They helped save firefighters’ lives, coming in from days off and performing miracles in the midst of tragedy.
And now, the staff of Waikato Hospital have been thanked for their efforts helping the victims of the fatal Icepak Coolstore blaze at Tamahere in April last year, reports the Waikato Times.
Merv Neil, David Beanland, Adrian Brown, Dennis Wells, Brian Halford and Cameron Grylls presented staff in the hospital’s burns and plastics unit, Ward 7, with two fold-out sofa chairs and a two-seater couch on Thursday, to help make the stay of patients’ families more comfortable. Mr Beanland’s wife, Dianne, played a lead role in helping design the furniture making the arms narrower so they fit better in the family waiting rooms.
It was the first time back in the hospital corridors for Mr Halford, but familiar territory for Mr Grylls, who works at the hospital part-time, and Mr Neil who has visited the hospital at least three times a week since his release and become more of a friend than a patient to those who work in the ward.
The furniture was bought with the remaining money from the Tamahere Firefighters Families’ Fund.
Trust chairman and Hamilton station officer Colin Irvine said “99 per cent” of the money had been spent on the families, and they felt this was the perfect opportunity to say thanks.
“Your dedication and the skill and care that you put into our guys was amazing and really helped with their recovery which had a huge impact on the fire brigade in general,” he said.
Mr Irvine hoped future patients would take strength from the progress firefighters had made.
“Hopefully people, over time, will reflect on these guys and take strength from Merv, Beanie and Brownie and the rest of the guys who have all pulled through amazingly,” he said.
Eastern Waikato area manager Gary Talbot, who was Hamilton city fire chief on the night of the fire, said it was good to be able to thank those in the “first line of arrival in hospital, the work done by those on the field and to (thank) Waikato Hospital itself and its emergency team downstairs”.
The firefighters’ recovery, and having them back in the ward, was overwhelming at times for the ward’s usually stoic clinical nurse manager Lynne Walker, who twice choked back tears during her thank you speech. “When the Tamahere fire went up we all pulled together people came in off duty to help. We knew something was wrong … we were proud to be part of your recovery.”
It is Mr Neil’s recovery which has Ms Walker floored.
“I went on holiday a few days after the fire and I thought I would be coming back to a funeral,” she said. “But Merv has gone on to survive and I think you’re a champion. But in all ways, you are all champions because of the support you gave each other, especially Merv. You are amazing and amaze us all.”
Afterwards when questioned whether the reunion was a form of closure, Mr Wells said that was still to come.
“The closure will be after the court case, but I don’t believe it (court case) should happen quickly. But, this is really nice and I can remember when my wife and daughter were up here, it would have been ideal for them.”
Mr Neil’s wife, Alice, was impressed with her husband’s progress over the past few months, progress which has even led to him offering to do DIY activities.
“He’s really good, he’s come a long way,” she said. “He’s had another operation down his side so he can lift his arm now … he’s still got nerve damage in his feet but he’s doing alright. He can out-run me now.”
Mr Neil said he was weaning himself off his regular three-day-a-week hospital visits as his recovery motored on and he was counting down to one last operation which would free up arm movement across his body as well.
He said he was confident he’d find glasses to help regain some of the sight lost in his left eye. Now, he has just one more goal.
“Hopefully I’ll be back at work early next year. It hasn’t been talked about at this stage, but that’s my aim. A fresh start for next year.”