Bravery of firies lauded with medals

Tim EdmundsAlbany Advertiser
Albany man Peno Hau has been announced as a bravery medal recipient from the Australian Bravery Awards from the catastrophic Black Cat Creek bushfire in 2012 near Albany.
Camera IconAlbany man Peno Hau has been announced as a bravery medal recipient from the Australian Bravery Awards from the catastrophic Black Cat Creek bushfire in 2012 near Albany. Credit: The West Australian, Jackson Flindell.

They were told not to go but they went anyway.

Not once, twice but three times, a trio of Parks and Wildlife firefighters put their colleagues’ safety ahead of their own.

The considerable bravery shown by firefighters Peno Hau, Matthew Corlett and Jason Fletcher was today recognised with each named as recipients of an Australian Bravery Medal.

The three men were trapped in the ferocious burnover at Black Cat Creek near Albany in 2012, which led to the tragic death of Parks and Wildlife firefighter and mother-of-three Wendy Bearfoot.

The burnover was later the subject of a coronial inquest, which found a combination of a lack of resources, a lack of training and a “critical failure” in communicating a forecast wind change, led to her death and burns injuries to a number of firefighters.

As the fire swept over, engulfing the firefighting vehicles, Mr Hau and his colleague, Greg Freebury, decided to drive quickly through the flames to safety.

Knowing their colleagues were in danger, they returned to the fireground, where they found Shaun McHenry, Charlene Dekker and Tim Wellstead huddled under a fire blanket. After taking them to safety, Mr Hau and Mr Freebury drove back into the blaze 200m where they found Mrs Bearfoot “staggering around” in the thick smoke 100m from her destroyed truck.

She was driven to safety before Mr Hau made another valiant effort to search for his colleagues.

The “horrible experience” led to Mr Hau’s premature retirement from the job he loved five years ago as he grappled with the aftermath and loss of friend, Mrs Bearfoot.

The 68-year-old was the recent recipient of a new kidney, thanks to his son Hamish, who had given him a new lease on life after being in a “dark place”.

“I risked my life doing it but I wasn’t stupid, I realised the heat of the fire and knew we had workers still trapped in there. instinct took over and I will do that anytime,” he said.

Mr Fletcher and Mr Corlett were forced to drive through the intense fire before extinguishing the flames on their truck and on the vehicle of a volunteer crew, which was also desperately trying to flee the scene.

The duo sprayed down the truck as the firefront reached them before checking the volunteers and a bulldozer operator for injuries.

Their concern for the safety of their colleagues led to them returning to the fireground to render further assistance. Their selfless acts have not gone unnoticed.

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