Published: 00:01, 15 July 2014
A Herne Bay rescuer who dragged bodies from a burning building during a catastrophic earthquake has been honoured for his bravery with a prestigious international award.
Firefighter Mark Whittaker, who moved to New Zealand with his young family 13 years ago, has been put forward for the New Zealand Bravery Medal for his heroic actions during the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
Father of three Mr Whittaker, 41, who attended Herne Bay High School in the eighties, was one of 18 members of Christchurch Fire Service who were recognised for their courage.
A total of 185 people were killed and 164 seriously injured when the 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the city three-and-a-half years ago.
Senior firefighter Whittaker, who is due to be honoured on Thursday, August 14, attended the scene of a building collapse that left 115 dead; working through dense smoke and huge aftershocks to drag bodies from the rubble.
Mr Whittaker left Herne Bay at the age of 17 to join the Grenadier Guards, and after five years of duty, which saw him travel to Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Kenya, he joined the Oxfordshire Fire Service.
He said: “There are constant reminders of the earthquakes every day – broken roads, scaffolding, cleared sites where there were once buildings – people are still living through the aftermath, and it is tough.
“At the time of the earthquake, teams of civilians and emergency workers all got stuck in to help in any way they could, so it was really a team effort.”
"There are constant reminders of the earthquakes every day – broken roads, scaffolding, cleared sites where there were once buildings..." - Mark Whittaker
Mr Whittaker, his wife Caroline and his three children Charlotte, 13, Mason, 12 and Lauren, 8, will attend the ceremony next month in Christchurch Cathedral; which has been partially reconstructed since the earthquake.
National commander of the New Zealand Fire Service, Paul Baxter, said: “The officers who responded to this catastrophic event showed incredible courage and provided outstanding service to the people of Canterbury under difficult and dangerous conditions.
“They performed their jobs using every gram of experience, ingenuity and courage that they possessed. Many of them saw shocking things – far worse than anything they would expect to encounter, even at an emergency incident.”
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