University researchers say frontline workers who responded to the Canterbury earthquakes may leave their occupations if the sacrifices they made are continually ignored.
Researchers from the University of Otago and Auckland University of Technology are studying the health of the workers.
Their study tracks some 300 people in frontline jobs in Christchurch and a similar number in Waikato.
One of the researchers, Dr Kirsten Lovelock, says they released preliminary findings because media reports criticising the rescue efforts repeatedly ignore what the workers faced.
She says the Christchurch workers responded to stressful emergency situations while simultaneously dealing with the loss of their own friends, relatives and homes.
Dr Lovelock says many did not have time to contact their families, leading to feelings of guilt.
She says frontline workers are also prone to illnesses they would not suffer if they were in more desk-bound jobs.