Tamahere coolstore was death trap: Fire Service report

  • Breaking
  • 23/09/2008

A Fire Service report into a fatal explosion and fire in the Waikato has found that eight firefighters walked into a death trap.

One of them died and the others were seriously injured in the blaze at the Icepak coolstore at Tamahere in April.

The report calls for an overhaul of regulations and standards at coolstores.

The explosions that ripped through the Tamahere coolstore are something the community will never forget.

It has been revealed they were caused by 400kg of flammable propane gas that had leaked from a refrigeration system.

The Fire Service says had the eight firemen known about the gas, they would not have entered the building.

"They would have kept well back out of the way while they established the extent of the leak, and what the substance was and how they would deal with it to prevent an ignition," says Mike Hall.

But tragically the eight fire fighters did enter the building. A massive explosion and fire followed.

Seven of them were seriously injured. Senior firefighter Derek Lovell lost his life.

The report said the owners, Icepak, had done nothing to alert them to the danger. There were no warning signs on the building and no stenching agents in the gas. There were also no compliant fire detection systems and a very limited water supply.

The firefighters' union says someone needs to be held accountable.

"These guys were really walking in to an ambush, and some serious questions need to be asked about how that was really possible," says Derek Best, "rather than just saying 'let's fix it in the future.'"

One Tamahere resident claims the Fire Service did know about the dangers, because they have been complaining about it for years.

"I know that we as locals have asked the fire service to have a look at the site, and we were pretty much given the brush off," says Phillippa Stevenson. "That was during one of the resource consent processes."

Icepak managing director Wayne Grattan met with local residents this afternoon to discuss future plans for the empty site.

3 News asked him why the company had not given the Fire Service any warnings

"Some of this is still under a Department of Labour investigation, so we don't want to answer any of those questions," says Mr Grattan.

Five months on, Derek Lovell's widow says the pain she still feels is overwhelming.

"I'm really pleased that the report determined the very high professional level to which all the men involved in the incident acted," says Millie Lovell. "My daughter and I are doing beautifully well and moving on with life with confidence."

Moving on has not been easy for the injured firefighters. Many of them are still having counselling.

And just today, after hours of skin grafts, Merv Neil was released from hospital.

3 News

source: newshub archive