Canberra's only aerial ladder firefighting appliance returned to service just hours before it was used to rescue people from a burning multi-storey building last month.
United Firefighters Union ACT branch secretary Greg McConville said ACT Fire and Rescue had "dodged a bullet" by only just getting the appliance, known as the Bronto, back into operation in time.
But ACT Fire and Rescue chief officer Mark Brown said the safety of people in tall buildings where fires broke out was not contingent on the Bronto, and firefighters could effectively respond without it.
In an emailed response to questions, Mr Brown said the Bronto was taken to an Emergency Services Agency workshop for immediate repairs after a mechanical fault was discovered on December 11.
It is understood the Bronto returned to service at 3.39pm on December 13 and was listed as "mobile and available" at 5.09pm that afternoon.
At 8.25pm, it was called to a fire at the smoke-clogged Capital Executive Apartments on Northbourne Avenue, where it was used to rescue residents trapped on the top floors of the three-storey building.
Mr McConville said it was a close call that had been "the talk of the town" among firefighters.
He said the rescue could have played out differently had the Bronto not been back in service.
"You can only ride your luck for so long," Mr McConville said.
"The safety of the Canberra community should not rely on luck."
Mr Brown confirmed the Bronto returned to service during the afternoon, before the fire.
There are a growing number of tall buildings popping up on the Canberra skyline, with many of them high-rises.
Yet the city still has just one Bronto, while it was announced in the 2018-19 Budget that ACT Fire and Rescue would procure an aerial pumper to complement it.
Asked how ACT Fire and Rescue fought fires in high-rise buildings when the Bronto and its aerial ladder were not available, Mr Brown said safety was not contingent on that particular appliance responding.
"Fire safety in these buildings is achieved through construction that complies with the building regulations," Mr Brown said.
"All high-rise buildings in Canberra have a high level of compartmentation, fire-isolated stairways, early warning systems and sprinkler systems.
"ACT Fire and Rescue has well-developed procedures to effectively respond to incidents in high-rise buildings and our firefighters are well-equipped and trained to deal with these and ensure community safety."
The Bronto is usually stationed at the Aranda Fire Station in Belconnen.
Mr McConville said when it was out of service, a loan vehicle was most commonly sought from the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in Melbourne, which had a spare Bronto in its fleet.
The union secretary said he understood the Bronto had again been out of service since January 5, and a loan appliance from Melbourne had not arrived until 11 days later.
Asked about this, Mr Brown said the Bronto was in Sydney undergoing diagnostic testing on its engine.
"This work was pre-planned and arrangements were made for a loan Bronto from the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade, which is now in operation in Canberra," he said.
Mr McConville said given the distance between Canberra and Melbourne, he was calling on ACT Fire and Rescue to make immediate arrangements for a replacement appliance as soon as it became apparent that the Bronto would be out of service for more than 24 hours.