Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an NZME. News Service reporter

Quake hero: 'I was staying, come hell or high water'

Christchurch fireman Terry Gyde holds his New Zealand Bravery Award at the Transitional Cathedral. Photo / Martin Hunter
Christchurch fireman Terry Gyde holds his New Zealand Bravery Award at the Transitional Cathedral. Photo / Martin Hunter

After tunnelling into the twisted steel and concrete of the pancaked Canterbury Television Building to rescue three trapped survivors, senior firefighter Terry Gyde had done more than his fair share of heroics.

But when he was asked to help do the same incredibly dangerous rescue manoeuvres - without breathing apparatus and under the constant threat of aftershocks - at the nearby Pyne Gould Corporation building, which had also collapsed, 53-year-old Mr Gyde didn't hesitate.

"I was staying, come hell or high water, until we got as many people out as we could," he told APNZ today as he received a New Zealand Bravery Award for his efforts in the aftermath of the February 22, 2011 earthquake when 185 people died.

At the awards ceremony at the "cardboard" Transitional Cathedral in Christchurch, across the road from where the six-storey CTV Building once stood, Mr Gyde was one of 27 people recognised for their role in the rescue efforts, carried out amid the shock and confusion of the first 24 hours after the magnitude 6.3 earthquake.

Five police officers, 18 firefighters, two doctors, a Navy Lieutenant Commander, and a local businessman have all been recognised for with bravery medals and decorations.

Governor-General Sir Jerry Mataparae paid tribute to the award winners' professionalism, dedication, compassion, and bravery.

"You effort will not be forgotten."

After the CTV Building collapsed in the ferocious shaking at 12.51pm that fateful day, a fire broke out in the lower levels of the building, complicating rescue efforts.

The fourth floor had been compressed to a space 60cms high.

Father-of-two daughters Mr Gyde worked with three other firefighters in alternating tunnelling teams of two to reach a number of survivors trapped in the voids.

The firefighters were unable to use breathing apparatus or wear helmets due to the cramped conditions.

Firefighters were stationed at the tunnel entrance so that when there were significant aftershocks they could quickly pull the tunnellers out by their feet. Eventually the team of tunnellers, including Mr Gyde, found a small group of students trapped under a beam.

Bodies had to be removed before the students could be reached.

Two survivors were pulled free of the rubble before a third student had to be amputated and rescued by another team of firefighters.

Mr Gyde, who had been on leave that day but rushed to join the rescue efforts, was then called out to relieve rescue efforts at the Pyne Gould Corporation building, where 18 people would perish.

"We knew time was of the essence ... so we just worked and worked," he said.

"You treated every person, whether dead or alive like they were your daughter."

He scrambled into a 30cm-high tunnel with two other firefighters for nearly 10 metres before locating a trapped woman who had called for help on her cellphone.

A large concrete beam blocked access to her but the team was able to keep her calm until an Urban Search and Rescue team later extracted her from above.

Christchurch anaesthetist Dr Bryce Curran and Australian urologist Dr Lydia Johns-Putra were awarded New Zealand Bravery Decorations for an act of exceptional bravery in a situation of danger for their part in the rescue of Brian Coker.

When they discovered Mr Coker, he was in danger of bleeding to death with his legs pinned between a concrete pillar and a collapsed floor section of the PGC Building.

In a cramped and unsteady space, the doctors and emergency services personnel carried out a double amputation and saved Mr Coker's life.

Firefighter Scott Shadbolt and then-Senior Constable Danny Johanson supported the doctors, helping with the hacksaw to complete the operation. Both received bravery medals.

"Brian is very lucky that there were four people with individual separate skills who were willing to say 'yes' ... rather than just leaving him to die," said Dr Curran.

A full list of award recipients here: http://gg.govt.nz/content/special-honours-list-23-june-2014.

- NZ Herald

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