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Firefighters battle gridlock

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Emergency service volunteers getting tangled in Warkworth and Matakana's snarled roads may soon start impacting public safety in the area.

That's the view of firefighters as some volunteers struggle to get to stations.

“It can take one of our volunteers who lives near Ascension an hour to get to the station when traffic is heavy. There's no point her even trying,” Warkworth Volunteer Fire Brigade spokesman Devan Flewellyn says.

With 25 volunteers Flewellyn estimates a third struggle to get to the station.

This can delay the fire engine leaving by up to 10 minutes.

“While we can move fairly quickly once the lights and sirens are on we still have to crawl through the Hill St intersection,” chief fire officer Ian Davies says.

Over warmer months traffic travelling to and from Matakana through the notorious Hill St intersection at Wark worth is very heavy on Friday night, with Sunday afternoons the worst.

Day trippers cause heavy traffic at the intersection and see traffic crawling at Matakana across much of the weekend.

This sees about a fifth of Matakana fire brigade volunteers affected, including fire Chief Barry Clarke who lives on Greens Rd.

“The traffic is bumper to bumper coming into Matakana and I can't get out of the road.”

Manoeuvring the fire engine through the jammed village roads and the round-about any time during the weekend can be challenging, he says. With most members living in the Snells Beach area, getting to the Mahurangi East fire station isn't generally a problem, firefighter Kevin Jones says.

But the biggest concern is the potential for serious delays should they be called on to backup the Warkwotih brigade or there is a big accident or fire in the Dome Valley, particularly on a Sunday afternoon and all brigades are called on. Then there's the potential for real problems, he says.

All brigades struggle to either get their staff to the stations or get out past traffic quickly.

“We're not supposed to drive on the wrong side of the road even under lights and siren,” Clarke says.

But with traffic often backed up to Sharp Rd, Matakana Fire engines and tankers would have no alternative but to travel 7km on the wrong side of the road to get into Warkworth. Waiting for the motorway extension to be completed in six years time is too long, Flewellyn says. Something needs to be done before.

Clarke agrees.

“You can't keep pouring more and more people into this area without doing something about the infrastructure,” he says. “We're not a backwater anymore.”

The Auckland Plan indicates that Warkworth is set to grow from 3000 to 20,000 people by 2040.

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