NZ Fire Service and CTV Coronial Findings
The New Zealand Fire Service [NZFS] takes very seriously the findings from the Coronial hearing in 2012 into the deaths at The Canterbury Television [CTV] building following the devastating Christchurch earthquake on 22 February 2011.
One hundred and eighty-five people lost their lives as a result of the earthquake, including 115 at the CTV building. The New Zealand Fire Service again acknowledges all those who lost their lives and expresses its condolences to their families and friends for their loss. It is in their memory that we continue to take all learnings and find ways to improve every day.
In the context of the CTV Coronial Inquiry, the NZFS particularly acknowledges the friends and families of Dr Tamara Cvetanova, Ezra Medalle, Jessie Redoble, Rika Hyuga, Rhea Sumalpong, Emmabelle Anoba, Mary Amantillo and Chang Lai.
NZFS Chief Executive and National Commander Paul Baxter says the Christchurch earthquake is recognised as one of the most complex and challenging natural disasters for emergency responders anywhere in the world.
“It has been more than three years but for many, including our firefighters, it was like yesterday and NZFS wants to acknowledge the strength and resilience shown by the community.”
NZFS took a proactive approach to initiating reviews and identifying learnings and has been addressing these throughout the whole organisation ever since.
Mr Baxter says continual learning, improvement and development are key priorities and part of the NZFS culture. The findings from the Coronial process provide another opportunity to again make sure the NZFS continues to improve and learn from this catastrophic earthquake.
The Coroner has concluded that the search and rescue effort did not contribute to the deaths of those who survived the initial collapse but later died. NZFS accepts though that families they will want continual reassurances that any and all learnings are being taken seriously and Mr Baxter is today again giving the families that reassurance.
Mr Baxter says our firefighters and the urban search and rescue crews did extraordinary work on that day. But as an organisation, we acknowledged during the Coronial hearing that we needed to be even better prepared for such exceptional and catastrophic circumstances such as those we faced on 22 February 2011.
“The fire officers in command of NZFS resources at the CTV site were faced with a situation that no other officer in the history of NZFS has had to face. It is widely accepted that a natural disaster of this scale presented challenges beyond the training, experience and resources of the service particularly given the multiple sites.”
He noted the Coroner’s finding that his view was that “the Police, USAR, firemen and members of the public were doing all they could in a difficult situation to effect rescues and save lives. The rescue efforts of those who worked at the CTV Building were outstanding, courageous and selfless and a number of people were saved because of it. The rescuers could not save everyone but they expended every effort and resource that was available to them in attempting to do so.”
‘Mr Baxter acknowledged that the Coroner had also identified aspects of the response, and in particular command and control, which according to the Coroner “would have resulted in benefits to the way in which the response was managed.”
The Coroner found that “more people, more resources, better communication and a better structure would, I am satisfied on the evidence, have improved the situation overall and may have improved the chances of saving more lives, However I am not satisfied to the standard required that such improvements would have resulted in actually locating and saving the lives of Dr Cvetanova, Ezra Medalle, Jessie Redoble, Mary Amantillo, Emmabelle Anoba, Rika Hyuga, Chang Lai or Rhea Sumalpong, or at least created a reasonable prospect of locating and saving their lives. Accordingly I find that the search and rescue efforts did not contribute to the cause of deaths.”
Mr Baxter is again reassuring all the families who lost loved-ones that NZFS has been and would continue to be proactive in identifying opportunities for improvement.
NZFS conducted two comprehensive reviews independent of the Coronial process and the Coronial findings acknowledge NZFS is in the process of significant changes as a result of the Pilling Report that it instigated. NZFS had also contributed to a review by the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management.
The Coroner referenced the Pilling report in his findings.
“Simon Pilling, in his report to NZFS said the following:
"The Christchurch earthquake was an extraordinary event that required extraordinary levels of management, command, leadership, commitment, resolve, resilience, discipline, organisation, communication, and bravery. All that, in part and by many was delivered. However, it does not appear that there was at any time a strategic plan in place driving the sum of the parts. Both strategic leadership and direction together with tactical structure and organisation could have been more effective during the first 12 hours of the incident. Preparedness and resilience require fresh focus and investment."
I have included the quote from Mr Pilling as I believe that NZFS has as an institution, accepted the findings of the Pilling Review that there were some things that could have been done better, and are committed to be better
prepared for future major incidents. I accept that the steps taken by NZFS show the "fresh focus and investment" suggested by Mr Pilling.
I acknowledge that NZFS is in the process of significant changes, which include:
i. Developing and publishing a National Response Plan;
ii. Working with Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management on reviewing the CIMS Manual;
iii. Approving a mandatory incident management course for all executive officers;
iv. Upgrading fire stations including earthquake strengthening together with auditing and testing of NZFS facilities;
v. Ongoing liaison with Police to investigate further opportunities for working together to develop the agency's incident management training systems and skills including in the USAR environments;
vi. Restructuring of the USAR by combining the three task forces into a single New Zealand Task Force;
vii. Introducing mainstream fire service rank and command level into USAR Task Force;
viii. Changing the USAR uniform so that it is now more closely aligned to the NZFS personnel uniform;
ix. Introducing specialist USAR technical search teams and training in heavy rescue equipment including cranes, referred to as the 'Dogman' course;
x. Reviewing all USAR policies to ensure that USAR dovetails into the NZFS response;
xi. Appointing an Assistant National Commander with responsibilities for liaising with the NZFS Incident Management Team;
xii. Meeting with NZDF to discuss deployment arrangements and conduct a loading exercise with the USAR team based in Auckland and NZDF on RNZAF C-130H Hercules and Boeing 757-200 aircraft on 6 – 7 December 2012;
xiii. Meeting with Air New Zealand and DHL in December 2012 to discuss New Zealand's USAR's resource movement requirements;
xiv. Working with NZDF, Air New Zealand and DHL to enter into a common transportation agreement with NZFS for USAR deployments;
xv. Entering into an arrangement with the Ministry of Health and St John whereby St John has contacted to provide USAR with 18 paramedics nationwide.
I commend NZFS for their initiative in taking these steps.”
Mr Baxter says the findings and eight key recommendations from the Coroner provided another opportunity to again make sure that NZFS was continuing to improve and learn from this catastrophic event.
“It is important to note that the Coroner’s recommendations relating to NZFS have all been addressed or are currently being addressed by the organisation.”
The Coroner also noted that during the hearing NZFS made “a firm commitment to the public and to NZFS staff that NZFS is serious about making the necessary improvements.”
Mr Baxter says NZFS has committed to doing more to prepare officers for such exceptional circumstances where they are faced with overwhelming demands across multiple sites. Many lives were saved, but unfortunately and sadly, given the catastrophic collapse of the CTV Building and the fire, some could not be saved.
“Firefighters and USAR crews involved in the emergency response in Christchurch did an exceptional job, stepped up, did their very best, often putting their own situations and families to one side - and many risked their own lives to try and save others.”
NZFS is also about to invest an estimated $50 million in a new station network around Christchurch including a USAR base.