Gruelling night at CTV building recounted

10:59 pm on 7 November 2012

A fire fighter with more than 30 years' experience as a senior officer has told an inquest of his gruelling night in charge of the Fire Service following the collapse of the Canterbury Television building.

An inquest in Christchurch is focusing on eight people who survived the central city building's collapse in the 6.3-magnitude earthquake on 22 February last year, but later died when they could not be reached by rescuers.

Ralph Whitten was gave evidence on Wednesday, saying controlling the fire in the collapsed building and stopping the spread of smoke was his top priority, rather than trying to instigate an incident management system.

He said fire fighters had to locate and control the blaze which was underneath rubble and collapsed floors.

Mr Whitten said there were not enough staff on hand to create an organised management system and a lack of communication between emergency services made this even more difficult.

He said he saw rescuers taking serious risks and he put two rescue squads in place ready to rescue the rescuers in case of another quake.

Support engineer gives evidence

John Trowsdale, an engineer from Queenstown, who also works for USAR, worked on the eastern side of the building giving engineering advice to rescuers.

Mr Trowsdale on Wednesday recounted details about the search for one person who was trapped in the building and had made phone contact.

He said there was so much activity with generators, lights and machinery that it was hard to hear and they were not able to find the woman alive.

The inquest was told he did not think he would have done anything differently and that training could not have prepared rescuers and emergency services for an event such as the February quake.

Mr Trowsdale said he saw no one rescued alive on the eastern side of the building.

He recounted details about the search for Tamara Cvetanova, who was trapped in the building and made phone contact with her husband, Alec Cvetanov, before she died.

Under questioning from Mr Cvetanov's lawyer, Nigel Hampton, Mr Trowsdale said it was not his responsibility to authorise the cutting or dragging of concrete off the collapsed building.