Bravery rewarded at Nowra

Published: 13th April 2011

Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) Commissioner Greg Mullins will tonight present special awards to firefighters and members of the public for their brave actions after a car plunged off the Nowra Bridge into the Shoalhaven River.

The efforts of those who rendered assistance helped save the life of the passenger of the car. The driver of the vehicle died at the scene on the evening of Sunday 12 September 2010.

At a 6pm ceremony at Nowra Fire Station, Commendation awards will be presented to Nowra locals Peter Stanton and John Bryce, as well as to FRNSW Deputy Captain John Dun and Retained Firefighters Gary Gilbert and Wayne Gerstenberg, with members of the Nowra Fire Station crew to receive a Unit Commendation.

Commissioner Mullins said: "I am very proud of the professionalism and bravery shown by the Nowra crew. The actions of Mr Stanton and Mr Bryce who pulled the woman from the river were instrumental in saving her life. What these people did, with the assistance of a range of rescue personnel from a number of agencies, was above and beyond the call of duty.

"The firefighters performed as a team without thought for their own comfort in cold, darkening and stressful conditions. I hope that these Commendations will remind them of their brave and meritorious actions."

The vehicle hit the structure of the Nowra Bridge then plunged into the Shoalhaven River about 7pm. Firefighters were advised that a vehicle was submerged with people still inside. Nowra Fire and Rescue Deputy Captain Dun and Retained Firefighters Gerstenberg and Gilbert entered the water and made several attempts to locate the vehicle. The water was murky, swirling and deep, making the attempts difficult.

Once the vehicle was located they continued to dive under the water, but were unable to gain access to it. Using air tanks, a safety line and a torch, access was gained to the vehicle, unfortunately locating a person and determining the car was full of water. As nothing further could be done for the occupant a chain was secured to the car which was pulled out of the river by a tractor.

Those who had been in the water, for about 40 minutes, had to be treated by paramedics for cold exposure, with Deputy Captain Dun also being treated for cuts to both feet and Retained Firefighter Gilbert treated for glass cuts to a hand (all sustained while attempting to gain access to the vehicle).

Commissioner Mullins added: “The Nowra team worked extremely well together under very hazardous conditions and testing circumstances and all in full view of 50 to 60 members of the public and other emergency services. They never stopped until it was clear there was nothing more they could do in this tragic situation."

New engine

As part of the Commendation ceremony, a new fire engine will be handed over to assist the crew at Nowra Fire Station in their fire and rescue work.

The $560,000 fire engine will enhance the local community's fire and emergency protection.

"The Fire and Rescue crews in Nowra do a tremendous job protecting our community and this vehicle will ensure they have the best equipment and the latest technology for their work," Commissioner Mullins said.

The fire engine features a pump that supplies up to 4000 litres of water a minute for firefighting operations and a foam system to fight chemical, petrol and bushfires.

It is fitted with a GPS navigation unit and an electronic message board on the back to warn motorists of emergency operations for greater safety. The new fire engine meets the latest European emission standards.

The Nowra crew responded to 1138 fire and emergency calls in 2009/10 and took part in more than 298 community safety activities to educate the local community about fire safety.