Firefighter Merv Neil yesterday received a New Zealand Bravery Decoration from the Governor General for his actions during the explosion at Icepak Coolstores in 2008.
Following the explosion on April 5 three years ago, Neil, though burned over 73% of his body, was aware of developing danger for his Fire Service colleagues and Tamahere rescuers alike but quietly and professionally took charge of the situation and led people away from the danger area.
For his actions at Tamahere, Neil was yesterday awarded a New Zealand Bravery Decoration at Government House.
The award citation reads in part that “despite being urged to rest and receive treatment, he continued to work to ensure the safety of his colleagues and their rescuers, cooling the burns sustained by his colleagues with a fire hose and showing others how to do it.
“When support appliances started to arrive some 11 minutes after the explosion, the officer in charge of the first appliance to arrive was directed to the scene by Senior Firefighter Neil, who was still assisting with operations despite his life-threatening injuries. He finally left the scene by ambulance some 40 minutes after the explosion and subsequently spent 10 weeks in a coma.
“Senior Firefighter Neil’s actions between the time of the explosion and his evacuation to hospital were examples of exceptional bravery and professionalism of the highest order and contributed substantially to the safety of members of the public and of his own injured colleagues in the critical period immediately following the explosion.”
Senior station officer Derek Lovell was killed and Neil was among seven firefighters severely injured.
Although he spent 10 weeks in a coma and it is now three years later, he remembers “everything” about the day, he told the Waikato Times.
Adrenaline drove him to continue to work despite his serious injuries, he said yesterday.
“You have just got to make the best of what happens.”
His “quietly pretty stoked” mother and wife travelled to Wellington for yesterday’s ceremony.
“They have been through the whole journey.”
Colleagues who helped through the ordeal also came down.
Mr Neil recently returned to fighting fires and has already attended a house fire.
“[I] haven’t had any flashbacks or anything.”