They searched collapsed buildings as masonry continued to fall, rescued the living and recovered the dead, fielded 111 calls and provide a reassuring voice and face to Canterbury.
Five Oamaru police officers were among the 3600 New Zealand police, and people who worked under direct command, issued with citations to recognise the circumstances they faced in the aftermath of the February 22, 2011 earthquake in Canterbury.
In an awards ceremony yesterday Sergeant Peter Muldrew, Senior Constable Darrin Low, Senior Constable Stefan Witehira, Senior Constable Stew Hewitt and Senior Constable Graeme McPherson were presented with a citation, known as a Dress Distinction, in the form of a red and black ribbon in a silver metallic frame.
Police heroes acknowledged with citations
The citations were presented by Alastair Dickie, relieving area commander for the Otago Rural area, who told the officers the awards should be highly valued and worn with pride.
Mr Dickie described February 22 as one of the country's darkest days.
Some 185 people died as a result of the 6.3-magnitude quake which struck just after lunchtime, that summer's day.
"The early and day shift for many Christchurch police officers had been relatively uneventful - out on patrol, making inquiries, working in police stations and at courts, or answering the 111 and other calls," he said.
At 12.51pm, that had all changed.
Police began to receive hundreds of 111 calls and staff across the district and in the communication centres had responded immediately, putting their lives at risk to help out others. "Off-duty staff dropped everything to help on-shift colleagues ... Within hours, our people were spread across multiple scenes - the central city, the suburbs, the hills," he said.
"Police responded from all over New Zealand. By evening we had people on ferries, in the air and on the roads en route to Christchurch.
"The actions of our staff, both constabulary and employee, were nothing short of heroic."
He said police provided leadership, critical response, family liaison, investigation and public reassurance, as well as business-as-usual policing.
"It was one of New Zealand's darkest days.
"But it also showed New Zealand Police at our very best," he said.
For Oamaru police Senior Constable Stew Hewitt, being recognised for serving in Christchurch in the response to the February earthquake was unexpected, because it was all part of the job.
Mr Hewitt spent two weeks in Christchurch, spending much time around the central area, checking on people in the Red Zone.
"The first day we arrived there was one of the major aftershocks. We arrived at work on the sixth floor and we didn't know what to do," he said.
He said the way the Canterbury police reacted to the natural disaster was nothing short of extraordinary. "We were there to relieve the Canterbury guys, but they wanted to keep going. It was their patch," he said.
The Oamaru officers had split up, working with other officers from Christchurch and around the country during the tragic chapter.
"It wasn't nearly as bad by the time we got there. I was pretty fortunate. I got to get all over town, from Sumner to Kaiapoi," he said.
"It was a good experience, but it's just one of those things. It's part of the job."