Long road to recovery for Neil


Firefighter Merv Neil remains in intensive care three months after the blaze at the Icepak coolstores Tamahere complex that killed senior station officer Derek Lovell.

The firefighter is being fed through a tube, his hands, face and body are covered in bandages and he needs several skin grafts a week, reported the Herald on Sunday.

But he is talking and was last week transferred from Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital to Waikato Hospital, which is near to his home.

His partner, Alice, said he could not remember the events of Saturday, April 5 but was in good spirits, with an “incredible” will to live.

“He did ask me once: ‘Am I going to make it?’ I said: ‘You are here. You are here and that’s all that matters.”‘

Merv was in the first group of firefighters to reach the Tamahere coolstore, on the southern outskirts of Hamilton, at about 4.30pm.

The 49-year-old caught the full force of the blast that burst from one warehouse seconds after firefighters entered the building.

Alice said she was coping well and her partner of 30 years had made good progress but still faced a long road to recovery. She said the father-of-two was “lovely, kind, funny” and enjoyed fishing, golf and stock cars.

She said their children had been “wonderful” and provided plenty of support during her bedside vigil in Auckland.

Alice wanted to thank the “huge list” of people who provided “incredible” care at Middlemore and the doctors who raced to the scene on the day of the explosion.

“They didn’t think of the dangers they may have had to face. They just pulled in and helped. Right now it still overwhelms me and I’m just trying to get my head around things. People all over the country have been praying for him – we’ve had letters from children.”

She said the senior firefighter loved his job but it was too early to say if he would return to it.

There had been no direct contact from Icepak but she didn’t blame the company for her husband’s injuries.

“I can’t, I don’t know anything about what happened.”

Firefighters investigating the blaze have confirmed Icepak was using highly flammable LPG at the site.

The company was granted resource consent in 2002 to build two new coolstores on the basis that non-toxic freon gas would be used to freeze stored goods.

Waikato Fire Service deputy commander Roy Breeze said the investigation was ongoing.

Icepak director Wayne Grattan has previously said he was con-fident the cool- store complied with regulations.

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