Firefighters entered death trap

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There was no warning firefighters were walking into a death trap, said the Fire Service report into the fatal Icepak coolstore fire at Tamahere in April.

Fire Service chief executive Mike Hall called the report, released today, “cathartic” because it had cleared firefighters of blame for the coolstore explosion, reported NZPA.

Hall said Hamilton staff feared their actions would be criticised, but the report had been about learning, not blaming.

Hazardous substances legislation was unclear, and other legislation needed to be updated to reflect the reality that urban crews often responded to rural fires, he said.

The law applying to “a gas enclosed within a refrigeration system appears to come under at least two different regulations, and maybe a third, and there is argument under those regulations as well,” he said.

He expected the Fire Service would meet the Environment Risk Management Authority (Erma), Labour Department and local government officials in a bid to unravel the red tape.

Labour and Environment Minister Trevor Mallard said both departments were working through the recommendations and findings of the report.

The industry standard for refrigeration systems required the use of a stenching agent, he said.

Erma would review legislation to ensure other gases used in refrigeration systems were properly covered, and other large-scale industries to see if law changes were needed.

The Waikato Times also reports on the relief felt by firefighters but also adds a telling section of the report related to the Waikato District Council.

Waikato District Council told investigators it relied heavily on what it was told by Icepak in its resource consent hearings in relation to a fire risk, meaning “that resource consent conditions dealing with fire risk were unnecessary”.

The NZ Herald story on the report notes that it found that the coolstore was “always at risk from fire” with very large quantities of combustible material in storage and did not have the facilities on site to deal with fire.

“There were no compliant fire detection or protection systems or hydrants and very limited firefighting water,” it said.

Firefighters Union spokesman Derek Best told the paper the coolstore was “a disaster waiting to happen”, and it was extraordinary so many potential safety nets were absent.

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