Rookie officer praised for quake work

23:45, Dec 11 2012
Wendy Bennett
Special citation: Constable Wendy Bennett of Kaikoura police received a Canterbury Earthquake Citation last week during a visit from Tasman Police District Commander Superintendent Richard Chambers, left, and Marlborough Area Commander Inspector Steve Caldwel

Constable Wendy Bennett's first day on the job will be one she will remember for the rest of her life.

Wendy was one of many emergency service personnel in Christchurch when the February earthquake struck. Despite only graduating from training college two days before the quake struck, she found herself thrust into serious action far sooner than she had expected.

"I was sitting at the airport waiting for my flight to Wellington to pick up my dog and my car to drive up to Counties Manukau for my first job," she recalls. "Whe [the quake] hit I just thought it was another aftershock, but people all around me were diving for cover."

When windows started breaking and dust began falling from the rafters, Wendy realised things were getting serious. Then airport staff began to evacuate the building and she realised she needed to make herself useful.

"I just found the nearest policeman and waved my shiny new ID under his nose!"

Once she had made sure the friend collecting her in Wellington knew she was OK, she met up with the airport police team and they piled workmen on to a bus heading for the city.


"It was only then, when I listened to the radio on the bus, that I realised how serious the situation was."

Wendy remembers her first task was to run down Memorial Ave in front of the bus to try and clear the route, as traffic had ground to a standstill. Once in town, she says everyone around her was just shell-shocked.

"I remember going past a car crushed under a shop awning, seeing what looked like blood, I saw buses crushed."

Wendy says it was only long after she discovered a friend's grandson, aged 15, was one of the victims from one of the buses.

She ran along Manchester St, calling into buildings to check for people, before they arrived at the Forsyth Barr building, where one of her friends was lowered on a rope to safety after the stairwell collapsed, although again she did not realise this at the time.

"Then the second big one hit - there was debris falling all around us, windows smashing . . . it was absolutely horrendous."

The rest of the night was spent at the PGC building where she witnessed horrific things, and was left to worry about her own friends who were trapped or caught up in the mess.

Wendy spent two days working flat-out to help, the second spent mainly guarding the cordon, but she downplays her role, insisting there were many people who displayed a sense of true heroism.

"It's in times like that you realise that the bad people get worse but the good people get better. There were heaps and heaps of people doing really heroic things, but I was definitely not one of them!"

But Wendy's boss, Tasman Police District Commander Superintendent Richard Chambers, believes that she showed bravery and 100 per cent commitment to her new role as soon as the quake hit.

He visited Wendy at the Kaikoura police station last week with Marlborough Area Commander Inspector Steve Caldwell, to present her with a Canterbury Earthquake Citation, a new award recognising the outstanding and heroic deeds of police personnel following the February earthquake.

The Dress Distinction ribbon is in the colours of Canterbury, with four red stripes representing the four uniformed services who responded: New Zealand Police, New Zealand Fire, St John (including Wellington Free Ambulance) and the New Zealand Defence Force.

Superintendent Chambers said Wendy was a very capable and committed member of the police force who applied a good deal of common sense. He recognised her efforts as a new officer on the streets of Christchurch and said she was now proving to be a huge asset for Kaikoura.

Kaikoura Star