More awards in pipeline

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National recognition for firefighters and members of the public who risked their lives during the April 2008 Tamahere coolstore explosion are almost certainly on the way – but details are not yet being made public.

Fire Service national commander Mike Hall and Waikato fire manager Roy Breeze yesterday indicated bravery awards were being considered, reported the Waikato Times.

Some firefighters and Tamahere residents expressed anger and disappointment in Saturday’s Waikato Times over the awarding of Queen’s Service Medals to five senior firefighters ahead of people who were involved in the fire.

In the New Year’s honours list, service medals went to Mr Breeze, Waikato deputy fire manager Martin Berryman, Eastern fire manager Gary Talbot, Hamilton senior firefighter Peter Hallett and Waikato-Bay of Plenty area manager Owen Kinsella.

Mr Hall has sprung to the defence of the recipients, and Mr Breeze wrote to the Times (see letter below) expressing disappointment about the coverage of the story.

Mr Hall told the paper it was important to understand the awards were for service, not for bravery.

“They are entitled Queen’s Service Awards specially for this reason. New Zealand bravery awards are via a completely different process and to a different time scale,” he added.

“In this case the nominations for Queen’s Service awards came from Dame Margaret (Bazley, New Zealand Fire Service Commission chairperson) and myself and were designed to recognise the efforts of our senior staff for their leadership and support during the difficult weeks and months following Tamahere.”

In coverage of the awards, the Times wrongly reported they were given for bravery and leadership displayed during the Tamahere fire. They were, in fact, awarded for service to the New Zealand Fire Service.

“I am constantly criticised because our people do not get enough recognition, and criticised further when people are given recognition,” Mr Hall said.

“Yes, they were doing their jobs but they did it well, with compassion and consideration for their staff.

“I am happy that seeking formal recognition for their efforts was the right thing to do.”

Mr Hall indicated bravery awards could be in the pipeline for others involved, but those decisions were confidential until announced and approved by the government. “I am, therefore, unable to discuss bravery awards further at this stage.”

Formal recognition was also in the pipeline for members of the public who helped at the Tamahere fire.

Mr Breeze confirmed yesterday he was one of a four-person group set the task of designing an appropriate form of acknowledgement for those people.

“We have been working on this project for some time and I can confirm that it has been driven from a national level but at this stage we are wanting to keep the details confidential,” he said.

“We are still working in other directions for the Fire Service personnel who were involved and I can confirm that those plans are also ongoing.”

Roy Breeze’s letter:

I wish to express my disappointment at the direction your paper has chosen to take re the award of the Queen’s Service medals (QSM) to myself and colleagues.

Your follow-up story re “Firefighters rubbish medals” (Saturday, Jan 2, 2010) was based on your paper’s inclusion and description of the medals being for bravery.

No correspondence to the media or information about the allocation of Queen’s Service Medals, include anything to do with bravery. The QSMs are service awards.

Then to seek comment from our firefighters via a phone call asking what they thought of the bosses getting bravery awards and them getting nothing, was leading and irresponsible.

Considerable effort has been made and is continuing, to acknowledge the firefighters and many people that helped during and after the fire. The detail of this has to be kept confidential.

High level awards, such as bravery medals, require strict criteria and the acceptance and timing is not within in our capacity. See attached email to the Hamilton staff from the national commander (see story above).

Your front-page article has created unwarranted stress on the firefighters and their families set up by your method of reporting. I am also not surprised at the negative public reaction on the internet, triggered by your article regarding the perceived lack of recognition to those that were associated with the incident.

Many of the firefighters and the public want to put this behind them and move on.

Unfortunately now, we have to address the misconceptions created by your article, both within the fire service and the wider community.

Roy Breeze

Area Manager, Waikato Fire Area

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