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Region’s first responders left reeling

Three “out of the blue” tragedies in mere hours this week have left the community reeling – including Wairarapa’s first responders, whose welfare policies have kicked into high gear.

Wednesday’s early morning incidents challenged emergency services not just physically, but mentally, Wairarapa Area Prevention Manager Acting Senior Sergeant Gill Flower said.

“We had three unexpected deaths in the space of two hours, with a private incident in addition to the crashes. It stretched our staff, but they were amazing.”

The first of the two fatal crashes emergency services attended on Wednesday was at 6.30am on Remutaka Hill Rd, while the second was at 7.30am on Kokotau Rd on Carterton’s outskirts.

Flower said the cluster of incidents is “probably the worst” staff have dealt with in a such a short space of time.

“These things come out of the blue. The police on the scene, they leave in the morning with no idea what they are going to deal with that day, and encounter some really horrific scenes that are life changing for the families involved.”

Area Response Manager Road Policing Acting Senior Sergeant Courtney Sandilands – who attended both crash scenes – said delivering news to families is the most difficult part of the job: “That is what hits the hardest, and we’re really open about that, there is no shame in feeling it. It’s normal.”

After a tragic event, a trauma policy kicks in for staff and witnesses.

A welfare officer is given the names of attending staff, who also have voluntary or referred counselling services available to them, while victim support is mobilised for witnesses, Sandilands said.

Both Flower and Sandilands said they are proud of how staff are serving the community and supporting one another in the wake of the fatalities.

“They do it incredibly well and professionally,” Sandilands said.

“We spend our time with those families, we sit with them and cry with them. It’s a really emotional thing for us too.

“It’s incredibly tragic when people have lost their lives but there will also be people left behind who are significantly impacted by these crashes, and our thoughts are with their families and friends.”

Fire and Emergency Wairarapa group manager Craig Cottrill said a combination of volunteer and career firefighters attended Wednesday’s tragedies, and similar welfare processes are rolling out for brigade members.

“We have a 24-hour duty welfare officer available. They are notified when any of our people deal with a fatality.

“I also get regular reports, and I know who has been exposed to what.

“Nothing is more important than our people.”


  1. I think the police, firemen and ambulances do a wonderful job every day. Especially the police, they put their lives on the line every time they go on duty. They must walk into horrific situationsHow many times are they thanked, mostly they are called names and get abused. I would like to say a huge thank you to them all.

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Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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