Kapiti highway hero pulls off the road

SHIFTING GEARS: Kapiti Coast EMS director Chris Lane is making more time for his family, general practice and motorcycles.
SHIFTING GEARS: Kapiti Coast EMS director Chris Lane is making more time for his family, general practice and motorcycles.

Highway hero Chris Lane's decision to quit his lifesaving Kapiti Coast Emergency Medical Service has been one of the hardest he has made in his life.

Dr Lane has responded to thousands of serious crashes on State Highway 1 through the district over the past 25 years and been a crusader for safety upgrades, including the installation of wire rope barriers.

The past couple of years have been tough, including a marriage breakup and the liquidation of his sole general practice in Paraparaumu.

So the 52-year-old has made the decision to step down as director of EMS to dedicate more time to his two young sons, his general practice at Hora Te Pai health centre, and his love of motorcycling.

Dr Lane and four paramedics established EMS in 1990. Over the years, paramedics came and went and he was left as the sole operator.

Callouts peaked about four years ago at 720 in 12 months. Holidays were rare - 10 days over the past 18 months, and Christmas breaks.

He has witnessed 39 deaths on Centennial Highway between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki, and says his heart always sank when he saw the name of the road flash up on his pager.

"Adrenaline takes over. Sometimes there are bodies thrown from cars, sometimes people are trapped in them. There are often a few terrible moments when we can see people but cannot get through to them because of the metal."

He believes the wire rope median barrier installed along Centennial Highway several years ago has saved more than 100 lives.

Some horrific crashes remain vivid in his memory, including one where three generations of an Indian family were either killed or seriously injured in a collision north of Paekakariki.

"The grandmother was dead at the scene, a pregnant young mother suffered a broken neck and her unborn baby died on the way to hospital. It took hours to treat all the patients, there were so many of them."

Another poignant memory is of arriving at an accident in the Maungakotukutuku Valley, near Paraparaumu, to find a 16-year-old girl lying dead on the road.

But there are successful rescues that stand out, too, such as that of a young man whose car had crashed on to the rocky foreshore below Centennial Highway.

"Wading through water and clambering over rocks in the pitch dark - it was hard work getting emergency gear there. You do not have a nice clinical well-lit room to work in."

He had to insert a tube into the victim's neck, but had no tape to keep it in place. So a paramedic removed his bootlace to secure it.

Dr Lane will stand down at the end of the year. "I want to give the Kapiti community a huge hug for their amazing support - it could not have happened anywhere else."

But he plans to continue lobbying for road safety improvements throughout the district.

"The problems have not gone away," he says.

"The potential for worsening statistics on our roads due to increased traffic volumes remains."

EMS trust chairman Gordon Strachan said yesterday that Dr Lane had made an amazing contribution to the community, and the trust was looking at finding new doctors to work alongside Wellington Free Ambulance's urgent community care programme.

Wellington Free spokesman David Baker said it would continue its full response.


March 23, 2002: A truck crossed the centreline north of Paekakariki and collided with a car carrying a family of five. The grandmother and her unborn grandchild died; the three others in the car were seriously hurt.

May 10, 2010: A 16-year-old girl was killed and five others injured when a four-wheel-drive rolled in Maungakotukutuku Rd, in the hills behind Paraparaumu.

September 30, 2011: A 17-year-old woman was killed died on a treacherous bend of SH1 north of Otaihanga.

December 30, 2011: A 30-year-old man and 18-year-old woman died on the same bend.

The Dominion Post