A man who saved a friend’s family from a fire in Scotsburn has been awarded one of Australia’s highest honours.
Brendan Walker, 52, of Ballarat, has been awarded a national Bravery Award for his courage while off-duty as a paramedic and volunteer firefighter.
Mr Walker had worked a 14-hour shift when he received a pager message on December 19, 2015 about a bushfire in Scotsburn.
After checking the CFA website, he noted the fire was several kilometres away from his friend Bruce Rae’s property. Bruce is a fellow Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance Paramedic. The two worked together on the Ballarat MICA Unit for almost 17 years.
“I thought Bruce and his family were reasonably safe as the fire was burning away from his property,” Mr Walker said.
The day was hot and windy. The temperature was 35 degrees and a strong northerly wind was making fire conditions very high to extreme.
“My initial thought was I would take my fire unit out to Bruce’s property and leave it there overnight for protection, just in case something happened,” Mr Walker said.
“I have a 600-litre water tank and firefighting pump mounted on a purpose-built trailer.”
But an intended social visit turned into a fight for survival.
“Within minutes of arriving at the property a thunder cell [storm] had formed close to the fire,” Mr Walker said.
“The cold air from the thunder cell and the super-hot air from the fire hit each other causing a ‘micro-burst’ which causes hot air that is rising to suddenly descend.
“The direction of the fire changed, blowing it straight toward our location. The gale force wind suddenly hit the property.
“Then we could hear the deafening roar of the fire approaching.
“I knew at that time there was no escape. We would have to stay and defend. Bruce and his family went into the house and took refuge under wet blankets.”
Conditions continued to deteriorate and Mr Walker had to make life and death decisions.
“I could feel pain on the side of my face. I thought it was hot embers burning my cheek.
“However, as I began to pull it away I realised I was peeling burnt skin away from the entire side of my face.”
Mr Walker instinctively changed his tactics.
“At that time I had 50 litres of water left and I planned on hosing myself down so at least my body could be identified.
“I didn’t do it.
“I used the last 50 litres to protect the door of the house that would be their escape route.”
Bruce and his family emerged from the house when it was reasonably safe.
“Bruce noticed I had been burnt and led me over to a water drum and dunked my head in it.
“As he did steam began to rise like putting a hot Fir under a water tap.
“We both laughed and realised we had survived.”