Wally Mitchell had been in his new role just three weeks when he co-ordinated the emergency medical response during the Christchurch shootings — an unprecedented event that claimed 50 lives.
The former St John Northland manager with more than two decades' experience as a paramedic and an intensive care paramedic is proud of the work his staff did, both on and off the ground, that saved many lives.
The St John district operations manager for Canterbury was the emergency operations centre co-ordinator in Christchurch and mobilised resources to deal with what he described as "quite a significant event".
"What happened was almost surreal in the sense the speed with which it was moving. It was real and very significant and its magnitude revealed it was quite significant," he said.
Mitchell said about 120 St John staff, including 30 on the ground treating and transporting people to the Christchurch Hospital, were working at the peak of the crisis.
"We were very fortunate that the geography of the events was close to the hospital and also one of the advantages we have in Christchurch is the hub concept where ambulances come in, they are made up and dispatched which enabled us to move quickly."
Mitchell said everyone at St John - from call takers through to dispatchers, crews on the road and on the ground to those controlling the scene and people that cleaned the ambulances worked outstandingly well.
It was a real testament to staff who dealt with the injured worshippers that they came back to work not long after the tragic events.
"The whole system came together and worked like a well-oiled machine that helped save many, many lives. It was a world class response to a horrific situation."
Mitchell also helped out during the Christchurch earthquake in 2011 and said the emotional impact on St John staff from the natural disaster was dramatically different to a random act of hate such as Friday's shootings.
Some of the scenes witnessed by paramedics from the mosque shootings, he said, were "unbelievably nasty" and the emotional side of things was significantly more than seen during other events.
"This is something that will stick in place for a long time but St John has good welfare support in place to ensure our workforce stays healthy going forward," he said.
Mitchell also praised other agencies like police and the Canterbury District Health Board for responding in a swift manner.
In his 45 years with St John, he spent 25 years as a paramedic and 12 years as an intensive care paramedic.