Five years on, Christchurch is a city still under construction. But today is about remembering those who died, and those who helped save lives.
After the earthquake hit on February 22, 2011, St John crews worked into the early hours of the morning, helped by volunteers and members of the public.
No amount of training and practice could have prepared them for that day.
Newshub spoke to four St John staff about their experience of the day.
Alan MacKay, who works in the clinical control centre where 111 calls are received, says the memories are so fresh in his mind that it almost feels as if it happened yesterday.
"I can still remember watching my colleagues get thrown across the room, computer screens falling over, the back of the building next door collapsing, and digging my fingernails into my own desk so I didn't go flying as well," he says.
He worked until the control centre building had to be evacuated, and then continued in the car park.
Paramedic Karyn Coker was based in the sanatorium, looking after patients while her own family members were yet to be accounted for after the quake.
"It took me quite a wee bit of time to remember some of the day," she says. "Conveniently some of it had been blocked out, I guess that's just what happens."
Graham Gillespie is a long-serving St John member, and was in Greymouth when the earthquake hit.
He immediately headed for Christchurch to volunteer his time for days on end.
"Seeing the destruction of my city, my town, the place I'd grown up in, you were almost waiting for the director to go 'cut'," he says.
St John officer in charge Craig Stockdale was based in Latimer Square on the day of the earthquake. He also works as an intensive care paramedic.
Mr Stockdale says he is incredibly proud of his team, "the people that I had around me, and the job that they did, and the number of patients they helped, lives that they saved."
The video above contains 111 calls from the day of the earthquake.