Hero neighbours save woman from blaze
THE quick action of a neighbour trained in fire fighting saved the life of a Suffolk Park woman when a fire broke out at her Beech Drive home yesterday.
The resident, who asked not to be named, said a candle on a large wooden shelf on the home's porch had been the source of the fire.
Rod Halpin, Deputy Captain of the Byron Bay Rural Fire Brigade, was watching the cricket about 5.20pm when he smelled a plastic burning smell and discovered it was coming from the back porch of his next door neighbour's house.
"I've been in the fire service for 20 years, and I always keep two fire extinguishers in the car," Mr Halpin said.
"I went to the car, put the suit on and grabbed an extinguisher while my wife called 000 and threw a hose over the fence," Mr Halpin said.
Mr Halpin said the fire had entered the roof of the house and said it took him and three young men from neighbouring homes around 10-15 minutes to get the flames under control before the fire crews arrived.
"Those first five minutes on the scene are crucial," Mr Halpin said.
"Once a fire gets into the roof it can take the whole house out within ten minutes."
The home-owner, a mother of two young children, was unaware the fire had started and was in the shower as Mr Halpin worked at extinguishing the flames.
She had no idea it was happening until she came out and heard our voices, Mr Halpin said.
"They are a great family; they've lived here for six or seven years and we always help each other out.
"They always keep an eye on our place when we travel.
"She is quite upset, but she will be okay. There's plenty of support for her from this community."
The woman, who asked to have her name withheld, thanked Mr Halpin and her other neighbours for their efforts, describing the firefighter as a "legend".
"Rodney and Gwen have been our neighbours for about six years, she said
"From what I know Rodney had for many years, given a lot of energy, work and dedication to the fire brigade and our community.
"Today a candle on our porch started a fire on a large wooden shelf. Rodney and Gwen noticed the smell of the burning Perspex and realized a fire had broken out.
"Rodney quickly jumped in his fireman gear, rushing over and in the process falling head over heels, and was fighting the flames with no regard for danger to himself from electrical wires and a high voltage solar supply cabling somewhere in the roof.
"First the water pressure was too low on our hose, then his hose broke off at the tap, as it was too short and Rodney was pulling on it to make it longer.
"Help came from other neighbours as well, and a passer bye with a fire extinguisher.
Without all these people's help we would have lost our home. We were minutes away from losing everything and our heartfelt gratitude goes out to all our neighbours, the guy with the fire extinguisher and the rural fire service and police who helped us.
"Rodney is a legend."
A crew from the Byron Bay Rural Fire Brigade attended the scene, along with police, ambulance, Country Energy and Fire and Rescue NSW.
"(The home owner) was very lucky," Byron Bay Rural Fire Brigade Captain Greg Miller said.
"There was minimal damage caused, and that was due to the quick-thinking of Rod."
Mr Halpin was captain on the Byron Bay Rural Fire Brigade for 17 years before handing over the role to Capt. Miller in 2010 and has been awarded medals for distinction in service as well as being Byron Shire Citizen of the Year in 2004.
This is not the first time Mr Halpin has been called upon to use the fire extinguisher he keeps in his car.
"I've used it to put out fires before, but they've been in cars burning on the road, never my neighbour's house," he said.
The cause of the fire is now under investigation, but was not being treated as suspicious Capt Miller said.