Cyclone Gabrielle: Fire and Emergency 'did not identify landslides as a hazard' before deaths of Muriwai firefighters - report

An independent review into the death of two volunteer firefighters during Cyclone Gabrielle in Muriwai says Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) "did not identify landslides as a hazard" that could harm its personnel before the disaster.

The report has made multiple recommendations, largely around the awareness of landslide risks.

David Van Zwanenberg and Craig Stevens were checking a flooded property on Motutara Rd in Muriwai during the cyclone when a slip trapped them.

Stevens was rushed to the hospital in critical condition where he later died, and emergency services subsequently found van Zwanenberg's body.

According to the report, released on Friday, not identifying landslides as a hazard resulted in a lack of training for firefighters.

The report said the Muriwai firefighters knew about the community's vulnerability to landslides but didn't recognise the warning signs one was imminent.

From the moment the firefighters became trapped, everything possible was done to rescue them despite the difficult conditions, the probe concluded.

FENZ said the fatal landslide continued "to be an awful reminder of the risks our firefighters can be exposed to on any given day".

"This investigation was not conducted to attribute fault, blame or liability for what happened. It was undertaken to ensure Fire and Emergency can learn from this catastrophic event and to reduce the risk of something like this happening in the future," FENZ chief executive Kerry Gregory said.

The report recommended FENZ review policy, procedures and training programmes around landslides; consider including a local landslide susceptibility risk profile in station planning activities and review its critical risk management programme.

"We need to be more agile, adapting our knowledge and training as the types of emergencies we respond to change," Gregory said. "We would like to pass on our thanks to the two investigators who undertook this investigation for Fire and Emergency. This was a tragic event and both took great care when speaking with those directly involved while ensuring a thorough investigation was completed.

"Our thoughts continue to be with Dave and Craig’s whānau and friends, our Muriwai Brigade, the Muriwai community and those who were involved in the search and rescue operation, as you continue to grieve your loss."

Read the full report here.