Firefighters awarded for heroism in Monkland fire tragedy
EIGHT firefighters from the Gympie station have been commended this week for their professionalism and bravery at a ceremony in Maroochydore.
Running bravely into a horrific Monkland house fire, the first responders tried unsuccessfully to save the life of 12-year-old Alexis Dean in late June this year.
"I've been fighting fires for 31 years, and I know that fire is the one I won't be able to forget," says Lt Greg Albury, one of the first firefighters to arrive on the scene.
"To be recognised for the work we did that day is an incredibly humbling thing."
Despite the massive risk to their own personal safety, Lt Albury said the crew who responded to the fire didn't see themselves as heroes.
"It was a very healing moment for all of the guys who were involved, but not what I would call a happy one" he says.
"It was more a chance to have some recognition for the work we do."
The ceremony at the Maroochydore Fire Station saw over 60 officers from across the region awarded for their outstanding service.
All eight crew members were awarded the Commissioner's Unit Citation at the ceremony, which took place on Monday morning.
Two officers, Steve Evans and Ben Christensen, were also awarded the Commissioner's Commendation for Bravery.
Both officers were the first to enter the burning home, facing terrifying and life-threatening conditions.
"They were facing temperatures of up to 600 degrees as well as zero visibility," says Coast Area Commander Bernie Massingham.
"By the time the crews had arrived, the fire had already progressed significantly - meaning there were flames all above and around them."
Despite dealing with tragic conditions every day, Lt Albury says the Monkland fire had taken a particularly heavy toll on the responders.
"It can be difficult to find closure in these situations - but being invited to Alexis' funeral by the family was a big step," he says.
"Fire teams, police and ambulance were all there forming a guard of honour - it went a long way in giving the crew some closure."
Mr Massingham reiterated the importance of work fire teams do across the region ahead of what is expected to be a hot, dry and dangerous summer in Gympie.
"Firefighting is a team game first and foremost," he says.
"And what I think these awards show is that this crew are delivering their duties with professionalism under a lot of adversity."
Teams were hard at work across the Gympie region yesterday, with high temperatures and dry winds prompting a total fire ban.
Mr Massingham says residents must be prepared for the likely event of bushfires.
"People should clean up around the house - get rid of any loose leaves or twigs around and make sure your gutters are clear," he says.
"Most of all, make sure you've got a plan ready too."