Haphazard in matters of life and death

I am clearly no hero.

When I was in my late teens I was out with a few friends looking for a party. There were about eight of us in the back of a van, and someone had heard that there were some shearers partying up just out of town, so we headed off to see if we could find them.

Sure enough, we found the location in a small seaside village called Warrington and wandered up to join the crowd that was gathered around a fairly large bonfire. As was the way back then, we were looked upon pretty suspiciously, as only one of us knew the crew who were throwing the party, but we proved acceptable enough and stayed on for a few drinks.

The fire burned down and some of the boys that I had arrived with started to feel a little sick. Afterwards, we wondered whether exhaust fumes had been leaking dangerously into the back of the van but, whatever the cause, people started to faint.

I was standing at the bonfire and a guy standing next to me, who was over six foot tall, suddenly fell face first in to the fire.

Now this guy was a bit rough around the edges and had done some pretty crazy stuff in the interests of a good party so, being under the influence myself, just thought this was part of his repertoire. The reality was that his face was about to get burned off.

He had a leather biker's-type jacket on, so that protected his torso but what really saved him was my friend who was visiting from further north. He worked as a tradesman in an engineering workshop and was well-trained in safety practices.

He leapt on to the victim, rolled out of the fire with his knees in the small of his back, grabbed a beer and poured it over his face. He then brushed all the embers off him and made sure he got liquid onto all the exposed areas.

Someone then rushed him to hospital and he came out of the experience remarkably unscathed.

He carries a few minor scars on his face, neck and hands but nothing obvious or disfiguring, but I can categorically state that this is down to one person's lightning reactions.

If it had been left up to me I would have taken another few crucial seconds to even realise that there was a serious risk.

More recently my wife and I were attending a friend's wedding and, while waiting in the carpark of the marae for proceedings to begin, we were watching the Maori Wardens sort out the traffic logistics.

Some 50 metres across the park there was quite a tall warden waiting for the next car to show up when I saw him jolt a little. He fell backwards, maintaining quite a rigid posture, almost like a tree being felled and his head hit the ground with a sickening thud.

I ran over to where he was and could see that he was convulsing and frothing at the mouth.

This caused me to stop, look around and see if there was someone else that might do something to save this guy's life. But I was on my own, so I got down on my knees and loosened his tie. I was thinking to myself that this poor sod had better not need CPR, as he is in big trouble with me on the job.

By now a crowd had gathered but no-one looked any more enthusiastic than me about locking lips with this guy.

An ambulance was on the way and blood was running from a wound at the back of his head, so my inclination was to make him feel comfortable until this short, rotund, uniformed Maori woman came around the corner.

"Leave him alone," she barked, "He'll be fine."

I assumed it was his mother. Anyway, the ambulance arrived and took him away.

A couple of weeks ago I was traipsing through bush on some hill in the North Island, visiting cultural sites in hard-to-reach places. We were travelling with kaumatua who knew the area, and who were happy to accompany us, even though there were brief bursts of energy required to mount a small hill or leap over a trench.

After visiting one site we were getting back in to our vehicles when one of the elders simply expired. He fell forward and never moved again.

Two of our party were CPR-trained and worked on the old fellow for 50 minutes until emergency services could find us. Alas, it was too late for the koroua who passed away at one of his traditional hunting sites among members of his iwi.

I have dealt with death in a very calm manner all my life, but clearly I am not so good at dealing with life.

The Press