Cops race into inferno to save burning man
IT WAS a dark Saturday night with not a single car on the road when the 000 call came in about a house on fire with a man trapped inside.
The time was 10.51pm on January 25 when Constable Diana Verstanding and Senior Constable Leonie Shields from Longreach Police Station responded to the emergency call.
It was Constable Verstanding's first week in the outback town after transferring from Redcliffe.
The car headlights illuminated the smoke that was wafting across the road when the officers pulled up to the burning house on Galah Street.
The pair raced over to a man, who was standing outside the door to the carport holding a hose.
He told them the homeowner was still inside the house and was refusing to leave.
Without hesitation, the officers knew what they had to do and entered the inferno.
Smoke billowed from the front door. All the officers could see when they took their first steps inside the home were the glowing flames.
Senior Constable Shields described it as an overwhelming sense of suffocation.
"I could only see about 50cm to 1m in front of me," she said.
With the flames illuminating a path towards the fire, Senior Constable Shields recognised immediately the fire was in the kitchen.
"There was fire on top of and around the stove," she said.
"I didn't know at that time if it was electric or gas, so I started to formulate a plan in my head if it were to explode."
The officers turned on their torches, but the light reflected off the smoke and back into their faces.
Constable Verstanding called out to the homeowner in hopes he would respond.
"Is anyone inside? Where are you?" she recalled calling out.
The pair moved deeper into the house, with Constable Verstanding continuing to call out in hopes for a response. And then she heard it.
"I heard a man's voice and I felt something crunchy," she said.
"The hairs on his arms were singed and his voice was inaudible, I couldn't understand what he was saying.
"I grabbed hold of him and told him his house was on fire and we had to leave."
Confused and disorientated, the homeowner started to pull Constable Verstanding further into the house.
Senior Constable Shields realised what was happening. She went around her partner, grabbed the homeowner and the pair started to force him outside the home.
"He wanted to stay in there," she said.
Once outside, Constable Verstanding looked down and saw skin hanging off his stomach.
She walked him straight over to the bystander and started to hose him down while her partner went to the car to find a fire extinguisher.
"The hairs on his arms were burnt, he had a burn to his hand and stomach, he had skin coming off his stomach and blisters were appearing," Constable Verstanding said.
"He had soot in his nostrils and around his nose. It was pretty urgent to get him to the hospital."
It was at that point fireys and paramedics arrived on scene to help.
The fire was extinguished by 11.11pm.
Investigations concluded it was an accidental fire, with damage contained to the kitchen.
The homeowner, who was in his 60s, was transported to Longreach Hospital in a stable condition.
Senior Constable Shields said she and Constable Verstanding worked very well together that night, commending the latter for her actions.
"Going inside the house without any hesitation and having the awareness and ability to commence first aid is a real credit to her," she said.
"It demonstrates real courage and dedication to her duties.
"I think we did tremendous working together and we both undertook our roles.
"You just have to trust and back your colleagues and that's what we did that night."
Constable Verstanding said she was just doing her job.
"We just knew we had to get in there, find him and get him out," she said.
"We didn't hesitate. We could see the flames; we knew the house was on fire.
"We knew the occupant inside was in imminent danger, so we knew we had to find him and get him out."
She said she and Senior Constable Shields were looking forward to reuniting with the homeowner soon.
The 40-year-old officer said she worked for Queensland Ambulance Service as a patient transport officer for 10 years before joining the police academy.
She said she was looking for a change and wanted to learn something different, but still work in a job where she was serving her community.
Before moving to Longreach, a week before the fire, Constable Verstanding was positioned in Deception Bay and Redcliffe.
She said she had only been a police officer for about 12 months.
When asked why she chose to move to Longreach, she said "Longreach chose me".
"Thanks for taking me on and I look forward to serving you," she said.