."
  • 21 December - "Christine [the appliance's nickname] back on the run, with known faults (coolant issue, siren remote not operating, gas struts holding rear control panel cover failing, near side rear yellow grab handle accessing the pulpit is bent and slightly loose. Despite reservations, the crew accepted it back as a demonstration of trust and good faith.)"
  • Christmas Day - A coolant leak leads to an alarm. "Yes, the mechanics got their Christmas Day ruined, too."
  • New Year's Eve - Beacons failed repeatedly. Truck stayed on the run, but only at normal road speed.


  • 1 January - On the run, but all beacons and alternating headlights were not working. New beacons installed later.
  • 21 January - Truck froze during training with firefighters in the ladder cage. It was "operating properly, but with a few idiosyncrasies", said the company that checked it, prompting firefighters to ask: "Idiosyncrasies are OK???"
  • 2 February - Rubber mounts to support cage failed. The original ones had earlier been glued together and put back on. Crew heading for Kilbirnie to test the truck, when called to a house fire, where the ladder boom froze with a firefighter in it. Firefighters moved to ban the truck.
  • 18 September - An investigation of the Kilbirnie freeze was finally issued, only after an investigator spoke out alleging an attempt by FENZ to whitewash it.
  • October - Attempts to bring Newtown 225 back into service, but amid the delays some trained people had left, so others had to be trained up. "Despite their best efforts, Christine repeatedly let them down," suffering faults including:
    • a serious leak from the boom waterway
    • repeated 'cage-slew' faults
    • a significant hydraulic leak
    • truck revs labouring when jacking
    • nearside rear ram slower to extend, and 'sagging'
    • rear outrigger screen showing incorrect readings
    • "Possibly best of all, the truck fuel tank capacity exceeds the fuel card limit."
  • October-December - Outside technicians were spending time and money on fault finding. "For one fault, he even recommend [sic] 'whacking' the truck in a specific spot."
  • New Year - The truck was still out of order.


  • 2 February - It was back. After a long period of repairs since October 2022, the truck was put through its paces but sprung a major hydraulic leak.
  • 19 April - Tested again after repairs for the leak, but the engine laboured and almost stalled during jacking, and the airbag suspension is not right. This mirrored faults meant to have been fixed since it froze up at the Kilbirnie fire in early 2022.
  • 16 May - Newtown 225 was unavailable to join another 32m-ladder truck at the Loafers Lodge fire.

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