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The earthquakes taught me alot – Riwai

I slept through the February 2011 earthquake, Nan’s scream woke me up, I was in between shifts. Our dog got out, I ran after him, barefoot through the liquefaction in my boxer shorts. I waited for my wife to get home, once she and Nan were safe I headed into the CBD, I wanted to get to my crew.

Our job is to organize resources needed by fire and rescue. We train for emergencies but I could tell we were in real trouble when I saw smoke and helicopters hovering over the CTV building. Town was a mess. I only had my gumboots, shorts and a fire t-shirt on. I didn’t have any identification, I couldn’t get through any of the check points. Finally, I found someone who knew me and they let me through onto Tuam. It was chaos, the next week became a blur. We worked out of the third floor of the Police Building, it was swaying with every aftershock. We all did long shifts – it was our work mates out there in what seemed like a warzone. Everyone was working under incredible circumstances. We left our families, broken homes and communities behind the red zone gates to go to work each shift.

I felt obliged to work around the clock, doing my part to get our city back on its feet. I felt guilty if I wasn’t there doing my bit. About six months after it all hit me hard. I really struggled through that time, I look back and know I had given too much of my wairua (spirit) to others, and I didn’t look after myself. Work was routine and became an escape from the realities of life post earthquakes. I made a mistake assuming my wife was ok. I look back now and realise I had burnt out. I decided to get counselling, They told me I had Post Traumatic Stress. I told my crew that I had got help, and I encouraged them to do the same.

The earthquakes taught me a lot. I know now if I don’t look out for myself, I will have nothing to give to others. I know how to manage my stress better now. If home is strong, I am strong. I don’t mind admitting that I got help, holding my emotions inside was not helping me or anyone around me.

Where I was then to now is a totally different place. I have way more balance.

Hopefully, if people see a big six-foot Maori bloke got help, it will be easier for someone else to get help. If sharing my story helps one person getting help, or prevents them from doing something they regret then sharing my story is a good thing.

Every day I feel such pride, when I think back to those weeks, and my personal journey since. I am still in the Fire Service protecting and serving our community. I love what I do. It is a special place to work.

By the way a vet found my dog the day after the earthquakes, he is still alive, 17 years old and a big calming influence for me today.

– RiwaiRiwai.jpg

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