Illawarra firefighters save elderly man’s house from burning on South Coast

Ashleigh Tullis in the Illawarra Mercury - Jan 5th 2020

Amazing stories of firefighters’ bravery and selflessness to put their own lives at risk to save strangers’ properties are emerging from the Currowan fire.

One of those stories comes out of Wandandian.

Hundreds of firefighters were spread around the fire front edges in the Shoalhaven ready to extinguish spot fires and protect homes as hot, humid and windy conditions created dangerous conditions on Saturday.

A Fire and Rescue crew part of a Illawarra strike team was deployed to the South Coast in the morning.

Shellharbour station officer Darin Sullivan said the crew got tasked to Wandandian to protect a petrol station.

“One the way down we came across a house near the Shell service station which was under threat from a scrub fire moving across the grass,” he said.

“We pulled in to check out what was going on.

“The fire increased very rapidly and seemed to be creating its own weather, which is usual especially for a small fire.

“The heat and wind it generated was pretty full on.

“We got to work. The boys got the hoses out as the flames got underneath the house.

“We evacuated the elderly and disable gentleman inside the house, who for some reason must have wanted to stay with his home.

“If we weren’t there, the fire would have taken the whole house.

“The guys were able to extinguish the fire.”

The crew had to call in back up, another appliance from their strike team.

Fire and backburning operations from New Year's Eve leaves a bleak sight on the Princes Highway near Wandandian. Picture: Sylvia Liber
 Fire and backburning operations from New Year’s Eve leaves a bleak sight on the Princes Highway near Wandandian. Picture: Sylvia Liber

“We put the grass fires out and called for another unit because we were running out of water,” Mr Sullivan said.

“There were some cars on fire at the property, so we stayed to protect the house from those blazes.”

Mr Sullivan said the homeowner was “very grateful” for the firefighters who were able to save his house and possibly his life.

“He was trying to help us but we just had to say to him to get in his car and get out of the way,” he said.

“It was a bit heavy there for a while, especially when we started to run out of water.

“But once the other truck came, we were alright. That is why it is good to move around in a strike team of four.”

The crew then continued on their way to the original task of protecting the petrol station.

“We made sure that was alright, which it was then we moved up into Basin View,” Mr Sullivan said.

“There were threats of fire jumping the highway so we were tasked with property protection.

“Then all of a sudden, the Camberwarra suburb came under threat so we all high-tailed it up there.

“We were in Camberwarra for two hours to make sure the suburb was alright. We needed to watch what the fire would do once the southerly hit.”

About Darin Sullivan (1980 Articles)
Former President of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union (2009-2018) and a professional firefighter with more than 30 years experience. I live and work on the NSW South Coast, Australia. I am a strong advocate for firefighters and emergency service workers with an interest in mental health issues and caring for those around me. I am a former Director on the NSW Fire Brigades Death and Disability Super Fund and work with charities including ‘The Movember Foundation’. As a leader and activist I have long been active in the campaign for action on climate change. I am a Station Commander in the fire and rescue service in NSW and have 30 years experience fighting fires, both rural and urban. I am passionate about highlighting the impact climate change is having on fire preparedness and fire behaviour in Australia, and the risks associated with inaction on climate change. I am also a spokesperson for the Australian Climate Media Centre.
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