Company's fire safety kit needed repairs before blaze

By Corey Charlton of Hawke's Bay Today -
Hawk Packaging counsel Magnus Macfarlane arriving at Hastings District Court yesterday. Photo / Duncan Brown
Hawk Packaging counsel Magnus Macfarlane arriving at Hastings District Court yesterday. Photo / Duncan Brown

A packaging company failed to repair fire fighting equipment in the wake of two fires before a third blaze destroyed the premises several months later, a court has heard.

A hearing began at the Hastings District Court yesterday in which Hawk Packaging and its director Tim Combs are defending charges relating to a January 17 fire last year at their Tomoana Rd premises.

The blaze damaged the neighbouring ENZA Food premises which brought about legal action to try recover insurance costs.

Mr Combs faces two charges of breaching the Health and Safety in Employment Act and two other charges have been laid against Hawk Packaging.

The court heard how there was a February 2011 fire in the dryer room.

Then in October 2011, a second fire broke out in an area called the so called paper room.

It was here where firefighting equipment remained damaged when a third "significant" fire broke out in January 2012, said prosecutor Neil Beadle.

Firefighting crews from Dannevirke and Palmerston North assisted, nearby homes were evacuated and it was described as one of the biggest fires to be fought in Hawke's Bay.

"This case shows from almost the beginning of the manufacturing process all the way through, their systems and then their equipment, were inadequate," Mr Beadle said.

"That they were nowhere close to meeting the test of all practicable steps."

There had been a history of correspondence from the Fire Service, some of which prior to Mr Combs' acquisition of the business, reminding Hawk Packaging of fire risks.

A former employee took the stand yesterday and described occasions of "smouldering" trays in the paper room.

He claimed there wasn't a sprinkler system in the room and there was a hose nearby but it was for cleaning floors.

He was later asked by Mr Beadle to describe the night of the January 17 fire.

"I just saw the flames - the top of the flames," he said.

"I ran down the stairwell and ran up to the fire to have a look at it."

He tried to use the nearby hose to douse the flames but it didn't reach close enough.

When other staff arrived, he said he tried to "scrape" the fire closer to the hose with a fork lift.

Under cross examination, counsel Magnus Macfarlane suggested to him there were a number of fire extinguishers available to be used and there were also fire extinguishers attached to the fork lifts.

The hearing is expected to take five days.

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