AFTER years of coming to the aid of others in trouble, last week local CFA members were called on to help rescue one of their own.
Around 12.15pm last Tuesday, Poowong CFA member and former Captain Stephen Douglas was felling trees on a property near Poowong-Ranceby Road.
While cutting, a 2.5 tonne tree trunk slid onto Mr Douglas, pinning him to the ground and the front of his tractor.
Despite being trapped under the trunk for more than two hours, Stephen miraculously escaped with only minor injuries.
“I was cutting the tree up and it decided slip onto me rather than fall away from me,” he said.
“It knocked me off my feet, slid down and pinned me to the ground and the front of my tractor.”
Fortunately for Stephen, his mobile phone was in his top pocket, and after a quick “self-assessment” he dialled 000.
“The first thing I did was self-assess my injuries,” he said.
“I didn’t get knocked out, and I didn’t want to go dialling 000 and then realise I could get myself out from under the trunk.”
After a quick check, Stephen realised both legs were completely trapped beneath the trunk, and the weight was painfully bearing down on one of his knees.
Stephen dialled 000 and requested the Loch Road Accident and Rescue Crew.
“Being a CFA member I was able to tell the operator what I needed and I knew that the Loch Road Accident and Rescue had the airbags which would be needed to lift the trunk off,” he said.
His fellow Poowong CFA members were the first to arrive, followed by members from Loch, the Leongatha SES and local paramedics.
But of most concern to Stephen was his wife Sandra who is also a member of the Poowong CFA.
“I called Sandra and my step-daughter Ashleigh because where the accident happened was not too far from home,” he said.
“Sandra is in the CFA and I knew she would have been getting the pages. She knew where I was working so there was a 99 per cent chance she would know it was me.”
Stephen said he was concerned about what would be going through his wife’s mind after reading the pages and made sure she was aware he was not seriously injured.
“I knew that it was going to be a long process to get me out so I wanted her to have good knowledge about what was happening and that I was OK,” he said.
“There was no internal bleeding, I was conscious; it was just that I was stuck under the tree.”
It took the team from Loch Road Accident and Rescue along with the help of other CFA members and specialist equipment more than two hours to free him.
Fortunately for Stephen, his knowledge of the equipment and processes used by the CFA helped keep him calm throughout the incident.
“It was good because I knew what they were talking about. When they were asking for certain equipment I was thinking to myself ‘Yep, that’s good that’s the right thing to use’,” he said.
After an initial assessment, the tree was stabilised by two XL Stabfast units with additional blocks and wedges positioned in and around the tree to protect Stephen from any further injury.
It was then decided that a crane would be the best system for the rescue.
While the crane was being arranged, Loch Road Accident and Rescue members set up the air bag system to take the weight of the tree without moving it to any degree – just as Stephen had correctly predicted.
Following treatment by Ambulance Victoria paramedics, the crane and lifting chains were positioned and additional packing blocks deployed prior to the crane lifting the trunk from him.
“I am really lucky, the only thing that saved me from being really injured was that the trunk did not come down on me with force,” he said.
“It just sort of slid down and came to rest on my legs.
“The paramedics thought I may have broken my leg but I knew I didn’t hear any cracks when it happened.”
After being freed, Stephen was flown by air ambulance to the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
Miraculously, scans late last week revealed no break or ligament/tendon damage.
“The scans came back all clear last week, so I have six weeks on crutches and then some rehabilitation,” he said.
“The only ongoing issue is that I may get a bit of paralysis in the leg where the nerve endings have been damaged.”
Mr Douglas thanked the local CFA crews, in particular the Loch Road Accident and Rescue team, the Poowong CFA Captain Malcolm Blight who remained with him throughout the ordeal, paramedics, police and the Leongatha SES Unit.
“I’d also like to thank the Trauma Unit and nursing staff at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. They were absolutely A1, it was brilliant,” he said.