Fire Service accepts damning post-quake report

6:00 pm on 18 October 2012

The Fire Service's national commander says he fully accepts the criticisms of an independent review that has found major failings in the service both before and after the Canterbury earthquakes.

The review was ordered by the Fire Service itself and carried out by the head of Britain's West Yorkshire Fire Service, Simon Pilling.

Mr Pilling has found major failings with the performance of senior management, saying that senior managers on duty on the day of the February 2011 quake failed to show leadership.

The report also finds that a dysfunctional relationship between senior managers and line officers manifested itself on the day, when managers failed to communicate with each other over key decisions.

Commander Paul Baxter says he fully accepts the criticisms but says those people - including regional manager Rob Saunders - have since moved on and a national response plan that all executive officers carry with them at all times has since been developed.

"There's absolutely no doubt," Mr Baxter says, "that there were issues that were insurmountable with the people that were in place at the time."

The president of the southern branch of the Firefighters Union, Denis Fitzmaurice, says staff had reported the disconnect with senior managers several times to the previous chief executive, Mike Hall.

Mr Fitzmaurice says, at the end of the day, firefighters did not have the on-site support from management that they needed - but that did not have a bearing on the rescues that were made.

Firefighters' heroic efforts 'undermined'

Mr Pilling says in his report that any fire service in the world would have been stretched by a disaster on the scale of the 6.3 quake on 22 February 2011.

But he says the firefighters' heroic efforts rescuing people from collapsed buildings were not helped by the actions of the three senior managers on duty.

Mr Pilling says a dysfunctional relationship between senior managers and line officers had been left to fester over a number of years and this manifested itself on the day.

A man whose wife died in the collapse of the CTV building hopes the review will lead to better management at the Fire Service.

The review says instead of taking over command of the rescue effort at sites such as the CTV building, senior managers left it up to station officers. Rescuers were consequently left short of equipment.

Maan Alkaisi says that isn't good enough; and he wonders what would have happened if emergency services had had to respond to more than two large collapsed buildings on the day.