Searcher says over-cautious officials hindered effort

10:17 pm on 6 November 2012

An Urban Search and Rescue member who combed the collapsed CTV building for survivors says the rescue effort was hindered by over-cautious health and safety officials.

An inquest in Christchurch is focusing on eight people who survived the central city building's collapse in the earthquake on 22 February last year, but later died when they could not be reached by rescuers.

Manu Clarkson told the hearing on Tuesday that every time the diggers moved rubble, they were told to stop so health and safety risks could be pointed out.

"The risks that we were taking at this stage were, in my opinion, justified and calculated. At some stages, I felt hindered by people that were over-cautious about health and safety.

"I felt that every time we would attempt to use diggers to remove debris, we were stopped and the risks posed to us by using it was assessed."

Mr Clarkson said he became frustrated because the risks being identified, such as falling concrete, were very obvious.

He said a system needs to be developed that makes better use of skilled workers, such as digger operators, during a disaster.

Fire Service manager criticised

In other evidence on Tuesday, the most senior Fire Service manager on the day of the Christchurch earthquake was accused of failing to carry out his job properly.

Steve Barclay was acting Fire Service manager on 22 February 2011.

Richard Raymond, the lawyer assisting Coroner George Matenga, told the inquest as the most senior manager, it was Mr Barclay's job to stay in one place so that his managers could feed him information and he could co-ordinate the response to the quake.

Instead, Mr Barclay decided to spend the first four hours following the 6.3-magnitude quake driving between various fire stations and the emergency operations centres.

Mr Raymond said he should have delegated these tasks to a more junior officer.

Mr Barclay rejected this, saying there were not enough senior managers on duty at the time to enable him to stay in one place.

Fire fighter 'no better prepared'

A fire fighter who responded to the CTV building collapse told the inquest she doesn't feel any better prepared for future disasters and believes the emergency response would be no different today.

Station officer Saskia Rose said she has not received any extra training since the February earthquake and would feel under-prepared if she had to respond to a similar event now.

Ms Rose said no one seemed to know who was in charge of the rescue effort and an overall action plan was not developed. She said she is surprised that she still has not been formally debriefed about her involvement in the emergency response.