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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Texts for help hit the heart

Texts for help hit the heart

Last updated 05:00 03/03/2011
Texts from the rubble of the shattered Christchurch central business district have hammered home the human impact of last week's quake, according to southern firefighters working at what they dub "Ground Zero".

Firefighters from Invercargill and Palmerston North have helped man the Urban Search And Rescue (USAR) command unit in Christchurch's Latimer Square in the shadow of the ruins of the CTV building since the disaster, which they say has destroyed 750 buildings in Christchurch's heart.

Invercargill station officer Aaron Ramsay said life in the command unit had shielded the firefighters from the worst of the unfolding tragedy, but one thing had stuck with him.

"We got a few [emergency] calls from people that had had texts from people that were trapped."

The unit's job was to establish who the texts were from, what they said, where they were sent from and the time lags between them being sent and received, before sending search teams in, Mr Ramsay said.

"There was one, a woman ... we worked all night on that," he said.

"They [USAR] did dispatch teams ... we don't know what the outcome of that was."

The command unit, manned by six firefighters from Invercargill and four from Palmerston North, had been at the centre of USAR operations initially, but that role had shifted as reinforcements arrived at the scene, Mr Ramsay said.

"All the tasking was done out of our vehicle, but that has been taken back by tasking managers ... once they've tasked a team, it's our job to log locations and answer requests."

Those requests could be anything from tools to a loader, a crane or a helicopter, Mr Ramsay said.
The intensity in the command unit could be extreme, he said.

"When it gets busy, it gets really busy."

Especially when a body was found.

"We have to order police on site ... you aren't allowed to remove a body until DVI [disaster victim identification] teams get there."

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