After 10 weeks in a coma and six months in hospital Hamilton firefighter Merv Neil, who received burns to 73% of his body in April’s fatal Icepak fire, today returned to Tamahere for the first time.
Neil, in a sun hat, with his legs and arms swathed in pressure stockings, leaned on a walking stick as he watched a two metre high wooden sculpture of a fireman unveiled in his honour at Tamahere’s Li’l Pumpkins early childcare centre.
The consensus among his fellow firefighters was that the sculpture, carved by Rotorua chainsaw carver Warwick Lilley, had Mr Neil’s nose and bushy eyebrows.
Firefighter Cameron Grylls, also injured in April and who returned to duty within two weeks of the fire, accepted a $550 donation for the Tamahere Firefighters fund from the childcare centre’s families.
“It’s good that we are all here,” he said adding, “except one.”
Senior station officer Derek Lovell died of injuries received from the explosion that started the seven day fire.
Of the other firemen injured on the day, Dennis Wells has returned to duty, Adrian Brown and Alvan Walker are on light duties, and Brian Halford, David Beanland and Merv Neil are expected to be able to return in about 12 months.
The Labour Department today filed charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act arising from the fire against several parties. Details will be known on the first court appearance, expected in about six weeks.