The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) has grounded 250 of its Mercedes-Benz G-Wagens across the state that were operational during the summer bushfires.
The Advertiser has been told the vehicles have been sidelined while awaiting new brake hose replacement systems.
There are reportedly no such systems in the country at present.
The secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Ben Davis, confirmed that the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagens stood down had experienced issues with the brake hose.
“Apparently they are swelling and splitting, which makes the brakes unreliable,” Mr Davis said.
He was unsure how long it would take to have the vehicles repaired and up and running again.
“This is the latest in a long litany of mechanical problems with the G-Wagen since DELWP introduced the fleet,” Mr Davis said.
It’s also not the first time Forest Fire Management crews have expressed concern for their safety with the braking systems on the G-Wagens.
In 2017, a brake pad caught fire while travelling downhill towing a load.
There have also been issues with leaking fuel caps and engines reportedly cutting out.
“It’s not ideal for a firefighting vehicle to be leaking diesel,” Mr Davis said.
“They’ve sidelined them for good reason.”
The union secretary told the Advertiser that half the engines had been replaced in the DELWP fleet and they were simply “not fit for the variable conditions” in Victoria’s rugged terrain.
“If I was a tradesman that really wasn’t veering off the asphalt they’d be okay, but they’re not fit for uphill and down dale in some of Victoria’s roughest country,” Mr Davis said.
“They’re certainly not appropriate for the goat tracks of East Gippsland,” Mr Davis said, drawing particular reference to the terrain at the back of Bendoc.
“I don’t think the decision makers took that into account, that they’re struggling in the terrain they do off road and off track.”
“How DELWP locked this vehicle in, I’ll never know,” Mr Davis said, pointing out that the G-Wagen was unable to reverse while in 4WD mode.
Mr Davis said what DELWP should have done “is purchase a handful of the vehicles and battle test them for six or 12 months and then do a review. That will tell them if they’re up to requirements.”
Prior to introducing the G-Wagens, the vehicle of choice for DELWP was the Toyota Landcruiser.
“The Landcruiser was ideal but Toyota decided to stop making them. I think they’ve restarted making them, so they should go back to them,” Mr Davis said.
“I don’t think the Toyota was quarter of a million a pop either,” Mr Davis said in reference to the $250,000 price tag DELWP reportedly paid for each of the G-Wagens fitted out for their purposes.
Mr Davis said crews were making do with less vehicles at the present time while the G-Wagens are sidelined.
“They can do that because it’s outside the fire season,” he said.
DELWP was approached for written comment on the standing down of the vehicles at 8am on Monday but had failed to respond by deadline Tuesday, despite several follow-up calls.
A DELWP spokesperson said all G-Wagens have been removed from service as a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of their staff and that other vehicles have been re-prioritised to cover operational needs including the planned burning program.
IMAGE: A fleet of Mecedes-Benz G-Wagens used by DELWP across the State have been sidelined. At DELWP’s Bairnsdale depot, the G-Wagens were observed sitting idle on Tuesday morning. K291-6126