Woman’s moan prevented ‘a death in that house’, says rescuer

ON THE way to start his Byron Bay garbage run, 31-year-old Chris Hadwell followed a distant glow in the pre-dawn dark to pull an unconscious woman from her blazing home. He did it all without missing the start of his Thursday morning shift.

The roof had just collapsed on the Kingsley Lane home when the Byron-born dad, hearing a faint moan inside, decided to sweep his way through rubble on hands and knees until he felt something human.

Mr Hadwell's heroic act, which saved the life of 60-plus year old occupant Jennifer , would not have succeeded without the help of the woman's neighbour, 26-year-old Jen McCallum.

It all started when Mr Hadwell detoured slightly from his trip to work as a Richmond Waste truck driver to investigate the blaze.

"I live on a hill near the water tower and have a good view of Byron, so when I saw smoke and a glow coming from the area I decided to check it out," he said.

"I got out of the car and Jen (Ms McCallum) was outside. We went through the garage and opened the door to the house which was pouring smoke. It was billowing out the door. There was nothing visible whatsoever. And you could hear everything burning up and tearing apart. At that point we were both calling out for a response. Jen knew someone was in the home.

"Then all of a sudden the roof fell through, I grabbed Jen. I picked her up and carried her in the laneway. At this point she was on the phone to Triple 0."

Unfazed, the accidental heroes went back to the door, both on their hands and knees. Mr Hadwell, who had completed basic fire simulation training in Western Australia, said he felt within his limits wearing work shorts, jumper and beanie.

"I couldn't see flames but I knew the roof had fallen in so there couldn't be too much more to fall," he said.

"Jen had one hand on the doorway out and one hand holding on to my jumper. We were yelling until finally I heard a sound different than the burning and cracking. It was a moan. I turned to the right, sweeping with my hands through the rubble, feeling for something, throwing bits of wood out of the way. Then I felt something soft. It was human.

"I grabbed it. I think she was buried. It was quite difficult to pull her to me. At this point you can't see anything.

"I pulled her towards my body out from what she was buried under and starting scooting backward to the door. I don't think she was conscious at the time.

"Her hair was burnt. I moved her as far away from the smoke as possible."

Outside, the heroes continued to encourage a response from the woman.

"Her arms started to move and she started to come to," he said.

"I was a bit nervous because she wasn't responding. I got her in the recovery position. Finally she responded to her name."

For Mr Hadwell, it was an act of teamwork.

"I think it was fortunate that two people who had never met before managed to work together. We just meshed. We were both switched on," he said. .

Mr Hadwell reflected if he hadn't heard that moan he would have left the scene.

"There would have been a death in that house," he said.

The heroic strangers met up after the event. Jen disappeared soon after the ambulance arrived and Mr Hadwell was left with her mobile phone.

"I had to return it. We had a lot of questions for each other," he said.

Mr Hadwell said he knew his limits the whole time.

"I have an 18-month-old daughter. As I said to my partner, I wouldn't risk my own life. But I pushed myself to the point where I knew I did the best I could to save a life," he said.

Mr Hadwell went to work covered in soot and with minor burns on his hands and knees. He was only minutes late in clocking on for his shift and still made his run.

The woman is in hospital under observation due to smoke inhalation.

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