Warwick firefighter showed bravery in wake of disaster

MEDAL HONOURS: Warwick senior firefighter Michael Coombes received the Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal for his work in Christchurch.
MEDAL HONOURS: Warwick senior firefighter Michael Coombes received the Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal for his work in Christchurch. Samantha Oneil

WHEN tragedy struck Christchurch in 2011, 70 brave personnel from a Queensland Fire and Rescue specialist team answered the call for help.

One of these was Warwick senior firefighter Michael Coombes.

Mr Coombes has now received recognition for his hard work and dedication after being presented with the Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal.

The urban search and rescue specialist unit arrived in Christchurch on February 23, the day after the 6.3 magnitude earthquake tore apart the city.

The team worked 12-hour days clawing through rubble in search of survivors while about 300 aftershocks rocked the city.

"It's pretty scary when the building you are searching starts to shake," Mr Coombes said.

"You don't give up because miracles happen and there is always a chance you will find somebody in that rubble."

Mr Coombes recalled the destruction that met the unit upon arrival.

"Every building had some kind of damage," he said.

"It was just a total devastation of the city area.

"The whole area had been evacuated with the exception of emergency personnel."

Mr Coombes and his team worked on the CTV building, a six-storey building that had collapsed with the highest number of people missing.

Of the 185 people killed, 115 were retrieved by the unit from the building.

The team worked 12-hour shifts alongside specialist units from the United States, Japan, China, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.

One of the lasting memories Mr Coombes had from his experience was the arrival at the airport.

"When we walked through the airport arrival lounge, there was a huge round of applause," Mr Coombes said.

"It just blew us away. After the devastation they had been through, they were just glad to see us."

The Minister for Police and Emergency Services and Corrective Services Bill Byrne presented Mr Coombes with the medal on January 6.

Mr Coombes, who has been a firefighter for 15 years and a part of the specialist unit for nine years, said he was honoured to receive the medal.

"We were just there doing what we are trained for," he said.

"We just do our job like any other person."

Topics:  bravery disaster warwick

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