Court action could be needed to resolve who pays the bill for fighting April’s fatal Icepak coolstore fire.
There has been speculation that the Waikato District Council will get a “very significant” bill from the New Zealand Fire Service for the cost of fighting the fire at Tamahere, which killed Hamilton Senior Station Officer Derek Lovell and seriously injured seven of his colleagues, according to media reports.
Piako MP Lindsay Tisch has sought clarification on the responsibilities of the Fire Service in the case of Icepak and other significant industrial buildings in rural areas in a series of questions in Parliament.
If the district council was to pay for fighting the fire the money would, of course, come from ratepayers. That means Tamahere ratepayers would effectively be up for the cost of the disaster visited on their community.
The Waikato Times reported the council could be billed as much as $2.2 million as principal rural fire authority for the district. The council said it would go to court to fight any move to lump it with the costs.
Council chief executive Gavin Ion confirmed they had been in talks with the fire service about potential costs but said no bill had been received.
The original amount floated by the fire service was $400,000, Mr Ion said. That was later drastically reduced to $20,000.
But Mr Ion said the council was not prepared “to pay a cent” towards the fire service’s costs in fighting the fire and would take its case all the way to court.
“At the moment we wouldn’t accept liability for the fire. We don’t believe it should be oncharged to us and a legal argument would have to be sorted out in court,” he told the Waikato Times.
He said he had heard “some significant figures” rumoured to have been charged to the council, but had not heard the $2.2 million.
“My understanding of it is it’s the total cost of the fire suppression effort including fire engines… I imagine they were of a significant cost and were destroyed. But I imagine they have insurance.”
Fire service spokesman Scott Sargentina said a replacement, fully kitted-out fire engine cost $700,000.
He said they had told the council that if there were charges that could be passed on, they would be.
Mr Ion said any charges in relation to fighting the fire came under its obligations as the principal rural fire authority for the district, rather than any other responsibilities or correspondence it had with Icepak.
“It’s in a rural area and we are the rural fire authority.”
Tamahere resident Arnold Koppens said he had been told the bill was as high as $2.2 million.
However, ward councillor Wally Hayes said the figure was simply “hearsay and rumour”.
National MP Lindsay Tisch, raising the issue in Parliament, asked Internal Affairs Minister Rick Barker whether, prior to the Icepak fire, the National Commander of the Fire Service had established a co-ordination scheme with the Waikato District Council pursuant to Section 17P of the Fire Service Act for protection of life and property in Tamahere and if not, why not.
Barker replied that the Fire Service had not established a co-ordination scheme with the Waikato District Council prior to the Tamahere Icepak fire.
“The Commission further informs me,” Barker said, “that the Tamahere fire is currently the subject of an internal inquiry being undertaken by the New Zealand Fire Service on the instructions of the National Commander. The terms of reference for the inquiry refer, among other matters, to the Fire Service’s preparedness to manage such an incident. I am advised that the report is likely to address the state of knowledge and preparedness of the Service in respect of the Icepak facility, including risk planning.”
The Fire Service inquiry has been completed and is due for consideration by the Fire Service Commission in September. It is not known if and when the report will be made public.