As Blair Andrews worked to save lives inside Al Noor mosque, he heard a rumour that an active shooter was in the roof.
The intensive care paramedic had found himself at ground zero of the Christchurch terror attack. He was surrounded by the dead and dying. His radio had been lighting up with news of another attack across town. And now reports were flooding in that multiple gunmen were on the loose.
Still, with police yet to clear the building or check for explosives, Andrews chose to treat the wounded.
He is one of six emergency care workers to receive an extremely rare bravery medal from the international Order of St John this week for their work on March 15, 2019. The Bronze Life Saving Medal was introduced in 1874, and has only been given to 13 other New Zealanders in 148 years.
To be eligible the recipient must have performed a “conspicuous act of bravery” to save someone’s life, and have endangered their own life in the process.
Reflecting on what happened this week, Andrews passed the honour on to the entire team.
“We don’t do this for the medal, we do this to help people – that’s why we become paramedics,” he said.
“It’s bittersweet; we would much prefer never to be put into the situation that we were that day. But at the same time, it’s a proud moment to be recognised.”
Fellow medal recipient Craig Stockdale, who also risked his life that day, highlighted how 120 St John workers were involved in the response.
“I’m enormously proud of the team, the team of people that responded in a real crisis,” he said.
But both men showed outstanding individual bravery, entering the mosque when the situation was still highly uncertain.
A total of 51 people were killed across the two mosques in Riccarton and Linwood, but dozens of victims were saved by emergency services.
Later, it would emerge that the gunman was across town while the rescue was playing out. All other reports were unfounded, with no shooter in the roof at Al Noor, no bombs in the walls and only one person behind the attack.
But in the chaotic haze of first arrival, there was no way emergency responders could have known that.
Stockdale described how the early information was scattered and uncertain, as it typically is in an emergency environment.
“We were aware that there was potential for booby traps and IEDs to have been left in the building, so the normal process would have been to wait until the bomb squad had cleared that building,” he said.
“But we considered along with the police that we didn’t have – those people didn’t have – that luxury, or that time.”
Both men went inside despite the risk, driven by the welfare of the patients.
“At that stage I don’t think there was much thought about our own safety,” Andrews said.
“We wanted to help those people, we wanted to get them out, we wanted to get them to the care they needed and that was the primary focus.”
Asked where their bravery came from, both men again chose to share the accolade.
“It’s about what most people would actually do in those situations. You kind of get to the point where you go, ‘I’ve got to do this, there’s something here that’s got to be done’ and we’ve just got to get on with it,” Stockdale said.
“I wouldn’t say that we were brave,” Andrews echoed. “We did our job.”
Their bravery followed by humility – a sure sign of a genuine hero.