Quake families want in-depth probe of emergency response

By Jarrod Booker, Kurt Bayer

Last year the Fire Service conducted an internal review which concluded that frontline workers risked their own lives to save others. Photo / APN
Last year the Fire Service conducted an internal review which concluded that frontline workers risked their own lives to save others. Photo / APN

Quake-bereaved families have today welcomed an independent review of the emergency services response to the Christchurch earthquake - but fear it doesn't go far enough.

Now, they have now called for a Royal Commission of Inquiry to answer their questions to the immediate response in the chaotic aftermath of the February 22, 2011 quake, which claimed 185 lives.

Quake Families group co-chairman Brian Kennedy said today that the independent review was "a good first step'' but a more in-depth probe was needed.

He said: "Only a small extension of the (Canterbury Earthquakes) Royal Commission would be needed to cover it all off, get it all done and dusted and we can all move on.

"The commissioners who are there now are up with the play with everything that has gone on and we're about to move into CTV and it would be a logical extension, surely.

"There's a lot of questions that need asking. The fact they stopped searching (at the CTV site) 24 hours later before resuming the next day, goodness me.''

The Fire Service is commissioning the independent review into its initial 12-hour response to the disaster after criticisms were raised by its own staff.

Alec Cvetanov, who spoke to his wife Tamara on a cellphone for three hours while she was trapped in the rubble of the CTV building before she died, said the inquiry was not good enough.

He said a "general inquiry'' was needed to look at all of those involved in the emergency response.

"You can't just rely on every service doing their job according to their conduct and rules. Who's going to unite that?

"It's like the picture there on the day (of the earthquake). There's no co-ordination or integration.''

His lawyer Nigel Hampton QC said the reality was the inquiry was simply another internal review by one of the many agencies involved in the emergency earthquake response.

It seemed to be designed to take the heat out of a television documentary featuring Mr Cvetanov that screened yesterday. It would not have the desired scope or independence.

"It's a closed shop review. It won't be calling witnesses. There won't be public scrutiny.''

If there was any positive, "at least someone has heeded the call'', Mr Hampton said.

"To that extent something is moving.''

Last August, the Fire Service conducted an internal review which concluded that frontline workers risked their own lives to save others.

But it also found there was a lack of planning and communication between management and staff on the ground.

The Fire Service implemented about half of the 42 recommendations in that review.

Mr Kennedy echoed Mr Hampton by saying that the families had no concern with the efforts of the frontline rescuers who "did their best'' on the day.

But they have concerns over the system and organisation of those in charge, and hope changes can be made so that lives could be saved in any future New Zealand disaster.

"No one can fault those on the ground who did their best.

"But we have to be better prepared for anything that happens in the future,'' Mr Kennedy said.

The Firefighters'Union has backed the inquiry, vowing to "fully co-operate'' with any probe.

An announcement on who will carry out the review is expected by the end of the month.

- NZ Herald

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