A volunteer firefighter who died yesterday after his truck flipped in a “freakish weather event” has been identified as Samuel McPaul, 28.
The young firefighter was fighting the Green Valley blaze in Jingellic, 70 kilometres east of Albury, when hit 10-tonne truck was lifted off the ground and flipped, landing on its roof.
McPaul was killed while two other firefighters were trapped, suffering burns.
Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said a “fire tornado” resulted in “cyclonic winds” which were able to flip the truck. He added that it was a “very, very sad day for the NSW Rural Fire Service family locally and across the state.”
Fitzsimmons descried McPaul as “a young man, 28, well-respected and admired throughout the local community and in his brigade.”
The young volunteer was expecting his first child with his wife, Megan, whom he married 18 months ago. The baby is due to be born on May 4 next year.
“As you would expect, the family is grieving. It has been a very difficult night,” Fitszimmons said at a press conference this morning.
“I don’t even think that the comprehension has set in about the enormity of the loss.”
He said the services’ senior chaplain had spent the night with McPaul’s family.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was “devastated” by the news.
“This is awful news for the families and our sympathies are with them. These are testing times. We are so grateful for the courage and dedication of our firefighters,” he said in a tweet.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was “just heartbreaking”, and that “words fail at times like this”.
Just heartbreaking. A brave firefighter has lost their life protecting the community east of Albury. Words fail at times like this.— Gladys Berejiklian (@GladysB) December 30, 2019
A second firefighter travelling with McPaul when their firetruck flipped, a 39-year-old man, was airlifted to The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne in a serious condition suffering burns. The driver, a 52-year-old man, was treated at the scene before being taken to Holbrook Hospital for minor injuries and has since been released.
It brings the death toll from this fire season up to nine. Shortly before Christmas, two firefighters – Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, both young fathers – were killed when their tanker was struck by a falling tree and swerved off the road.
Six members of the public have also been killed this fire season.