School cleaner's quick thinking saves lives in village fire
UNEXPECTEDLY, for a woman who likes to stay behind the scenes, Rappville School cleaner Donalee Sloan was singled out by the Prime Minster when he visited Rappville last Sunday.
He lifted her right arm into the air in front of more than 200 people and praised her for her efforts on the day a fierce fire ripped through Rappville Village.
Ms Sloan has been a cleaner at the school for 25 years and has lived in Rappville for 30 years, having moved there from Byron Bay.
On Tuesday, October 8, Ms Sloan had been to her morning yoga class at the community hall.
"There had been no warning to evacuate," Ms Sloan said.
Then out of the blue, the police gave her and her partner two minutes notice to leave and they pushed the dog into the car and headed out via James Lane.
There they were told it was too late to leave the village.
The fire was bearing down with a force no one had ever witnessed before.
The designated evacuation place was the oval and the hall, Ms Sloan said.
The hall was burning and the oval didn't feel safe with the fire surrounding the school on what felt like six sides, Ms Sloan said.
"I had the keys to the school,"she said.
"There six fire extinguishers, a fire fighting water tank, and fire blankets."'
"We used the fire extinguishers to keep embers off the cars.
Once Ms Sloan got everyone in the school, she rang the principal Kathleen Collis, who she has known since she was three years old.
"Just be safe," Ms Collis told her.
With at least 100 residents seeking haven in the school for the night, as well as dogs, goats and sheep, the fire fighters worked hard to contain the fire.
"I take my hat off to all the firies, especially Gary Marshall," Ms Sloan said.
She doesn't want praise for what she did.
"I'm no hero," she said.
"My quick thinking may have saved lives, but I did what I thought was right."
She watched the house where she was living with her partner burn down. Lost was all her personal memorabilia.
"The wind was the catalyst, it came on different fronts and kept swinging and swaying," Ms Sloan said.
"I'm still getting over it.
"It's like living a nightmare.'
Ms Sloan said has been supported by her employers ISS Facilites who employ her as a cleaner.
Her nephew and his partner have housed her in Casino.
"I thank them, without them I'd be sleeping in a car somewhere."
She plans to return to Rappville as soon as possible.
"The day the house burnt down was two years to the day we got an above ground pool," Ms Sloan said.
"I'm still paying it off."