Life-saving actions earn bravery awards

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Efforts by two Oamaru men to save a Waikouaiti couple trapped in a crashed and burning car near Oamaru in 2008, have been recognised with a presentation of bravery medals.

Oamaru fire officer Brett Delamere received a Royal Humane Society of New Zealand Silver Medal and Waitaki rural fire officer Eric Spittal received a Bronze Medal from Governor-General Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae in a ceremony on Friday at Government House.

Both men were nominated for the awards by former Oamaru police officer Sergeant Tony Woodbridge.

The pair risked their lives to rescue two people trapped after their vehicle crashed into a power pole on State Highway One, near Richmond, just north of Oamaru on October 6, 2008.

As a result of the accident, a 11Kv power line had landed on top of the damaged vehicle, trapping the 25-year-old driver and his 23-year-old female passenger. One of the first on the scene was Mr Spittal, who had immediately tried to put out the fire using a fire extinguisher.

He had gone under the vehicle several times but sustained an electric shock from the car, which was “live” due to the power line lying across it.

That had caused pain and tingling through his body.

Mr Spittal said he has never forgotten the look on the woman’s face as he desperately tried to put out the flames with extinguishers.

“She had accepted her fate and that’s something I’ve never been able to get out of my mind,” he said.

With just moments before the tyres collapsed, earthing the car and putting the couple in grave danger, Mr Delamere used a fibreglass pole to lift the live line off the car.

His first attempt failed.

However, his second was good enough to give the couple a small window of opportunity to flee the vehicle.

Mr Delamere said his technique wasn’t by the book, “but we’re all volunteers, so they can’t fire us”. “Hearing the female passenger phone to her family to say, `Goodbye’, I had to give it a go.”

Both men were supported by family and friends at the award ceremony, which Mr Woodbridge described as being “very emotional”. “There were a lot of tears,” he said.

“The speech by Sir Jerry Mateparae was also very moving.

“He talked about the medal and its history and said there had been very few awarded in New Zealand in spite of it having been in existence for a long time, which makes this very special for both Mr Delamere and Mr Spittal.”

The Royal Humane Society of New Zealand has been in existence since 1898.

Awards bestowed by the society are in a variety of forms: the Golden Medal; the Silver Medal; the Bronze Medal; the Certificate of Merit; a Letter of Commendation; and an In Memoriam Certificate.

By Jacquie Webby