Sandy Creek and Charleroi Fire Brigade members Vin and Karen O’Neill were enjoying dinner at a restaurant in Rome during their recent holiday, when they could smell smoke.
“It was a beautiful sunny afternoon of 30 degrees so we were sitting just outside the restaurant. Everyone smokes over there, so I didn’t think too much of the smell at first," said Vin.
"But then they were starting to usher people out and we could hear the fire brigade’s siren and I realised it was heading towards us.”
After 40 years as a volunteer firefighter, instinct kicked in.
“Because you’ve been to fires before, you just go to see if there’s anything that needs doing,” Vin said.
“The table staff looked a little unsure of what to do with people, so I just went in and had a look to see if I could help with anything. There was a strong electrical smell but no flames, so I went to check the restrooms and some areas behind the kitchen to make sure no one was left behind.”
When it was clear that no customers remained in the restaurant, which was on the ground floor of an eight-storey building, Vin had the opportunity to get a closer look at the local fire truck and speak to some of the firefighters.
“There was a bit of a language barrier but I managed to explain that I was a volunteer firefighter from Australia. They brought their chief over and he spoke a bit more English.
“The truck was fairly modern. They had BA [breathing apparatus] gear and a lot of hand-held gear which I guess was well suited to these multi-storey buildings.”
After posing for a photo with their new-found friends, it was time to pay for their meal - by cash as the power was still off, forcing the waiting staff to revert to pen and paper - and enjoy the remainder of their Italian holiday.
Karen wasn’t fazed by the interruption to their holiday.
“I guess she’s used to it. When you go away [as a CFA volunteer], they pick up the pieces and support you behind the scenes, making sandwiches and supporting you in any way they can. That’s just what we do in the country.”