Hero firefighters return home

The Essex firefighters who went to New Zealand to help with earthquake rescue efforts returned to Brentwood on Tuesday to speak about their harrowing experience.

They arrived in Christchurch on February 25 and were stationed at an international camp where they pitched their two-man tents.

Their main job was to search the collapsed Pyne Gould Corporation building where people were known to be missing. Working on two, 12-hour shift rotations, they searched for survivors but sadly none were recovered.

Terry Jewell, the Essex team’s co-ordinator, said: “When we first arrived we were taken to Christchurch immediately. “On the outskirts of the city we could see minor damage but as we reached the centre the devastation was huge.

“Block after city block, there was nothing but destroyed buildings, the earthquake had caused a massive amount of damage, the scale of that damage was breathtaking. The work we did was physically hard, technical and could be emotionally draining.”

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Before they left, the officers attended a Maori ceremony to remember one of the victims.

Officer Len Cleary said: “We returned 13 bodies to their families, the devastation was unbelievable but everyone was grateful to be able to know what had happened to their loved ones.

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“It was a difficult job but knowing that everyone back at home was rooting for us really helped. Texts from my friends and family really meant a lot.”

Some of the team will be back to work as normal today (Friday).

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