Firefighters battling the SkyCity convention centre blaze were so exhausted they fell asleep on the job, 32 metres up in the air.
That claim comes from the NZ Professional Firefighters' Union, which says fatigue levels weren't well monitored during the major event.
It has surveyed 134 of those who battled the fire over the four days it took to extinguish it. They’ve described feeling under trained, over worked and lacking in resources.
“Eighty-one per cent of our firefighters who attended that incident reported issues of poor fatigue management, lack of crew rotation, extremely long hours under arduous conditions,” said Auckland firefighter and NZPFU Auckland local secretary Martin Campbell.
The survey results also highlight concerns about exposure to smoke and water and equipment issues, including faulty breathing apparatus communications.
Mr Campbell was one of the first to respond to the fire, arriving at 1.30pm and working until 8am the following morning.
He said others worked shifts in excess of 24 hours, something Fire and Emergency NZ regional manager Ron Devlin says he’s not aware of.
Mr Devlin did, however, say he was “happy to accept the fact that in the first 24 hours of the event, when the real work was ramping up, people probably did put in more hours”.
The union says not only did exhaustion lead two falling asleep at the top of the firefighting ladder, but others fell asleep at traffic lights while driving home.
Mr Campbell said the problems faced and highlighted in the union’s survey are not new. The union is calling for immediate action.
“Extra staffing and more resourcing are definitely needed in our largest city but we also need proper processing and procedures put in place that, in black and white, will explain how crews are managed”, he said.
Fire and Emergency believes the Auckland region is adequately staffed, Mr Devlin said, but he also acknowledged that “we should be listening to them and working out the best way”.
“What is it they think is reasonable, how does that work in respect to physiological wellbeing, how does it work with their physical wellbeing and what's the best way to operate to enable them to do the best they can for their communities?” he said.
The fire service says the safety of its people is paramount, that it will investigate the incidents of fatigue and review its response to the SkyCity blaze on the whole.
“We’re committed to resolving any issues raised from this incident and identifying any areas which could be improved for future,” Mr Devlin said.