Changes since the earthquake rescues

MEGAN MILLER
Last updated 05:00 22/02/2013
colin johnstone
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/ Fairfax NZ

LIFE LESSONS: Timaru firefighter and fire service urban search and rescue (Usar) member Colin Johnstone.

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Colin Johnstone was at his home in Geraldine when he received the page that called him to the devastation in Christchurch.

The firefighter and fire service urban search and rescue (Usar) member drove to Timaru, picked up two other members of the Usar team, and drove quickly to the wounded city.

"We were originally deployed to the Smith City parking building, which had pancaked," he said. "We crawled through the levels looking for anyone who might be trapped there."

In the subsequent hours and days Mr Johnstone and his colleagues would rescue people from high up in the Hotel Grand Chancellor and would make four live rescues of people trapped in the PGC building before turning their focus to the work of recovering bodies from the rubble.

Three weeks later, he was with a group of Usar volunteers who left Christchurch for Japan to help with rescue and recovery efforts after the earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people.

"The Japanese team came over and helped us in Christchurch and it just seemed like it was our turn to help them," he said.

Mr Johnstone has seen changes with the Usar team that have grown from the experience of the Christchurch earthquakes.

At the time of the quakes, there were three members of the Christchurch Usar team who were based in Timaru. Soon there will be seven.

Before, the team's equipment was all stored in Christchurch. Now, Usar has set up a cache of gear in Timaru.

"The idea is that if there's ever an event south of Ashburton the Timaru guys will end up being sort of an advance party," he said.

Mr Johnstone said the tragic events he's seen have made him more aware of the importance of living life to the fullest.

"Paying the bills, things like that, can take up too much of life," he said. "You realise how important it is to get out and have fun, to enjoy your time."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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