A FIREY’S TALE: 36-year career of rescues, floods, fires
AFTER 36 years of helping people when they need it most, Ross Findlay is saying goodbye his career as a firefighter.
Having literally grown up in a fire station, it's almost as if he was destined to don a firefighter's uniform.
The Queensland Fire and Emergency Service Bundaberg station officer said his father was a firefighter and in those days the stations were two storeys with the house on the top floor.
Despite having done his trade as a cabinet maker, Mr Findlay felt as though to be a firefighter was something that was a part of him and his family, as his two older brothers were auxiliary firefighters.
From his first shift, he knew it was the career for him.
"My first fatality was on my first day shift, an hour-and-a-half after I started," he said.
"I had an 18-year-old girl that was killed, her and three young guys severely injured, hit a semi and I decided that day this is what I wanted to do - road crash rescue."
Mr Findlay said since then he wrote a training course which was now nearly done Australia-wide and he's been training people for two decades.
While starting his career in Cairns, he then transferred to Hevery Bay before working in four different regions in 17 different stations.
He said while working in Gympie, one of the biggest times they had was 11 crashes in a single day: cars into buses, cars into cars and cars rolled over embankments.
"It was a crazy day," he said.
For Mr Findlay the most significant part of his job was being able to save someone's life.
He said two jobs were never the same, so being able to learn from different experiences and implement new procedures and techniques was crucial.
Mr Findlay said road crash rescues were about 70 per cent of their job and he could still see the first fatal crash and every child fatality he had attended.
"People say 'how do you handle it?', well I got accustomed to it, not used to it, you get accustomed," he said.
Mr Findlay said you do your job and try to switch off as best you can, knowing you did the best you could do.
"The fact that somebody walks back into the station saying thanks for saving their life is the biggest high I reckon you can ever get - it's pretty cool," he said.
While attending hundreds pf road traffic crashes during his career, that doesn't mean he hasn't seen more than his fair share of fires.
In 1987 Mr Findlay attended a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion (BLEVE), when a rail tanker exploded in the centre of Cairns.
"It was a huge gas cloud, and the gas cloud comes down on the ground because it's heavier than air, and it floats across until finds something to ignite it and then it blew back and the rail tanker caught fire," he said.
Mr Findlay said it became a ticking bomb.
"When it exploded it killed one guy in one of the houses nearby and burnt three of our fireys and a couple of other people … I suppose it was pretty lucky they all survived," he said.
He said it was the biggest fire he'd attended and "it was like a bomb going off".
And in 2013 Mr Findlay was battling rising flood waters rather than flames.
He said his crew worked for nearly three days straight trying to evacuate people.
Despite the old station being "basically flooded" and without power, Mr Findlay said they made do.
He said the calls were "non-stop" and they worked on the southside of the bridge pulling people off boats.
"The biggest thing then rescue-wise was we had a heap of people running boats to houses and pulling people out of houses, and we had a council vehicle, we were unloading them out of the boats onto council vehicles and moving them across the bridge.
"The water was lapping under the bridge."
He said at one point they could see the bridge moving and it wasn't long after they had left that "the bridge collapsed on that far end".
He said where it collapsed was virtually where the truck was sitting.
During the floods he injured his knee after slipping out of the truck.
Mr Findlay said as a firefighter he'd led an exciting and interesting life to say the least.
"Doing this job, two jobs are never the same, they can be similar but never even close," he said.
"Most people go to work and do the same thing day after day, after day, we come to work and we don't know what's going to happen.
"I suppose that always keeps you going too, keeps your brain ticking.
"You can't pre-empt what's going to happen, you have to wait until you get there."
But now he's opened a new chapter of excitement, that of retirement.
Having finished his last shift at the local station, Mr Findlay said he plans to finish off the 20 jobs he's got at home, like broken-down lawnmowers and restoring an old Chevy, before travelling.