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Firefighters receive coveted award for bravery
It started as a normal call out for the Greenvale Brigade. MFB had requested pumper support at a car fire in Meadow Heights, a Melbourne suburb in the north of District 14.
Fifteen minutes later, things were far from normal for the brigade. A nearby house, an MFB pumper and another vehicle were on fire. What’s more, the Greenvale and MFB crews were under attack from a man carrying an axe and a petrol container.
Fast forward to last Wednesday night when Chief Officer Steve Warrington presented Senior Station Officer Roy Griffiths, Leading Firefighters Francis Grech and Matthew Kent and Firefighter Brendan Edwards with the Chief Officer’s Unit Citation for Courage in recognition of their actions on that night in August 2015.
The Citation reads, “The offender subsequently… threatened firefighters with an axe before being eventually subdued by Victoria Police members. The firefighters present used sound judgement when dealing with the threat, worked as a team under stressful conditions and protected one another. Collectively they all took extraordinary actions to protect life and property throughout what was a dynamic, volatile and dangerous situation.”
With the offender convicted and sentenced and the Citations presented, the details of what happened on that night can now be reported.
The trouble began when the CFA crew, returning to the station from the car fire, were called back to a structure fire in the same Meadow Heights street to support MFB. Alarmingly, witnesses had observed an armed offender – a man with an axe – at the address. Watchfully the crew helped MFB lay hose and prepared to put on their BA.
That’s until SSO Roy Griffiths “suddenly noticed a man further up the driveway wearing a black hooded top and carrying a petrol can in one hand and holding an axe up high in a threating manner.” Dropping what they were doing, CFA and MFB crews retreated. The hooded man kept coming, walking briskly and attempting to light the MFB pumper at its fuel tank. When this failed, he poured petrol inside the front driver’s side and set the vehicle alight before walking back down driveway.
Assessing the scene, Roy Griffiths directed his crew to put out the MFB truck fire. However, the man quickly reappeared, axe in hand and “unhappy that crews [had] extinguished his ‘handy work’”, as one witness put it. LFF Matthew Kent directed his hose stream at the man, unfortunately to little effect.
Crews scattered, but not before the man had swung at LFF Kent’s leg, tripping him up but not injuring him. The man then turned his attention to SSO Griffiths, giving chase for a short time before disappearing. At last, all crews regrouped behind the CFA vehicle as police arrived.
Another car was now on fire, which the Greenvale crew put out while a keeping close watch for the man. A very close watch, in fact, as LFF Kent turned his Thermal Imaging Camera in the direction where police were searching, eventually noticing a figure behind a fence where no hot spot had previously been. Police now moved in, the man finally subdued by the police dog squad and arrested at the scene after violent resistance.
David Harris, Greenvale Brigade Officer in Charge and a District 14 Operations Officer, could not have been more proud of how the four firefighters acted on the night. “It was a unique event – our people aggressively pursued while doing their job. In spite of that, they got the job done. They not only protected the community but each other.
“When one of our guys was attacked, the others didn’t hesitate to come to his assistance. You don’t train for that, but it was instinctive. These were actions that needed to be recognised and now they have been.”