UK sends fire expert to analyze NZ earthquake response

This will be the first independent review of how the fire service performed after the 2011 earthquake

By Jo McKenzie-McLean 
The Press

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — A British fire chief will examine the Fire Service's operational response to Christchurch's February 22, 2011, earthquake.

Acting National Commander Paul McGill said the Fire Service had appointed West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer and chief executive Simon Pilling to examine management aspects of the earthquake response in more detail.

"Mr Pilling is highly qualified in fire command, incident monitoring and assurance, and emergency services inter-operability. The West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service employs 1350 career firefighters and supplies one of England's Urban Search and Rescue teams," McGill said.

"The Fire Service post- earthquake operational review released last August found that the overall response went extremely well and that many firefighters risked their lives during the rescue effort.

"It identified some administrative and management issues but found they did not impact on the response to the public. A range of opportunities for improvement were identified and these have now been implemented or are under way."

Since the report's release, some Christchurch staff had questioned aspects of the management of the early response.

"This second review has been commissioned to provide independent assurance that all matters have been sufficiently investigated and all opportunities for improvement were identified. It will also look specifically at the first 12 hours of the response to provide assurance the actions taken by Christchurch executive officers were appropriate given the scale of the emergency."
Pilling arrives in July to begin his review and will report back in a few months.

New Zealand Professional Fire Fighters' Union president Steve Warner said the union welcomed the independent review. "Up until this stage we have not had a full debrief about what happened on February 22 and the Fire Service has been remiss in this aspect of the aftermath of the earthquake."

A full debrief about the earthquake response would help in the event of another major earthquake, he said.

"What do we need to have in place to work better? For example, in terms of planning, what backup is there for permanently manned stations if another earthquake happens?

"It's just simple things like that . . . these things would have come out if there had been a proper debrief.

"There just hasn't been one."

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