Fire Service manager regrets not taking charge

8:42 pm on 8 November 2012

A senior member of the Fire Service says he regrets not taking over leadership at the CTV rescue effort.

An inquest in Christchurch is focusing on eight people who survived the central city building's collapse in the 6.3-magnitude earthquake on 22 February last year, but later died when they could not be reached by rescuers.

Emergency services have previously been criticised for their lack of leadership and organised management structures following the quake.

On Thursday, evidence was heard from Trevor Brown, who worked as a Fire Service senior manager in the North Island and was sent to Christchurch immediately following the quake.

Mr Brown told Coroner George Matenga that, as a member from outside the city, in hindsight he believes it was his task to take charge of the site.

"Reflecting on my own actions on the night of the 22nd, I considered that if I'd taken the lead as commander at the CTV, I'd have been able to deflect a lot of the criticism that my fire fighters feel is directed at them after all the work they'd done.

"Particularly as a person from outside Canterbury, that's what I could have done to help them."

Dunedin Fire Service regional commander Stu Rooney, who stepped in 10 hours after the quake, told the inquest it was still not clear at that stage who was in charge of the CTV rescue.

Mr Rooney was cross-examined by Nigel Hampton, QC, the lawyer for Alec Cvetanov who lost his wife in the collapse.

Mr Rooney said he was told by two senior fire managers just before midnight on the day of the quake that police were in charge of the CTV site, not the Fire Service.

He said he thought at the time this information was incorrect as the Fire Service was supposed to be in charge, but did nothing to seek further information or correct the situation.

Mr Rooney said he did not have enough managers available to him to put any in charge of the site, despite 13 of them staying on duty until 2am the following morning, and assumed that a senior station officer at the site had taken charge.

USAR member devastated, inquest told

An Urban Search and Rescue task force manager told the inquest of the utter devastation he felt when he arrived at the CTV site.

Paul Burns worked with USAR on the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes and said he had to take some control of the CTV site and remove some people who were not members of emergency services.

Mr Burns described how he had to make a tough decision about how many resources to deploy, saying he felt it was important to put the few resources on hand into what could be rescued, rather than focusing only on the CTV site, where he saw a limited chance of trapped victims surviving.

He said he spent the first hours following the quake organising taskforces from the North Island and overseas to come and help.

Mr Burns also said he believes USAR needs a full-time manager and is one of the few countries in the world without one.