Honours list under fire


The honours system has got it wrong again, reads the editorial in today’s Waikato Times.

“If the heroism of all the people caught up in the terrible events at Tamahere are not acknowledged soon, it will be a complete travesty.”

Do you agree? Have your say in our poll in the sidebar at right.

Every year, without fail, the New Year’s Honours list somehow contrives to make a mockery of what it sets out to achieve, says the Waikato Times editorial.

The editorial continues:

Many who deserve to be rewarded are, but too often the system gets it wrong. The latest list was no exception. The most obvious case of this was the awards for the most senior Fire Service managers involved in the April 2008 Icepak explosion and fire at Tamahere.

This newspaper has given its full backing to all of the firefighters involved in, and affected by, the blast – time and again they have shown us what bravery and comradeship are about. However, the honours system has done them a disservice.

Queen’s Service 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 for services to the New Zealand Fire Service.

They are all good men and it must be said Mr Breeze and Mr Talbot in particular bent over backwards to make sure the people of the Waikato were up with the play through exceptional liaison with this newspaper. But the awards do not sit well. None of the firefighters injured in the tragedy were recognised.

Mr Talbot rightly acknowledged that accepting the awards had been “a little bit awkward to start with” and that he was still “really mindful” of those injured and that it was “very much about a team”. These thoughts were honorably echoed by the rest of the group, with Mr Breeze saying they had asked what recognition there would be for those injured. “We wanted to make sure they were recognised.”

Apparently, they were assured the other firefighters would receive something in the future. “I definitely think that it’s just the order of things and how they came out,” Mr Breeze said.

It is unfortunate Mr Breeze has had to defend the system. The injured firefighters should have been the first in line. Quite rightly, they’re angry.

Two of them expressed their disappointment to the Waikato Times, one saying that it was yet “another slap in the face”. He was dismayed that the bosses had been recognised ahead of those injured or killed.

The second supported the awards for Mr Talbot and Mr Berryman – mainly for their great work after the fire – but said that the first crew at the scene and members of the public who helped should have been recognised for their heroism.

The angry firemen are right. It beggars belief that their bravery on the day and ongoing fight to regain their health and return to work should be acknowledged after the efforts of their bosses.
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The honours system has got it wrong again. Moreover, it has divided a group of men who fought so hard together, on the day and in the months that have followed.

If the heroism of all the people caught up in the terrible events at Tamahere are not acknowledged soon, it will be a complete travesty.

9 thoughts on “Honours list under fire

  • January 16, 2010 at 12:03 am

    Ok if there was a gas leak of 80kgs,why on earth didnt the firefighters attending the so called call out, treat it as a leak in the least.
    I had an Aunty that
    worked for Icepak and i can assure you that management always treated its workers with the utmost respect and safety was certainly paramount.
    I remember reading in the paper, how it was death by legislation and i would agree with that, not only that and as i mentioned earlier why were the firemen unprepared? Certainly in situations where there is something you dont walk up to the owner or manager and ask questions, They should already know
    1) what kind of gas they use
    2) What is the layout?

    Surely? and i feel for Icepak actually and know there is a lot of support for them in New Zealand.

    and i have to say i see the Firefighters not through pink coloured glasses anymore. Sure they do a great job but there were a few serious mistakes last year and Icepak would have to be one of them

    • January 16, 2010 at 10:46 pm

      The leak was only known about after the fire, Aroha. Not only did the firefighters not know about the leak neither did any other authority, including the district council and the Labour Department. Nor did anyone know what type of gas Icepak had changed to. A pity a bit more of that respect wasn’t spread around – for the school pupils, neighbours and passersby. They were all put at risk by the shonky retrofit when the highly flammable gas was put in without a whole slew of safeguards or notice to a soul. Before anyone goes blaming the firefighters for what happened to them perhaps we should look at who was found guilty of charges in court.

  • January 14, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    In 2002 Icepak injected propane into it’s refrigeration system and removed the freon22.
    In early 2003 Lyall green and associates wrote a letter to the waikato district council stating that FREON 22 was being used (non explosive) and no alarm bells rang.
    The Icepak site is in the Waikato district councils area and were responsible as the Territorial fire Authority.
    The Hamilton Fire Service came to the site and had no idea what was going on, they were talking to the manager of icepak and that person had two opportunities to tell the firemen on site that the vapour was propane and leave instead of allowing the door to be forced open.
    As I understand it the electrical systems were not protected and there would have been many opportunities for ignition and explosion as long and the propane had reached the 8% mark.
    Any electrical switch or control unit (there were hundreds of them) would have been enough to set the explosion off.
    Six months before the Explosion a loss of 80 kgs of propane occurred and a door was damaged. Would you not think that was a good warning.
    We can all pick faults with the Council and the Fire service after the event, but the fateful day was made over many years before that fatal explosion.

  • January 13, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    From my understanding it was what the fire fighters did inside the plant room that caused it to explode , shame none of them can remember as would be good to learn from there mistakes , still hard for them to know what is going on as vital info not confined to them

  • January 8, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    But surely the fire department would treat any alarm, especially at a refrigerant plant as if, they were walking into a fire? It doesnt make sense to force there way in to a building when they say they did not know what they were walking into?

    And i saw the pic in the herald of the tanker between the buildings.

    I think there was an error of judgement there. and hope that they learn from there mistakes on the day.

    • January 8, 2010 at 5:08 pm

      I understand, Aroha, that the Fire Service gets thousands of false alarms a year. Refrigeration plants are not necessarily that dangerous – unless they have installed highly flammable gas and told no one about it, which is what happened at Icepak. They were advised that they could force an entry by Icepak but they were not told of the highly flammable gas. Yes, there were two fire trucks between the buildings but they were parked there before the fire and engulfed by it after the explosion. I saw them, too, because I was 20m away.

  • January 8, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    The whole concept is a mess and the situation is irretrievable – the damage has been done. Any corrective measures now will be conciliatory and will most likely draw further contempt.

    The QSM is for service not bravery. Usually long service is implied.

    Again, the QSM is for service over time, not for an individual event. Was the Waikato Times correct in relating the awards to the Icepak event ?

    In respect for their subordinate casualties the award recipients should have declined the awards. Posing and smiling on the front page was not the most subtle thing to do.

    Unfortunately we can only describe the casualties as victims, not heroes, and they should be compensated as such. When the hero dives into the water to rescue the drowning person it’s the hero that gets the award. A heroic act involves choice.

    There were many people who acted responsibly and with courage, firemen and public alike. There should be some sort of mass citation for them all.

  • January 8, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    Im sorry but i have never heard anyone that screams to be on the honor list, i think this is bad form. and they have had donations, thank you, acknowlodgement from NZers and now they are asking to be on the honor list.

    With the fire department they have done a few botch ups and i think Tamahere is one of them, they used that tool to smash through a door to gain access and parked a water tanker between two burning buildings then had to use the school pool to fight the flames.

    The way the firefighters are going on about being on the honours list confirms they should not be on it, they have had acknowledgement from NZers

    • January 8, 2010 at 4:39 pm

      Thanks for sharing your views Aroha. You are not up with the play regarding things on the day of the fire, tho. The firemen did not park between burning buildings. They responded to an alarm but there was no fire when they arrived. They were told by Icepak personnel that they could break into the building, and their entry resulted in the explosion. But they were never warned about the explosive gas – they wouldn’t have gone in if they had been. That was why Icepak and Mobile Refrigeration Specialists were fined in court recently.


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