7 Sep 2011

Icepak says it was badly advised before fatal explosion

12:12 am on 7 September 2011

The company that owned the Tamahere coolstore that exploded in 2008, killing a fireman, says it was badly advised over the use of a highly flammable refrigerant.

Senior fire officer Derek Lovell, who was 48, died and seven other fire officers were seriously injured at the Icepak Coolstore at Tamahere, near Hamilton in April 2008.

Icepak's managing director, Wayne Grattan, told the Coroner at Mr Lovell's inquest in Hamilton that his company operated without knowing it was putting people at risk.

He says the company had no one on staff with electrical or refrigeration expertise and relied on outside experts.

Mr Grattan says the company was advised the hydrocarbon gas, Hychill-50, was safe.

He says at no stage was he told the site was dangerous.

Mr Grattan described it as a collective failure.

Fire Service now more cautious about coolstore fires

The Fire Service says it approaches fires in coolstores much more cautiously since the 2008 explosion.

The Fire Service's head of operations and training Paul McGill told the Coroners Court that a simple sign warning of the presence of hydro carbon refrigerants in the Icepak coolstore would have alerted fire fighters to the danger.

The cool store had been using the propane-based gas for five years but the Fire Service wasn't aware of this.

Mr McGill says if the officers attending the call out knew about the gas, they would have stood back at a safe distance until it was identified.

He says without knowing about the use of the gas, the building was classed as medium to low-risk.

No follow-up checks on coolstore safety

A safety inspector has admitted that because there are no follow-up inspections of coolstore plants, there could be another explosion similar to the one that killed Mr Lovell.

His inquest has heard the gas detection system at the coolstore was not designed for the highly flammable refrigerant being used.

An inspection three years earlier had found some safety issues, but there was no obligation for that to be followed up.

Department of Labour inspector Keith Stewart told the Coroners Court that it is the owners of coolstores who must make sure plants comply with the law, because the industry is self-regulating.

He says no-one can be sure a similar event will not occur again.