James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

New Year Honours: Heroes of coolstore explosion

Waikato assistant area commander Roy Breeze was doing his lawns when his pager went off.

It was Saturday, April 5, 2008 and Mr Breeze turned to see a black column of smoke billowing in the distance about 5km away.

His years of experience told him the situation was bad and moments later fire communications staff told him several of his mates had been seriously injured in a 2000km/h explosion.

"They started giving me quite graphic details of the 111 calls that were coming in and they were horrifying," he said.

"I could see it was a major and what's worse was knowing that a whole lot of my guys were seriously injured."

Mr Breeze, who was to assume command at the incident at the Icepak coolstore in Tamahere, about 5km from Hamilton, was joined by his colleagues Gary Talbot, Martin Berryman, Owen Kinsella and Peter Hallett.

All five have been recognised with a Queen's Services Medal for their leadership and professionalism in co-ordinating the response and aftermath to the explosion and fire which killed firefighter Derek Lovell and seriously injured seven others.

Mr Talbot said the award was "a bit embarrassing but humbling".

"There were a lot of people involved in the incident so to be singled out like that is a bit embarrassing," he said.

Mr Berryman, who organised and led the evacuation of 76 civilians from a nearby building and led efforts in containing environmental pollutants from the incident, also managed the retrieval of important documents from the fire.

He, too, said he was "overwhelmed" by the recognition.

Mr Hallett, a voluntary firefighter, was also recognised for his strong leadership and dedication during the immediate aftermath of the fire.

Mr Kinsella, a 43-year fire services veteran and fire region commander, was the fire region commander for the incident and helped to set up welfare support at Hamilton Fire Station.

Mr Breeze said he would be keen to see some kind of recognition for the 50 or so "silent heroes" who helped during the tragedy, including the firefighters who were injured that day.

Of those, Mr Breeze said Bryan Halford was on light duties and Merv Neil, who was admitted to Middlemore Hospital with burns to over 70 per cent of his body, was still recovering.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 18 Dec 2014 16:17:36 Processing Time: 600ms