Good afternoon and welcome to the Beehive.
It’s a real pleasure to host this event here in Parliament today, where we celebrate the achievements of two firefighters who have been recognised with New Zealand Bravery Awards – Mervyn Neil and Peter Hanne.
These awards are announced in April of every year and recognise people who place their own safety or life at risk to help others.
It’s no great surprise that firefighters are often recognised, along with police and other emergency workers. These are demanding and sometimes dangerous jobs, based around helping people in need.
Most of us in our day to day life aren’t called on to display bravery, but for firefighters it is regularly tested. Certain people are drawn to the role because they have the courage to face danger, and the character to do it well.
Merv, today you’ve been awarded the New Zealand Bravery Decoration for your courageous actions during the fire at the Icepak Coolstores in Tamahere.
Most of us know the details of what happened on that fateful and tragic day for the Fire Service.
Merv was seriously injured in the major explosion, but he insisted on taking charge of the situation and helping other injured firefighters. When he finally left the scene, 40 minutes after the explosion, he was taken to hospital where he spent 10 weeks in a coma.
I know that your colleagues deeply appreciated your actions on that day.
I also know that your recovery has taken a long time, but it has been astounding. I’m told you have made a real impact on others in Waikato hospital with your support and inspiration.
No doubt your brigade can’t wait to have you back on board.
We also have Peter Hanne here today who received the New Zealand Bravery Medal for rescuing a truck driver when his vehicle slid down a bank.
Peter risked his life to get the driver out of the cab while truck was threatening to fall into the river.
He crawled under and through the wreckage to reach the cab, and smashed the window with a wheel brace. He then helped the driver out of the truck and up the riverbank to safety.
It would have been easy to have waited for emergency services to arrive, given the truck was in a precarious situation and could have slipped at any time.
The driver was so grateful that he wrote to the New Zealand Herald asking for Peter to receive an award for his bravery.
All of this occurred before Peter joined the Fire Service as a volunteer Fire fighter, but of course we are still very proud of you Peter.
You told me today at Government House that your experience during that rescue inspired you to join the Fire Service, which is great to hear.
These days a firefighter is just as likely to attend a car accident or medical emergency as a fire, so your experience Peter will stand you in good stead.
Peter is exactly the kind of person the Fire Service needs, and I’m sure he has a long and distinguished career as a firefighter ahead of him.
Recent emergency events
As we all know, the last 12 months have been pretty tough for New Zealand and firefighters in particular.
Tragically, the Fire Service lost one of its own in the Pike River tragedy.
The major earthquakes in Canterbury have also had a serious impact on firefighters, along with the rest of the region. I know some lost friends and family, and a number have lost their homes.
Despite their own losses, firefighters showed a tremendous spirit of service and turned out for duty without hesitation.
They displayed their courage time and time again, in so many different ways. The February earthquake was the biggest event ever dealt with by the Fire Service and they did us proud.
Next week I’ll be in Christchurch with Dame Margaret and Mike Hall to present certificates to recognise this extraordinary effort.
As Minister – and a local MP – I’m well aware of how much respect the community has for its firefighters. This was really brought home to me last year at a function to thank the people of Tamahere for their role during the coolstore fire.
On that day, members of the public didn’t hesitate to run towards the danger when they realised that firefighters were injured and needed help.
I know they were proud to have been able to help the people who do so much to help them.
Support of fellow firefighters
Another thing that has always impressed me about the Fire Service is the support that firefighters give each other. I’ve been told many times that the best part of the role is the camaraderie, the feeling of being part of a team, with people you can rely on.
Within a brigade, firefighters need to trust each other every time they attend a callout.
Merv, I know that you’ll enjoy being back with your mates again.
And Peter, I’m sure you’ll enjoy being a part of the team.
Congratulations again to both on you on your awards – New Zealand is very proud of you.