Public sector workers recognised for bravery

On a freezing day in August 2010 Paul Thompson joined a team of six other NSW emergency services workers to rescue two cross-country skiers trapped in a blizzard in Kosciusko National Park.

The snow ambulance used to rescue the skiers.

Their role in the rescue of the stricken skiers earned the Cooma-based intensive care paramedic and his team a Group Bravery Citation in the Australian Bravery Awards announced on Wednesday.

Mr Thompson and fellow paramedic Gary McKeahnie; SES volunteers David Afele and Daniel Marsden; police officer Kevin Martin and Senior Constables Wayne Bolitho and Darren Hartas are among the 101 Australians awarded an Australian Bravery Decoration in recognition of those who display courage and bravery to protect others in non war-like situations.

The award recipients deserved the gratitude of the nation, Governor-General Peter Cosgrove said.

“These awards have helped to define, encourage and reinforce our national aspirations and ideals by identifying role models. Today, we add a new group of people to those whose lead all Australians should follow.”

Lost in a blizzard

In the Kosciusko rescue, the skiers had been caught in the dangerous winds near Blue Lake, where almost a metre of snow had fallen in 36 hours and winds were gusting over 100kph.

The rescue team set out in search of the skiers in a snow ambulance.

While two team members stayed with the vehicle, the others set on foot in extremely difficult weather conditions. Mr Thompson tells Government News it was the coldest day he’d ever experience in the area and the temperatures “felt like minus 20.”

After hours of searching, the skiers were found partially buried in snow and suffering hypothermia.

“They were extremely hypothermic, conversing, but in short sentences. They were extremely fatigued and panicking. Where they were, down by ridges and wind funnels as a position as probably one of the worst positions you could be,” he said.

“I wouldn’t say they would have perished but depending on how long they would’ve spent out there it would’ve been extremely dangerous.”

Paul Thompson

After retrieving the skiers from the snow, the team helped them down a slope to the vehicle, where they then treated the skiers and navigated through the deteriorating blizzard.

Overall the operation took around 12 hours.

Mr Thompson said he was honoured to receive the award.

“We do our job to help people out and we don’t expect recognition but when they go through processes and say that you deserve an award, you feel extremely honoured,” he said.

“This is my 30th year in the job. A lot of jobs do stick in your mind but to work and do this job in the environment I love, doing the work I enjoy. It’s a challenge and if you can step up and meet challenge it’s something amazing.”

NSW SES Acting Commissioner Kyle Stewart congratulated both SES workers on their awards.

“Our volunteers represent the very best of the NSW SES,” he said.

“David and Dan put the safety of our community first even in a dangerous situation.”

Other public sector bravery award recipients:

  • Senior Constable Stephanie Bochorsky, WA Police (Star of Courage for rescuing two young children who had been covered with fuel and set alight)
  • Sean McHenry (Star of Courage), Matthew Corlett, Jason Fletcher, Peno Hau, (Bravery Medals) Laurence Fletcher (Commendation) for firefighting efforts during the 2012 WA Black Cat Creek burnover event.
  • Senior Constable Ian Buckmaster, QLD Police (Bravery Medal for rescuing a child from a burning car)
  • Troy Sheppard, WA paramedic (Bravery Medal for rescuing a young man from dangerous conditions at Sorrento Beach, WA)
  • Constable Jeremy Forster, First Class Constable Kurt McKain, WA Police (Commendation for rescuing a woman from Koombana Bay, WA

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