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They're all out, was the call - but fireman trapped in flames

SHANE COWLISHAW
Last updated 07:17 30/05/2014
Troy Mahupuku

EMERGENCY TREATMENT: Troy Mahupuku is treated for his severe burns. He later had skin grafts and is back at work.

Troy Mahupuku
SURVIVOR: Troy Mahupuku, who was stuck inside a blazing Petone warehouse for eight minutes before colleagues dragged him out.

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Troy Mahupuku spent eight minutes lost and alone inside in a blazing building, exposed to temperatures above 220 degrees Celsius, after a series of mistakes by firefighters.

Dramatic details revealing a multitude of errors that led to Mahupuku, 27, becoming trapped in the August 23 fire inside the Racetech Systems building in Petone have been revealed in an accident investigation report published yesterday.

After all the firefighters were ordered out of the building, he fell and became disoriented, unnoticed by others. He was inside for eight minutes before nearby colleagues began to drag him out and another crew, believing him to be a burning object, turned their hoses on him.

Mahupuku suffered serious burns to 23 per cent of his body and underwent skin grafts at the National Burn Centre in Auckland. He is now back at work, but on leave.

The internal Fire Service report shows that, when the crew arrived at Racetech, the officer in charge did a quick assessment of the situation and instructed his crew to enter the building.

But the firefighters did not leave their breathing apparatus tallies - identifying their location, cylinder pressure and time inside - on the deployment board, and no entry control officer was appointed to track their whereabouts.

When inside the building, an order was given to retreat when the fire became more severe, but Mahupuku tripped and fell into the flames. When his colleagues left the building, no-one realised he was still inside. An unidentified person yelled: "They're all out."

Meanwhile, the buckles of Mahupuku's breathing apparatus had snapped, forcing him to carry his cylinder in his arms. Disoriented, he tried to follow his hose back, but it had become tangled.

Luckily, the fire "flashed", illuminating the exit, and Mahupuku lunged for it before collapsing nearby as the inner layers of his jacket caught fire.

Deputy national commander Paul McGill said all the firefighters were experienced and knew the procedures.

"What the review found is the Fire Service's procedures, training and operations are fundamentally sound. We need to focus on firefighters considering their own safety against strongly wishing to protect life and property."

He was concerned the review had identified similar lapses at other events, including two Auckland fires in which one firefighter ran out of air and another became separated from his crew and exhausted his air supply before being rescued unconscious.

"Everyone must take responsibility for the procedural lapses - the leaders of the organisation, all levels of management and the frontline officers and firefighters concerned," McGill said.

"We consider that, ultimately, it is the organisation's responsibility to monitor standards and to ensure the right safety behaviours are adhered to, so the Fire Service is taking responsibility for addressing this."

Several measures would be introduced to improve safety, including revised training programmes and sharing what was learnt from the Racetech fire through a case study training programme that all staff would be required to undertake.

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The firefighters involved in the Racetech incident would not be disciplined, as they were aware of their mistakes and had been through a stressful investigation procedure, McGill said.

Mahupuku did not return calls yesterday, but has previously said he does not hold his colleagues responsible.

Soon after the accident, he told The Dominion Post that his first thoughts were for his partner and unborn child when he was dragged to safety.

"I was determined that I couldn't die with my baby girl on the way and my girl Jess on the outside.

"I think my first words when I was dragged out of the building were that I'm out, I got out for my girls."

INVESTIGATION FINDINGS

- The officer in charge did not adequately size up the situation and consider alternative options for tackling the fire.

- Breathing apparatus procedures were largely ignored, with no entry control officer appointed, and firefighters failing to leave their tallies at the pump panel. That contributed to no-one noticing Mahupuku was missing.

- Mahupuku and several other firefighters did not have radios with them.

- Mahupuku did not activate his distress signal immediately, as he believed he could make it out without help.

- Communication between units on the scene and the central communication centre was poor, with the centre learning of the accident only when media contacted it. The centre was eventually informed by the ground crew more than 30 minutes after Mahupuku was rescued.

- A thermal imaging camera was missing.

- The Dominion Post

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