Bravery Awards: Act of heroism leads to new career

By Maggie McNaughton

When father-of-four Kali Fungavaka saw a woman engulfed in flames on a petrol station forecourt, he didn't think twice about braving the flames to try to save her.

The 32-year-old will be awarded a New Zealand Bravery Medal today for his actions - but the impact on his own life has been even more remarkable. What happened that day persuaded him to join the police.

"After seeing how they dealt with the situation and helped out, I thought 'This is what I want to do'," he said.

Mr Fungavaka and his wife, Cally, were having lunch across the road from the Shell service station in Otahuhu when their lives changed in August 2003. In a horrifying attack, Ahmad Riyaz Khan poured lighter fluid over his former girlfriend, 23-year-old petrol station manager Gulshad Hussein, and set her on fire.

Mr Fungavaka raced across the road as Ms Hussein was trying to turn on a water tap as she battled her blazing clothes.

"I took my jumper off and put it under the tap and got it wet, then put it on top of her to try and put the flames out but it didn't work."

He then ran inside the service station to get a fire extinguisher.

"Inside, parts of the building were on fire. I saw a gas cylinder there as well and I was a bit wary about what was going on and a bit scared because I thought something might blow up."

He grabbed the fire extinguisher and put out the flames burning Ms Hussein. He ran back inside and extinguished the fire.

"I couldn't see much because of the smoke and I couldn't breathe too well but I put out what I could and ran outside," he said.

Tragically, doctors were unable to save Ms Hussein, who died in hospital from her injuries.

Khan, described by a prosecutor as having a "streak of evil about him", was found guilty of her murder in September 2004 and sentenced to at least 19 years in jail.

Mr Fungavaka said at first he thought he was watching a movie being filmed. It was "pure instinct" to help, and he didn't think of the risk until after it was over.

"I felt really sad about what happened to her ... it was hard to get her face out of my mind afterwards."

Mr Fungavaka is now training to be a police officer at the Police College in Porirua.

And he has told none of his new colleagues about what he did.

"It's just something you keep to yourself," he said.

"It's a little weird to get awarded for doing something that I think anybody would have done. I'm stoked, though."

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