29 September 2022

Wallaroo Brigade members honoured for life-saving action on Monaro Highway

| Katrina Condie
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Rural firefighters holding awards

Six members of the Wallaroo RFS unit were presented with a Commissioner’s Certificate of Commendation after saving a driver involved in a crash on the Monaro Highway in 2019. Photo: NSW RFS Wallaroo Brigade.

Six members of the Wallaroo Rural Fire Service (RFS) unit have been honoured for their quick action that saved the life of a 79-year-old man near Cooma in March 2019.

The volunteers received a Commissioner’s Certificate of Commendation during the brigade’s 80th anniversary celebrations on 24 September.

Among the recipients was Wallaroo RFS captain Neil Shepherd, who was the leader of strike team Echo 1, which dived into action when an oncoming vehicle, driven by the 79-year-old man, ran off the Monaro Highway and crashed south of Cooma on 10 March, 2019.

The firefighters were en route to a raging fire in Drago, Victoria, when they witnessed the crash.

Mr Shepherd said his team was first on the scene and worked to stabilise the driver, who was trapped in the vehicle.

“The vehicle was on its side and the driver was trapped on the high side by his seatbelt and his legs,” he said.

“We had to try and apply first aid while he was entrapped, and also extinguished smoke that was coming from the dashboard.”

Mr Shepherd said it was lucky a member of the 14-person strike team, Richard Foreshaw from the Springfield brigade, was a paramedic.

The driver was cut free from the vehicle by a NSW SES crew and was taken to hospital for treatment and survived.

The certificates were awarded to Mr Shepherd, Thomas Bailey-Price, David King, Michael Textor (award accepted by his wife, Therese) and Mike Fratturo. A posthumous award was presented to Luke Amor, who died in March this year, and was accepted by his wife, Kristen.

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Mr Shepherd said he was proud that his team was recognised for their efforts, and the action reflected the skills and diverse membership of the RFS.

“We witnessed the vehicle run off the road ahead of us in a cloud of dust and my words were, ‘Team, we’re gonna have to stop’,” he explained.

“We went into our roles and everybody took on a part that needed to happen.

“Once rescue crews came and we mopped up the scene, the crew was straight back on the road to Victoria and the very next morning we started firefighting.”

Members of the NSW RFS Wallaroo Brigade gathered to celebrate its 80th anniversary and unveil the $305,000 station upgrade. Long-service medals were also presented to dedicated members.

Rural firefighters

Wallaroo RFS members celebrate the brigade’s 80th anniversary. Photo: NSW RFS Wallaroo Brigade.

NSW RFS South Eastern Area Commander Chief Superintendent Paul Simakoff-Ellims joined Southern Tablelands District staff and brigade members and guests for the presentation and an inspection of the new extensions.

The $220,000 project included an upgraded radio office, large training and meeting room, kitchen, bathroom facilities, two-bay garage for firefighting appliances and an external generator.

Upgrades to the outdoor training area included a large concrete training pad, a shipping container for structural firefighting practice, an underground water tank and LED lighting for night-time use.

“These upgraded facilities show a commitment to continuing the strong traditions of the Wallaroo Brigade and I congratulate them on the $165,000 they raised to assist funding this project,” Chief Superintendent Simakoff-Ellims said.

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The Chief Superintendent was also on hand to present 11 National Emergency Medals, eight National Medals, 19 Long Service Medals as well as the Commissioner’s Certificates of Commendation.

“The Wallaroo Brigade didn’t just protect their own community during the devastating 2019-20 fire season, they were also deployed to help communities right across the state,” Chief Superintendent Simakoff-Ellims said.

“We also have 27 volunteers being recognised for a combined 480 years of service – that is an impressive and humbling achievement that reflects on the commitment of Wallaroo Brigade.”

The brigade was officially formed in the early 1940s by landholders wanting to protect the area and now boasts more than 80 members.

“This brigade has a proud history and has put in a lot of effort developing its members and strengthening its relationship with the community,” Chief Superintendent Simakoff-Ellims said.

“The hard work and professionalism of all NSW RFS members does not go unnoticed and while they do not ask for praise, we should take every opportunity to acknowledge their contribution and commitment to their community.”

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