When disaster struck, they jumped to the aid of their communities – no hesitation, no questions asked. Many brigades in the area reported that they responded to more calls in the week following the earthquake than they would during the course of a typical year.
As calls flooded in, firefighters became building inspectors and construction workers. They did whatever was required to assist their communities. Busy balancing their fire and rescue responsibilities with the immediate needs of their families, many firefighters had little time to think about what the earthquake would mean for them longer term.
Aftershocks kept fire crews busy for more than a week after the earthquake. Once the calls began to slow down, the reality set in that the process of recovery would be long and costly. A month on, in Kaiapoi, Brooklands, and a number of other parts of Christchurch, residents without sewer connections are still using portaloos. That’s not likely to change any time soon.
So far, 14 firefighters in the area have lost their homes, and that number is expected to increase as many others wait to have their homes assessed – living in alternative accommodation and making both rent and mortgage payments in the short term.
The UFBA has been in contact with several of the affected firefighters, and they seem to share the same sentiments. They have been grateful for the support of the wider fire community, and have praised the responses of their VSOs and the Transalpine Fire Region.
For many of them, the unknowns are the toughest part. Not knowing whether they’ll be able to go back to their homes or rebuild on their land makes planning for the future very difficult.
There’s a feeling of uncertainty about how they’ll come out on the other side financially. Even if the insurance companies pay out for loss of property and reimburse for rent costs, there will be incidental costs that are hard to quantify – like the cost of moving, paying utilities on multiple properties, and replacing personal property that isn’t covered.
The process has been slow, but there is nothing they can do about it. All they can do is wait.
The Stuff Firefighters are Made Of
In the midst of all the stories of loss and destruction in Christchurch, there have been some bright spots. We’ve seen the volunteer spirit shine through - not only in Christchurch - but throughout the country.
The firefighters of Canterbury put themselves aside and worked tirelessly to assist their communities, even while some of their homes had been badly damaged.
In the days following the quake, brigades surrounding the affected areas were there, not only to relieve distressed firefighters on fire brigade business, but also to provide support on personal matters – like helping with packing and moving.
Firefighters around the country got together and, as a gesture of support, sent cases of beer and other parcels to affected brigades - we’re told that every brigade received a parcel of some sort.
The UFBA had to postpone the National Drivers Challenge that was scheduled to take place in Christchurch the weekend after the earthquake. When competitors heard the news, many of them asked if they could still go to assist the Canterbury brigades. (In the end, this wasn’t required, but we were blown away by all the generous offers.)
As a way of providing financial assistance to the affected firefighters and their families, the UFBA launched the Benevolent Fund Firefighter Earthquake Appeal. Within 24 hours, cheques from volunteer brigades had already started to arrive.
Volunteers have come together to support their own in many ways and firefighters in Canterbury have expressed huge appreciation for the messages of support, parcels, and help they have received. Every gesture, big and small, has made a difference to them.
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