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Friday, April 1, 2011

Ban on aid to business frustrates

Ban on aid to business frustrates

Last updated 05:00 02/04/2011
Christchurch firefighters say their ability to salvage items for inner-city businesses has been "hamstrung" by Civil Defence policy.

Some firefighters, who asked to remain anonymous, said they had been threatened with arrest if they tried to retrieve items for business owners.

The group said crews had been returned to normal duties after the rescue and recovery effort finished, despite the large number of businesses that still needed to retrieve items from buildings within the cordon.

The firefighters said they wanted to use their skills to salvage items where possible but had been told they could be arrested for looting.

They were "totally frustrated" that they were unable to help struggling businesses, one firefighter said.

"Our whole vision statement is about protecting community values. We're not doing that. What the community values most is their businesses."

He had spoken to several people who urgently needed to retrieve items from their buildings, and said officials needed to help.

"I've had grown men in tears saying that they've been told to get on with their lives when they've got nothing to get on with," he said.

"These are the people that need to be supported, and we're willing to do it."

The firefighters said they felt they had been "hamstrung" by Civil Defence policy.

Christchurch Central Labour MP Brendon Burns, who spoke to the firefighters about their concerns, said he did not understand why they were not being used.

"If they're trained and drilled and able to do this work, why on earth aren't they doing it?"

He had heard of firefighters who had "got their hand smacked" for trying to help business owners by retrieving important possessions from buildings, and he understood some had prepared a draft letter outlining their concerns to Prime Minister John Key.

Burns said small businesses were "the lifeblood of this city" and needed to retrieve as much as possible so they were not forced to close.

A Civil Defence spokesman said officials were assembling a team of about 20 firefighters and rescue workers with the appropriate skills to help building owners retrieve items.

He said previous restrictions on cordon access had meant that the team could not be set up until now.

Fire Service Christchurch area commander Dan Coward said many firefighters were "keen to help", but others needed rest.

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