The CTV Building disaster has lead to a nationwide training revamp at the New Zealand Fire Service and provided them with "a case study we'll never forget".
The six-storey Christchurch office block came down in the magnitude-6.3 earthquake on February 22 last year, claiming 115 lives.
A fire swept through the twisted steel and debris of the collapsed building.
When firefighters arrived on the scene soon after, they should have become the lead agency in charge of the rescue operation, an inquest heard today (Wednesday).
Sergeant Mike Brooklands was the first police officer on the scene, and quickly took charge of trying to find survivors.
But when firefighters turned up, they should have met with Mr Brooklands and taken over control of the site, deputy national fire commander Paul McGill said today.
He said the "baton" should have been handed to fire, but he concluded: "The baton got dropped."
Mr McGill, director of operations and training for the New Zealand Fire Service (NZFS), yesterday apologised to the families of CTV victims for the "dreadful situation".
He was speaking in the third and final week of an inquest in Christchurch into the deaths of eight students at King's Education School for English Language on the concrete tower's third floor.
Dr Tamara Cvetanova of Serbia, Cheng Mai of China, Japan's Rika Hyuga, and Jessie Redouble, Emmabelle Anoba, Ezra Medalle, Reah Sumalpong and Mary Amantillo, all from the Philippines, used cellphones to alert friends, family and emergency services that they had survived the collapse, but they were not found alive.
After listening to all of the evidence, Mr McGill admitted he was still unsure who was in control of the CTV site that day.
He said the Fire Service should have been in control, despite the chaos of the event and the time it can take to change over.
The "book went out the window" by firefighters on the ground, trying their best to tackle the enormous task.
But it resulted in higher risks being taken and normal structures, like setting up command centres, were overlooked, Mr McGill believed.
The NZFS had failed to adequately prepare officers for such a disaster, but they were now working to bolster their training systems.
"There's huge learnings out of this for all of us," Mr McGill said.
An independent review of the functions and funding of New Zealand's fire services is due to be given to Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain on December 12, Mr McGill told the inquest.
The review will provide advice on how New Zealand can have a 21st century fire service which "operates seamlessly with the roles performed by other emergency service provides".
The inquest, before Coroner Gordon Matenga, continues.