The quick actions of a Cessnock Air Force firefighter on his Christmas holidays almost certainly saved a key building from fire, in catastrophic conditions at Wagga.
The immediate response from Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Chris Adams of Cessnock has been described as being crucial to the protection of RAAF Base Wagga and its staff and resulted in him being awarded a Chief of Air Force (CAF) Gold Commendation.
Posted to RAAF Base Williamtown, the former Cessnock High School student (class of 2007) was working at the Wagga base during the Christmas holidays as an Australian Air Force Cadet Instructor.
LAC Adams said due to the bushfires nearby, he needed to find out about road closures near Tarcutta as he had cadets due to arrive on base from that direction so he visited the base fire section for an update.
“After leaving the fire section I thought I saw smoke but initially dismissed it due to the thick smoke in the air from the nearby bushfires,” he said.
“After getting into my car I realised something was definitely up and ran to find a spot fire near Hangar 83.”
Knowing action needed to be taken, he ran into the accommodation office, which was housed within the hangar, raised the alarm, grabbed a fire extinguisher and headed back outside.
By this time the fire had moved into a 2.5m high hedge and progressed along the front of the building – which also housed RAAF College Headquarters, the clothing store and warehouse – engulfing a barbecue and its gas bottle.
LAC Adams said even though he knew the extinguisher would have limited effect it was better than nothing.
“After discharging the bottle I ran to the clothing store to evacuate the staff and by the time I returned the on-base firies had arrived,” he said.
“Knowing their equipment I continued to assist in fighting the fire and managed to cool the gas bottle before it could explode.”
Although the firefighters had now arrived the fire had continued to spread and was starting to burn into the eaves of the building.
The fire was extinguished before it got to the roof which would have almost certainly meant the loss of the large modified hangar and all the important base facilities inside.
With the fire now under control, LAC Adams continued to assist and remained until it was out, once again assisting the firefighters clearing the area inside and out to ensure nothing would reignite.
It had been almost one-and-a-half hours since he had noticed the fire and LAC Adams soon realised he had cadets due to arrive shortly for their promotion course.
Without time to waste, he raced off to change, attend a meeting and greet the cadets he would then manage throughout their time on base.
He was surprised to receive the award and said he was just doing his job.
“While I’m very appreciative of the commendation, I was just doing what I was trained to do,” LAC Adams said.
“It wasn’t until my boss pointed out that you don’t get a commendation for not doing your job that I actually thought about it.”