by Susanne Kemp
Five years on from the February 22 quake that devastated Christchurch, the city’s firefighters are rightly pissed off.
These men and women risked their lives saving lives in each of the major quakes that hit the city from September 2010 to June 2011. They also faced damage to their own homes and those of friends and families. So, on top of all their work, they had all the same problems with which to contend as other residents of the city.
During the quakes the city’s seven full-time fire stations suffered substantial damage.
Five years have passed since the February quake, the most damaging of all, yet the firefighters find themselves facing what have long since become unacceptable conditions.
- members who are still working out of and living in ‘temporary accommodation’
- not one of their fire stations has been rebuilt – in fact not even a single set of foundations has been begun
It took two-and-a-half years for the Fire Service to announce its rebuild programme (October 2013) – four new stations were to be created and three rebuilt. And now, a further two-and-a-half years have passed and firefighters are still waiting for some tangible progress.
Fire Service national commander and chief executive Paul Baxter is well aware of the problem. As the two positions go together, Baxter is responsible for both the day-to-day management of the Fire Service and also for its operational side (preventing and extinguishing of fires, safety of people and property endangered and affected by fire, etc). But where’s the action?
Fire Service senior managers are also well aware of the problem, as the union has repeatedly been pointing it out and hammering home the fact that this is a ridiculous amount of time to be waiting for the rebuilding of the fire stations and proper accommodation for all firefighters in the city.
While top management and people in government, both locally and nationally, haven’t been showing much urgency, Christchurch firefighters have been getting solidarity from other firefighters around the country. In support of their Christchurch comrades, they’ve been calling for some serious action in rebuilding the fire stations and firefighters’ accommodation.
The quakes which hammered Christchurch relentlessly for nine months were acts of nature; they were no-one’s fault. But what happened after is a sign of the priorities of a system based on private profit rather than meeting human need. Whether it’s the several thousand home-owners who are still awaiting insurance settlements, the people who are still waiting for homes and workplaces to be rebuilt, and the firefighters who are awaiting permanent accommodation and rebuilt fire stations, the supposedly wonderful problem-solving market is clearly not doing too well.
While pitching some mud onto Gerry Brownlie, as one Christchurch resident did yesterday, is an OK place to start, what we need to go on to is organising for a system which puts people first.
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