Fire leaders' awards dismay troops

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Two of the firefighters injured in the Tamahere Icepak explosion are dismayed that five of their senior colleagues have been given Queen’s Service Medals.

Do you share their dismay? Should the injured firefighters have been honoured first? Should the Tamahere people who came to their rescue have been given honours instead? Have your say in our poll in the sidebar at right.

In the New Year’s honours list announced on Thursday medals were given to Waikato fire manager Roy Breeze, Waikato fire deputy manager Martin Berryman, Eastern fire manager Gary Talbot, Hamilton senior firefighter Peter Hallett and Waikato-Bay of Plenty area manager Owen Kinsella.

None of the firefighters injured in the tragedy were recognised on Thursday, though there are suggestions they might be in the future.

Neither firefighter wanted to be named for fear of being “singled out” by the fire service, however, one of the men responded angrily after reading the news on the internet, reported the Waikato Times.

“How is it that the guys that sit in their office all day get recognised when the people who were killed or injured get nothing – no recognition at all?” he said.

The injured firefighter said he was speaking with one of the men during the week and he had not “had the gall” to let him know about the upcoming New Year’s honour. “Nothing was mentioned, I’m pretty pissed off … it’s another slap in the face to be honest,” he said.

The man had issues with the medals being awarded for “acts of bravery” which he said was a “load of rubbish”.

“Whether we get recognised or not is irrelevent, but I don’t think any one of those people could give you an act of bravery that they performed that day.”

Although the other firefighter spoken to by the Waikato Times agreed with most of his colleague’s comments, he did believe Mr Berryman and Mr Talbot were worthy of recognition. “Martin Berryman deserves his award because it wasn’t just about the heroism on the day – it was the follow-up care afterward,” the firefighter said.

He said Mr Berryman had worked with all of the injured firefighters throughout their rehabilitation and had “put a lot of work into us guys”.

The firefighter also singled out Gary Talbot, who he said was “incredibly deserving”.

“Nothing was too much for him. He focused on us and he is actually quite embarrassed about the award.”

But he said the other awards did annoy him. “If it was just another building and a couple of guys got injured there would not be any medals being handed out,” he said.

The firefighter felt others were more worthy of awards.

“What about the first crew that arrived, and the bystanders that were there – they showed bravery? There are photos of people lifting firefighters off the ground – they were the heroes that should have been made mention of,” he said.

Waikato fire commander Roy Breeze hinted that more awards might be on the way for the firefighters. He said the potential reaction to managers being recognised had been a major concern when they were nominated for the medals.

“That was uppermost in our mind. It was a high concern. We asked what recognition there would be for them (the injured firefighters). We wanted to make sure they would be recognised.”

He said they were assured that the men would be acknowledged. “I definitely think that it’s just the order of things and how they came out.”

Other firefighters injured in the explosion, who could be reached by the Waikato Times, would not comment.

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