Widow should get more: Grattan

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Icepak managing director Wayne Grattan thinks firefighter Derek Lovell’s widow Milli should receive more in compensation than the $60,000 awarded by the court last week.

Grattan told the NZ Herald he had shed many tears for Lovell, killed in the April 2008 blast at Icepak’s Tamahere site, and admitted his widow had not been properly compensated.

Icepak managing director Wayne Grattan has indicated that Milli Lovell – the widow of firefighter Derek Lovell – may yet receive more money.

In his first interview, Grattan apologised for the sequence of events and his company’s actions, which led to the death of Lovell and injuries to seven other firefighters at Tamahere in April last year.

It was revealed that highly explosive propane gas had been used as a refrigerant at the coolstore – unbeknown to the firefighters who turned up to what they thought was a routine fire.

In the Hamilton District Court this week, Judge Robert Spear ordered Icepak pay $95,000 to the victims of the fatal fire and fined the company $37,200. Grattan was fined $30,000.

Mobile Refrigeration Specialists was fined $56,200 and ordered to pay $175,000 to the victims.

They had all previously pleaded guilty to a charge, or charges, of breaching health and safety employment regulations.

The judge said the defendants were “good, sound people” who had made clear mistakes with tragic consequences. The hydrocarbon-based system installed at the site was a “novel venture” which did not meet required standards.

Grattan told the Herald on Sunday that the $60,000 compensation for Milli Lovell was not a lot.

“Token is not the right word, but it’s recognition of the loss rather than full recompense. Is it appropriate? Probably not. Will it change in the future? I hope it will.”

He said the company would sit down in January to discuss further support. It was waiting to clear the trial and any appeals, as well as various other issues. “When that’s out of the way, we do have some options.”

Grattan said he had not spoken to Milli directly, thinking it was inappropriate while a trial was under way. “I want to apologise to her … I certainly feel sorry for her.”

He said the death and injuries had played on his conscience. “There have been many tears shed, believe me.”

Grattan indicated the company was facing another battle – with its insurers, who have not yet accepted their claim. It had cost the company more than $500,000 to clean and clear the site. Icepak was now insolvent.

Although Fire Service bosses have been conciliatory about the judicial outcome, some of the injured firefighters said Grattan’s court apology was unconvincing. They accused Icepak of hiding behind a corporate veil, claiming it could offer no more money for reparation.

“What we did not know was that the highly flammable gas propane had been introduced to this site in massive quantities,” said firefighter Dennis Wells in a statement.

“Icepak had not advised the Fire Service of this, nor in all of their failings did Icepak put any measures in place to advise visitors to the site that flammable gas was present.

“As a consequence, we walked into a building that was a ticking time bomb. When the negligently placed exposed electrical circuit sparked and ignited the gas, our lives and those of our families changed forever.”

Grattan said he could understand why firefighters remained unhappy and traumatised. “No one sets out to run a business for people to be killed or injured on your site.

“It [the court apology] certainly was heartfelt and sincere from myself, the staff and the rest of the people involved in the company. We are very cut up about it, and have been since the fire.”

He disagreed that the company had focused too much on saving money. “We had safety systems installed and we thought they were efficient. It was never about the money … we weren’t reckless, we hadn’t cut corners. However, that’s not to say things can’t be done differently or improved.”

Grattan conceded the company could have informed the Fire Service of the presence of propane on the day of the fire.

Grattan said the company thought safety checks had been done when the new refrigerant was introduced in 2002.

He said if he were to change anything, it would have been to erect warning signs. “If there were warning signs on site, this probably would not have happened.”

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