Rotorua ambulance staff mourn deceased colleague

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St John’s chief executive Dan Ohs paid tribute to the officer who died (file photo).
Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Black ribbons line the fence outside the Rotorua Ambulance Station – commemorating the death of one of them.

Inside, employees share memories, share kai and cuddle a black labrador brought in to get some respite from the immeasurable grief.

The crash that killed two people, including an ambulance officer, just south of Cambridge yesterday, has prompted renewed calls for the Waikato Expressway to be extended through Karapiro.

While Waka Kotahi says safety improvements along the stretch of State Highway One are progressing rapidly, they are awaiting funding for an alternative route.

The two-vehicle accident involved a car and an ambulance in the early hours of Wednesday morning, killing both drivers.

St John chief executive Dan Ohs said the loss of their officer while on duty was hard to bear.

“This individual has been an EMS for 27 years. Fifty-five years with St John’s so started with youth, supporting community initiatives and transitioned to EMS in 1995.

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“The number of patients this person has encountered, treated, the people they touch, it’s immeasurable.”

St. John, along with whānau, decided to keep the officer’s identity secret, in order to honor the humble person she was.

Waikato Hospital confirmed that the third person involved in the crash, a registered nurse who traveled as an attendant in the ambulance, was in stable condition today.

Ohs said nothing “undesirable” had been reported by the ambulance monitoring system prior to the head-on crash.

“We have an e-road system that measures speed and driving style…our analysis of that showed nothing to indicate that there was anything wrong with the ambulance.

“The first thing we got to know about the incident was a call from the public, so our ambulance was unable to send a distress signal. The ambulance attendant and the ambulance attendant were unable to send a message asking for help, so the call came from the audience.”

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Ohs said his staff are already honored by the support of the Rotorua community.

There would be a blessing from the crash site by St. John next to the local Kaumatua, he said.

“Obviously our people, where the crash happened, drive past that every day, including her colleagues, so it’s important for us to make that safe.”

Waikato Chamber of Commerce chief executive Don Good said the stretch of road was a death trap and unacceptable.

“It’s waiting for an accident. The continuation of the Cambridge to Piarere motorway was supposed to solve that and it would have been, it would have been very safe.

“[Government] pulled the pin on the funding and here we are five years later with a whole bunch of accidents.”

Good would like the Waikato Expressway to continue for 10 miles from where it ends in Cambridge to the Tauranga exit at Piarere.

Future accidents could be prevented if the government measured the urgency to improve the road in terms of human lives, rather than dollars, he said.

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“Since 2017, 32 people have been killed or seriously injured.

“What should happen is they need to re-prioritize the funds and complete the highway as promised.”

Jess Anderson, Waka Kotahi’s regional system design manager, said route protection was in place for the planned 16-kilometer stretch, but funding was re-prioritised in 2018.

The government should prioritize funding to see the new route built, she said.

“We absolutely recognize that the section of road between Cambridge and Piarere is in urgent need of improvement and that there is a history of unacceptably high levels of deaths and serious injuries.

“But our focus since 2018 has been on addressing those safety issues, so we have already installed four kilometers of flexible medians.”

Anderson said an additional four kilometers of safety improvements were planned for the summer months and an additional five miles were in the design process.

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