Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Pride of NZ Awards: Blast bravery impossible to forget

Family says Onehunga firefighters went ‘above and beyond’ helping those hurt in underground gas explosion.

Katherine Winson and sons Joshua, 10, and Ethan, 5, are grateful Ian was rescued. Photo / Richard Robinson
Katherine Winson and sons Joshua, 10, and Ethan, 5, are grateful Ian was rescued. Photo / Richard Robinson

Emergency services category
When the doors at the fire station rattled and the ground shook, the Onehunga station staff knew something major had happened.

On June 4, 2011, a huge explosion in an underground water pipe system rocked the Auckland suburb. A number of contractors had been repairing a valve and something went wrong.

The local fire brigade was dispatched and neighbouring brigades were called in.

The Onehunga firefighters have been nominated for the inaugural Pride of New Zealand Awards, celebrating local heroes in six categories - bravery and heroism, community spirit, fundraiser of the year, emergency services, environment and lifetime achievement.

Fire service spokesman Craig Monrad, who was among those called out, said he remembered the day very clearly.

As the firefighters entered the water pipe, they found out just how bad things were.

A woman was dead and people were badly injured, including one man who had lost both his legs in the blast.

Mr Monrad was among the many firefighters who worked to help get those injured back to safety and very quickly get medical help.

The group of firefighters he is linked with - known as the "Brown Watch Crew" from the Onehunga brigade - have been nominated for a Pride of NZ Award for the bravery they showed.

Katherine Winson, whose husband Ian lost his legs in the explosion, nominated the team.

"They entered the site and rescued my husband. They put their own lives at risk to bring my husband out alive ... I am thankful every day for what they did for him and our family.

"I often think about what they did that day and especially their own families.

"I know it's their job to risk their lives like that, but they still have to make the personal choice to go into that danger ... they went above and beyond what's expected of them."

Despite the nomination of that particular fire crew, Mr Monrad said all the firefighters who helped that day - from the Mt Roskill, Mt Wellington and Ellerslie brigades - deserved to be recognised for their efforts.


To read about more nominees, click here.

- NZ Herald

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