Volunteer firefighters who responded to the horror State Highway 2 crash which killed three road workers are to receive counselling to help recover from the trauma of the tragedy.
Road workers Haki Hiha, David Eparaima and Soul Raroa were killed in the crash on Tuesday, which involved four trucks near Pikowai, between Tauranga and Whakatāne. Two were Higgins staff and one was a contractor, fixing a culvert on the side of the road at the time. Three of the four trucks were part of the road maintenance crew while the fourth was travelling east towards Matatā.
Witnesses said the men died when the truck ran into them.
Two other contractors, a 57-year-old Kawerau man and 46-year-old Tauranga man, were injured and taken to hospital. They have since been discharged.
Matatā fire chief Gavin Dennis said the crash was one of the worst his crew has had to deal with in his 32 years in the brigade.
The trauma of the tragedy affected not just the workers, survivors and witnesses but also emergency service staff called to the incident, Dennis said.
"We are arranging counselling for all of our members," he said.
"We haven't had anything that tragic for a while but they, crashes, they're all traumatic.
"Every time we are called to a car or motor vehicle-related death or serious injury, it is always traumatic. But that ... we haven't had anything that tragic for a while."
A man fishing at Pikowai Beach when the crash happened said he heard the sirens and when he went to look "it was damage everywhere".
Higgins workers were sitting on the side of the road "in shock".
"People were actually throwing up on the road."
One of the trucks involved belonged to Awakeri operator Kiwi Waste Disposal and owner Ryan Moloney confirmed members of his team had been contracted to Higgins when the crash happened. None were injured but they had been left badly shaken.
Kiwi Waste Disposal closed its doors today to support those team members, Moloney said.
"Obviously you can imagine everyone is shocked. It's very real [for us]."
Whakatāne District Council spokesman Ross Boreham said although the state highway was overseen by the NZ Transport Agency, the impact had been deeply felt among the council team.
"They weren't our contractors but our transportation team was very close to them. Clearly, it's a very upsetting thing for them."
First Union transport, logistics and manufacturing secretary Jared Abbott said the organisation was horrified to hear of the men's deaths.
"No one goes to work to die. Our thoughts are with the families who today will be mourning a shocking loss, and to the workers who will never see their friends again."
Trustpower TECT Tauranga Rescue Helicopter pilot Todd Dunham, who flew one of the injured men to Tauranga Hospital, said the "horrific" crash scene was one of the worst and "most chaotic" he had seen in his nine years flying for the service.
Ross Taylor, chief executive of Higgins' parent company Fletcher Building, said in a statement the incident was "an absolute tragedy, and we are moving to offer our support to those affected and to our people in the area".