Loafers Lodge fire: Fire and Emergency NZ boss defends response into fatal Wellington blaze, says organisation has 'challenges'

The boss of Fire and Emergency New Zealand has defended his organisation and the state of its fleet but revealed they are facing "significant" challenges. 

The large, fatal blaze broke out in the early hours of Tuesday morning in Loafers Lodge on Adelaide Rd in Wellington. 

So far, six deaths have been confirmed, but police fear that number could rise. 

Police also confirmed on Wednesday they are treating the Loafers Lodge fire as arson after they entered the charred building to conduct an "extensive and methodical" scene examination.

Up to 90 firefighters battled the fatal blaze, helping to rescue a number of people trapped in the building.  

Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) chief executive Kerry Gregory fronted media on Thursday to defend his organisation saying they had enough resources to respond to the blaze.  

"I can reassure you Fire and Emergency had enough crews and enough specialist appliances to respond to the Newtown fire," he said. 

"All the vehicles that were there were fit for purpose ....but I'm not denying that we've inherited huge legacy issues that we will have to address over time." 

Gregory told media an operation review would give more details on the issues. 

"It's really raw for firefighters. Most firefighters in their whole career don't go to a fire fatality, let alone one of the worst we've had in Wellington," he said.

"They are really struggling in that space."

Almost 30 percent of FENZ's appliances are beyond their target asset life of 20-25 years, Gregory said. 

He added FENZ has had 241 new appliances since the creation of Fire and Emergency in 2017 and has built or refurbished 30 new fire stations since January 2018. 

"While there has been considerable investment in fleet, property and the back office system since Fire and Emergency's formation in 2017, current and plan levels of capital expenditure will be really challenged to ensure the maintenance and the necessary investment in our assets to meet the needs of New Zealand communities based on our forecast incomes," he said. 

The establishment of FENZ brought together more than 40 separate fire services from around the country, Gregory said.

Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) chief executive Kerry Gregory.
Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) chief executive Kerry Gregory. Photo credit: Newshub

But he also revealed the legacy condition of many of their stations varied "significantly". 

"The legacy condition of many of our inherited stations and appliances varied significantly from fit-for-purpose vehicles to those that were barely safe for use," he said.

Gregory said despite "significant" time and investment, FENZ still has a long way to go to modernise their out-of-date fleet and neglected property.

"Fire and Emergency has a 20-year capital budget forecast of more than $2.9 billion to improve and replenish main assets," he said. 

"Based on our current forecast income, we can only afford $2 billion. The Board of Fire and Emergency New Zealand is looking at options and mechanisms for funding this $900 million shortfall, this remains a work in progress." 

FENZ is working with unions, associations and people on the ground around the country to ensure they develop a modern emergency response organisation that is up-to-date and fit for purpose.

"I want to reassure the public, as we saw on Monday night, and through the flooding earlier this year from the Far North right through to Tairāwhiti and the Hawke's Bay, Fire and Emergency is available and capable of responding to incidents to keep New Zealand communities safe," he said.

"Please call 111 if you have an emergency. We will respond and continue to be there when you need us."