WHEN Newcastle Herald photographer JONATHAN CARROLL pulled up at Doyalson North on Thursday night, fires were surging through Lake Munmorah.
He joined a crew of five Rural Fire Service volunteers who headed north to Catherine Hill Bay. Within minutes, Carroll thought he was going to die. Yet, as he explains, the team around him had other ideas:
WITHIN minutes of getting in the truck we were surrounded by walls of orange flames.
Someone yelled out ‘‘masks on’’ and they gave me a mask.
Then someone yelled ‘‘get your helmets on’’, then ‘‘get those blankets ready’’, then ‘‘get under those blankets’’ as the flames and embers shot across the highway.
I was petrified.
I thought I was going to die and was considering calling my wife and asking her to put my boys on the phone for one last time.
Then one of the team pointed to the bloke in the front passenger seat and said, ‘‘See this guy? I’d follow this guy into hell.’’
Another pulled out the fireman’s prayer before someone said, ‘‘Put that away, it’s an admission of defeat.’’
We arrived at the fire ground. They told me to stay close to them and the truck.
‘‘Right. We’re in front of the fire, but we are also surrounded by it, so we’re going to have to stop it,’’ one of them said.
I remained close by, stressed and panicked, then I noticed something.
They weren’t scared. They were calm. They were going about the job in a business-like fashion.
It rubbed off on me. I calmed down. I picked my camera up and started shooting as they fought the flames.
We got out of there around 11pm.Catherine Hill Bay was saved with only a few losses.
Earlier in the night one of the boys had said, ‘‘There’s been a few times when I’ve put my tail between my legs and kissed my ass goodbye, but tonight wasn’t one of them.’’
These guys at the RFS are on a different level to you and me.