Ongoing problems with the ACT's only specialised aerial unit for fighting fires in high-rise buildings has ramped up the urgency of the hunt for another.
The 44-metre Bronto aerial appliance, which uses a complex system of stability systems and hydraulics for its telescopic ladder platform, has become a troublesome machine in the past 12 months.
In December, firefighters union secretary Greg McConville said ACT Fire and Rescue had "close call" by only just getting the appliance back into operation in time to rescue people from a smoke-clogged Capital Executive Apartments on Northbourne Avenue.
In that incident, it had only returned to service from a fault hours before when the multi-storey fire broke out.
Last month, the Bronto was being serviced when a fire broke out on the 12th floor of the new Founders Lane residential complex.
From July 1 2017 until February 28 this year, it was out of commission for 16 per cent of the time but in recent months, it has become plagued with various gremlins, mostly electrical in nature. Liberals' spokeswoman Giulia Jones labelled it a "lemon" in the ACT Assembly on Tuesday.
The ACT government has pledged $2 million to fund the purchase of a new aerial firefighting appliance which should be on the road some time in the 2019-20 financial year.
Until it arrives, the ACT is left exposed to the vagaries of the current machine's on-again, off-again availability should a major high-rise fire break out.
Minister Mick Gentleman admitted as much in the ACT Assembly yesterday and said that the problems faced by the Bronto in the ACT "aren't in isolation" and "other jurisdictions may have faced issues as well".
"The [current] Bronto has not lived up to the expectations that we had hoped," Mr Gentleman said.
The current appliance was purchased in October 2009 and the Emergency Services Agency had expected it to have a 20-year working life. However, such a long-term outlook isn't promising given it suffers, as the Minister describes it, "significant ongoing serviceability problems that are substantially impacting its operational availability".
The Emergency Services Agency has now revised the timing of its replacement for the 2024-25 financial year.
Even scheduled and preventative maintenance on the Bronto is complex and lengthy. Each task has to be completed in a careful sequence so the machine can be quickly reassembled in the workshop and respond to incidents as required.
Maintenance is also complicated by the need for independent safety accreditation of the work done on the equipment.
Major servicing takes the large fire-fighting appliance off the road for days at a time, which leaves the ACT badly exposed in the event of a fire which occurs above seven stories high.
To date, the ACT has relied on "good faith" relations with Fire & Rescue NSW and the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade to borrow a spare major aerial appliance when the Bronto is unavailable. An aerial appliance is owned by the CSIRO but is unregistered and regarded by firefighters to be unsuitable for use in urban residential high rise situations.
"This option is becoming more difficult as fire agencies around Australia are currently having similar reliability and breakdown issues with their aerial capabilities," Mr Gentleman said.
Many of the fire services interstate have equipment like the Bronto that are reaching the end of their end of their working life and "this has resulted in a lack of available spare aerial appliances, creating capability issues across the country".