It has been a year of pain, fear and grief, but now firefighters injured in last year’s fatal Icepak Coolstores fire at Tamahere are ready to smile again, reported TV3.
Senior station officer Derek Lovell lost his life. Lucky timing meant no-one else had to, though seven others were injured.
The local school had just begun their annual pumpkin night. By a stroke of luck, many parents were doctors and nurses, and moments after the explosion they were at the door of the coolstore saving Mr Lovell’s colleagues.
“If those people weren’t here on the day, we probably would have lost three or maybe four more firemen,” says Roy Breeze, fire chief.
Instead they were able to return to say thank you and exchange lasting mementos of their gratitude, a gratitude the firefighters say they owe to hundreds who have supported them.
It has been a hard year for all of them, including the children. Some were frightened about coming back for this year’s pumpkin night.
“When your dad runs into the fire and your mum says we are leaving, it’s a very scary time,” says Waveney Parker, principal, “And obviously to the mums leaving it was a horrendous time.”
Still sporting bandages that tell a tale of a long recovery, four of the firefighters remain off work.
“We’ve still got four people that every day, they get up and put their bandages on to try to make their skin better and be more comfortable,” says Mr Breeze. “It’s alive for them every day.”
But they are all determined to return to their jobs as soon as they possibly can.
“When that is we are not quite sure, but it’s going to happen,” says Mr Breeze.
Evidence remains of the fire that burned on for days. The land is now up for sale and a court case is pending against three Icepak directors.
The seven staff who worked there were offered jobs elsewhere in the company. They were locals and knew some of the firefighters. Icepak’s managing director Wayne Gratton told 3 News that one year on they are still feeling shattered by what happened.
Mr Breeze says the most important thing for his men is that changes are made to reduce the risks firefighters face.
As for the school, they want to move on to happier days, but will never forget pumpkin night last year.