Firefighter dream became a reality
THE red-headed Ipswich kid who dreamed of nothing but becoming a firefighter blazed a career path right to the top.
Ray Eustace, the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service’s north coast assistant commissioner, today runs a staff of 680 across 46 auxiliary and full-time fire stations from his Maryborough office.
And when he comes up for his 47th year in the profession, which will be on July 7, 2011, Ray will hang up his navy cap with the gold braid, pack away his blue uniform and place his bevy of medals somewhere safe for his six grandchildren to treasure in years to come.
“I think I can say I’ve achieved what I set out to achieve in my career and I’ve never lost my passion for it.”
There are also “the things you never forget”, says this son of ambulance man Jack and Vera.
Ray remembers his first job as a 19-year-old auxiliary firefighter while he was also doing an apprenticeship in painting and decorating at the Commonwealth Department of Works on the RAAF base at Amberley.
“I’d put my age up a year to get in to the auxiliary brigade at Redbank in April 1964. There were 10 of us.
“I loved it from day one.
“That first job was when the Redbank Woollen Mills went up. It was a boiler house explosion and it was an oil fire. There were just two of us. Back-up from Ipswich arrived with a crew of four. They put out the blaze with a foam blanket. We were all black from the burning oil.”
By May 1966 Ray had become a permanent firie at Ipswich.
“On my first nightshift we got three calls. We were out doing one job and then right on to the next.”
In his first 12 years before he was appointed station officer in 1978, at the age of 32, Ray hand-led some big fires. The North Ipswich Woollen Company was an inferno from end to end that he saw on the skyline before his shift started and went straight into the station.
“I remember we treated that one as a surround and drown.
“Ipswich State School was another big one. Some lad had walked in with a fuel can and lit a match. It took off like a rocket.
“You had to be fit to fight fires. I was playing rugby league and tennis.”
In those early days firies didn’t do crashes. Structure fires were their main menu. A house at Sadler’s Crossing, near Ipswich Boys Grammar, was alight.
“There was a house next door and we had a line of hose raking the wall. A young girl came up to us and said her brothers were inside the burning house.
“The station officer grabbed the two youngest of us, me and Graham Knight. He said ‘get your BA (breathing apparatus) on; you guys are going in’.
“They relocated one of the lines of hose to the front door of the house and Graham and I crawled in on our hands and knees into this big old Queenslander that had a wide corridor. We were side by side and couldn’t see a thing.
“It was a combination of being frightened, but more hoping the line of hose was still at the front door.”
The rescued man was a mass of blisters and he later died. When the fire was out the two firies went back in. They found the second man. He was sitting on a bed, totally black and dead. Somehow he hadn’t tried to get out of the fire through a nearby window.
The fire had spread from a stove. The young girl had managed to get two of her siblings and had taken them to a neighbour for safety before she came back to tell the firies about her older brothers still in the house.
“You just never forget those things,” Ray said.
In between the fires, Ray spent six years in the defence force, in 49RQR, where he trained as a cook and went into camp twice a year, attaining the rank of corporal.
His career skyrocketed. He became fire safety officer for Ipswich and districts, repeated the role on the State Fire Services Council, managed training for the south west region and later was appointed district officer, state manager auxiliary training and development.
In March 2003 Ray became assistant commissioner for the north coast region, managing Maryborough, Hervey Bay, Gympie permanent stations and Tin Can Bay and Rainbow Beach auxiliary stations.
Along the way he has been recognised from the very top and many times for his outstanding service.
Ray married Kathy when he was 21 and neither of their two children, Scott and Michelle, chose the fire service for a career.
He has saved many lives – and also watched those he’s rescued die in front of him.
“In the early days there was no such thing as counselling. You just got over it and get on with it.
“But when you drive home at night you are very careful, I can tell you.”
With no regrets, Ray speaks highly of the job.
“I recommend young people take a good look at this as a career. It’s a challenging job, it can of course be traumatic, but you’re serving the community and you never know what your day is going to be like.”