Two years after the fatal 2008 Icepak Coolstores fire, Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand is to visit Tamahere to honour community members and other people who came to the aid of injured firefighters.
The Governor General will take part in a public ceremony at Tamahere School at 1.30pm on Wednesday, April 21, which will include the unveiling of a plaque outside the Tamahere Community Centre. Fire Service members will also be paying tribute to the Tamahere community and other rescuers who bravely raced to save firefighters on April 5, 2008.
Firefighter Derek Lovell died of injuries received in a gas explosion at Icepak and all of his seven colleagues were injured, most of them seriously. Tamahere people who were gathered at the nearby school for a Saturday afternoon gala rushed to the scene despite a black mushroom cloud rising into the air, flames leaping from two, fiercely burning coolstores and continuing, smaller explosions. Also quickly on the scene were site neighbours, their visitors and guests from the adjacent wedding venue.
Whether dressed in fancy costumes, wedding finery or shorts and thongs people rushed into burning buildings to pull firemen to safety or started first aid on those who were walking wounded.
Many of the Tamahere community who came to the firemen’s aid were highly skilled medical professionals. Their quick actions were later credited with saving the lives of at last four of the critically injured men.
Others assisted in the early stages of fire fighting, attempting to provide water from nearby tanks and allowing access to the Icepak site through quickly cut fences and across neighbouring properties. Tamahere has no mains pressure water for firefighting and the fire, which lasted seven days, was fought with water brought in by a fleet of tankers.
Publicising the April 21 commemoration in its newsletter, the Tamahere School called for for community members to pass on an invitation to the ceremony to anyone who was involved with rescue efforts.
Controversially, while the injured firefighters have yet to receive any formal recognition, in the New Year honours, 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.
However, during January media coverage of the matter Fire Service national commander Mike Hall and Roy Breeze indicated bravery awards were being considered. Also, at the time it was revealed that a committee including Breeze and Waikato District Council Tamahere councillor Wally Hayes were working on recognition for community members.