Heroes due their day: opinion


More than two years after a massive fire destroyed the Tamahere coolstore, took the life of firefighter Derek Lovell and irrevocably changed the lives of dozens of others, we are still learning of the heroic actions of those involved that April day, records the Waikato Times in an editorial.

At a well-deserved community commemoration at Tamahere this week, at which Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand presided, more evidence of the heroism that day was shared.

Tamahere resident Russell Walsh gave one example, the editorial said.

He recalls an injured and dazed firefighter pleading with those at a coolstore blaze to “move away, you’re too close”. It turned out to be Hamilton firefighter Merv Neil, who, apart from Mr Lovell, was the man most affected by the blaze. He had burns to 70 per cent of his body, was in hospital with his life on the line for months and is even now only on light duties, so difficult has his recovery been.

In the thick of the action, it is unlikely Mr Neil knew how close to death he was, but that at the key moments he was still thinking of others shows how well trained and dedicated the firefighting team was.

Of course, they were not the only heroes that day. People at Tamahere Model Country School’s annual pumpkin gala night and a wedding at Gails of Tamahere rushed to the injured men’s aid.

In unveiling a commemorative seat, plaque and tree, Sir Anand said the actions of members of the public saved at least four lives.

“If it was not for the actions of many people the human toll from the tragedy would have been much higher … the people of Tamahere didn’t look away or flee. The combined courage of many brought aid and comfort at their time of greatest need.”

Finally those in the community have been officially recognised, though it would still be nice if key leaders of the rescue were able to be singled out.

Some medical people who happened to be in the area really did keep the firemen alive.

Thankfully too, the injured firefighters will have another day in the limelight. Five of them will one day soon receive national commander’s commendations. Who and why they have been chosen has not yet been explained, but for everything these men have been through, every accolade is deserved.

That ceremony will provide some balance to the New Year Honours received by Waikato firefighting bosses earlier in the year. At that time, this paper took a swipe at those awards, believing their timing, ahead of recognition of the frontline firemen, was inappropriate. Those sentiments were not well met by Fire Service leaders.

We stick by them though, while acknowledging the Waikato fire commanders, led by Roy Breeze, were phenomenal to deal with through the whole Tamahere saga. It was the timing we were concerned about, not the merit of the awards.

Now that everyone has had their day in the sun, all can rest easy.

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