Three Bay police officers have been honoured for going beyond the call of duty by volunteering to work in Christchurch after the deadly February 22 earthquake.
Detective Sergeant Nigel Grey and Senior Constable Greg Clark were in Christchurch on the day the quake struck and in the aftermath rushed to local police stations and volunteered their services.
They patrolled the red zone, searching for bodies and identifying the dead.
Two days after the quake Constable Steve Campbell joined them in Christchurch as part of Search and Rescue's disaster victim identification unit, canvassing the CTV and PGC buildings for survivors.
The three officers were honoured yesterday in a police awards ceremony at the Hauraki Battalion Barracks in Tauranga. The Police Commissioner's certificates of appreciation were awarded to 31 police personnel deployed to Christchurch, and one was awarded to civilian Dr Chris Brooks, who worked out of the red zone as a forensic dentist.
Sixteen additional certificates will be awarded at a later service.
Mr Grey, based in Te Puke, was in Christchurch on a police inquiry and eating lunch in the Riccarton Mall when the quake happened.
"I went to stand under a doorway ... people were screaming and yelling, big guys were pushing over little people. It was surreal to watch, people were panicking," he said.
He said the city was gridlocked with traffic as everyone fought to find loved ones, but he managed to make his way to the Christchurch South police station.
The station was empty, but he met another officer there who was in town from Auckland. Together they headed straight out to help.
"I managed to find a uniform and boots ... and we commandeered a police vehicle and headed into the city.
"One of the first memories was a young constable screaming over the [car's] radio, 'I've got 20, 30, 50 dead, I don't know. I need some help,"' he said.
"[Later] I remember seeing the CTV building. It was the middle of the night, alarms were going off. We just stopped and looked ... I'll never forget that."
Mr Clark was on leave but had flown into Christchurch that morning to buy a car.
He spent the night of the quake ensuring his family in Canterbury were safe. First thing the following morning he headed to the central police station, where he teamed up with Mr Grey and joined the Christchurch CIB's missing persons unit.
"As soon as it happened I rung up ... and said I might as well work. I started working the next morning. We were out and about trying to locate people. It was like what I used to see on TV in Beirut - there were people and rubble everywhere. Mr Campbell, from the Tauranga police intelligence unit and the Western Bay of Plenty Search and Rescue team, requested deployment to Christchurch as soon as he heard about the devastation of the earthquake.
"We got down there about 11am [on February 24]. By 6pm there was a team of us beginning to do body recovery at the CTV building," he said.
The building was still on fire and fire crews were reluctant to douse the flames in case they drowned any possible survivors still inside.
Only when the fire got out of control would they water it down. And every hour they would turn off all machinery to listen for sounds of survivors.
"We spent nine nights doing that. I think one of the things that stands out to me was the way the department handled things out of Christchurch. It certainly made me proud to be a member of the New Zealand Police."
Bay of Plenty district commander Superintendent Glenn Dunbier, who awarded the Commissioner's certificates, said the Western Bay police deserved credit.
"They were in the heat of it and doing a really tough job. I'm ... proud of those guys, not just the ones that went down to Christchurch, but [also] the ones that stayed and looked after their home patch," he said.