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NZ medal for CFA quake deployment

  • From left, SSO Douglas Broom, NZ Fire Service's Paul Baxter and SO Anthony Heafield

By: Leith Hillard

Category: Honours & Awards

  1.55 PM 6 June, 2013

Location: General

Views: 4553

The New Zealand Fire Service Chief Executive/National Commander Paul Baxter travelled to Sydney this week to present medals to all members of the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams deployed to Christchurch in 2011 following the devastating earthquake.

 CFA Senior Station Officer from Frankston Doug Broom and Station Officer Anthony Heafield from Geelong City were proud to stand alongside some 150 of their deployment buddies to receive the medals at a ceremony also attended by the New Zealand High Commissioner to Australia Martyn Dunne.

The medals of appreciation are known as the Canterbury Citation, awarded by the region that was at the epicentre of the quake.

“We were very appreciative that Deputy Chief Officer Steve Warrington was there as a high-level CFA representative,” said Doug.

“The whole experience has been a humbling honour and Tony and I were fortunate to have our names put forward.

“John Denny from New South Wales was our taskforce commander in 2011 and he made a speech at the air base before the deployment that I think really set the tone. He said, ‘We are not the heroic rescuers and the people of Christchurch are not the grateful recipients of our largesse. It is our honour and our privilege to be going there.’ It was a very well-received speech: very inspiring.”

Doug and Tony were both members of Australian Taskforce Three made up of about 70 people from a number of states and territories. It was one of three Australian taskforces with each deployed for about 14 days starting from 27 hours after the 22 February quake.

The CFA members arrived 10 days later to a scene they both describe as “surreal”.

“To be in a major CBD and see no one there but rescuers was something we never got used to,” said Tony. “Every building and every street was damaged. You’d go into a coffee shop and see half-eaten meals just left on the table. It was a ghost town; just desolate. It was like being on a movie set.

“We went as Category Two USAR technicians. We’re trained to rescue people in major structural collapses using a range of gear from acoustic devices to specialist cameras, concrete cutters and mechanical equipment to shore up buildings.”

Unfortunately the team did not find any survivors.

“In terms of the scale of the response, the only other thing I’ve experienced on that level was in the days after Black Saturday in 2009,” said Doug.

“We were split between the CBD area known as the Red Zone and various suburbs, depending on the vagaries of the tremors.

“We worked on a strip shopping centre that was only moderately affected but the awnings were in danger of falling down. We fixed that up so the shopkeepers could open their shops again and the community could get supplies. It was returning just that little bit of normality to the lives of the residents.

“Littleton is a very steep suburb and we spent a day there working on retaining walls, protecting private properties and helping individuals in their homes.”

Both members were proud to work alongside emergency services personnel and aid organisations from all over the world, sometimes as part of the same team.

“If ever you thought you were getting used to the scene, you’d look around and see the New Zealand Army and people deployed from China, Korea, Japan, the US,” said Doug. “It was awe inspiring that people had come from the other side of the world.”

“I’m pretty proud that we went over and represented CFA,” said Tony.

“It was good to go up to Sydney for the medal ceremony and catch up with so many of the team members. It was quite something.”

More than two years after the major quake, parts of the Christchurch CBD remain cordoned off.

Last Updated: 06 June 2013