Frontline quake rescuers defended

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 16:02 24/11/2012

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Frontline rescue workers did their best to save lives in the aftermath of Christchurch's earthquakes, often putting their own needs and those of their families aside, early results from a new study say.

Some preliminary findings from a joint University of Otago and Auckland University of Technology study of 300 frontline workers in Christchurch were released yesterday after recent criticism of the emergency response to the quakes.

The study is not due to be completed until 2015, but the researchers said they were concerned the representation of emergency workers had lacked perspective.

Otago researcher Dr Kirsten Lovelock, of the department of preventive and social medicine, said it would be a shame if criticisms overshadowed what frontline workers had achieved.

"Instead of being critical of the people that responded under those circumstances, we should be critical of a situation where our frontline workers are under-resourced."

Many frontline workers had no time to contact their families, lost their homes and workplaces and may have had family and friends who were injured. Nevertheless, they continued to respond to the disaster and a range of daily emergencies, Lovelock said.

The research, which began in November last year, included police, firefighters, St John, teachers, the Defence Force, utility workers and the Red Cross. Data was collected on their psychological and physical health and what social support they had.

"We want to use this data to really explore what can be done to help support these workers in the future," Lovelock said.

Researchers were also doing two comparison studies into the health outcomes of 300 emergency responders in the Waikato region and just under 600 people deemed to be the main support person for the Waikato and Christchurch responders involved.

The research is funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand and the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation.

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