Suppress fire crew names, CTV inquest urged

By Cullen Smith of The Star

Coroner Gordon Matenga. Photo / File
Coroner Gordon Matenga. Photo / File

Fire Service chiefs under fire for their response to the February 2011 earthquake want the names of staff giving evidence at a coronial inquest kept secret.

A lawyer acting for the Fire Service today asked Coroner Gordon Matenga for blanket name suppression orders on all personnel scheduled to give evidence at the inquest into the deaths of eight foreign nationals in the CTV building.

They survived the pancake collapse of the six-storey building but could not be rescued from the rubble and twisted steel.

Coroner Matenga said he would consider submissions on the request tomorrow.

A Christchurch Fire Service station officer was set to appear at the inquest, but Mr Matenga said other witnesses would be called until he'd given a ruling on the suppression request.

An independent report released two weeks ago slammed Fire Service chiefs for being disorganised, out of the loop, and failing to support their firefighters in the initial response to the devastating earthquake.

The review by the West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service chief executive and Chief Fire Officer found executive officers could have been "better organised, integrated and supportive of operational crews and incident commanders".

In earlier evidence at the inquest, the first police officer at the scene said emergency services trying to find people still alive in the collapsed CTV building should have set up a command structure.

Sergeant Mike Brooklands said rescuers should have been able to share information as it became available.

"We should have set up a system of reporting - a command structure - at a point where everyone knew to come for information," he said.

"That was probably one of our failings."

Sergeant Brooklands said there was a lot happening at the time but in hindsight a command structure would have helped co-ordinate rescue efforts.

He said emergency services went into an organised panic and there was no way of prioritising where resources should go.

When Urban Search and Rescue teams joined other emergency services at the CTV site the efforts of those already working to find those trapped were "hampered".

The USAR staff had a greater risk aversity where earlier civilians and police just climbed on board to help.

Detective Sergeant Mark Keane, who joined Sergeant Brooklands about 10 minutes after the 6.3 magnitude quake, said he thought Sergeant Brooklands had done a fantastic job but in hindsight he felt more senior police should have taken command.

He agreed it "would have been good" if a command structure had been set up.


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