FLASHBACK: Former Premier Kristina Keneally (centre) met Senior Constables Caroline Tomek and Troy Simmons in the days after the 2009 bushfire. Photo: PHILL MURRAY 121009pfire8TWO Bathurst police officers who saved the lives of Bernie Schulte and his son Cameron after a bushfire ripped through their Vittoria property have been presented with bravery awards by Governor David Hurley.
Senior Constable Troy Simmons and former Senior Constable Caroline Tomek were presented with high commendations during a ceremony at Government House in Sydney last Friday for showing great courage and composure in very hazardous conditions in 2009.
Mr Schulte, a retired police officer, sustained burns to over 80 per cent of his body after the fire front he was fighting turned on him, while his son sustained burns to almost 40 per cent of his body.
Senior constables Simmons and Tomek were led to the Schultes by Mr Schulte’s friend Steve Hill, and when they arrived things were grim.
They found Mr Schulte lying face down in a water trough suffering horrific injuries while Cameron, who also had serious burns to his body, was beside him trying to splash water on his dad to stop his skin from melting.
Even six years on, Ms Tomek, who has since left the police force, finds it very difficult to talk about that day. She said even attending the award ceremony was hard.
“It’s very hard for me to do this. The only reason why I went down there is for my dad,” Ms Tomek said. “I lost my dad, Lou, [to cancer] about a year ago, and he would have wanted me to do this, but it is very difficult for me to face.”
Recalling that terrible day, Ms Tomek said instinct just set in, and despite the gravity of what she and Senior Constable Simmons were faced with, they kept their wits about them.
“We just knew we had to get them out of there. The fire was coming at us so fast, there wasn’t any time,” she said.
The officers informed police radio of the situation and advised that they required a helicopter due to the nature of the victims’ injuries.
Ms Tomek kept up first aid while Senior Constable Simmons used his mobile phone GPS to assist the helicopter locate the scene.
A water bombing helicopter began to drop water on the fire, however the fire front began to flare up and police radio advised that the helicopter was unable to land due to smoke.
With Steve Hill’s refrigerated van nearby, Ms Tomek, Senior Constable Simmons and Mr Hill evacuated the Schultes to the van.
Mr Schulte’s injuries were so bad that his skin literally fell off his body as they moved him.
The helicopter landed in an adjoining paddock and the doctor was able to alight. However, the fire was now encroaching again and there was not time to load the patients, so Senior Constable Simmons made the decision to drive the vehicle from the location with the doctor and patients on board.
The helicopter was hovering while Ms Tomek drove the police vehicle, sounding the horn to get fire vehicles to move to enable the helicopter to land.
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