Award for risky rescue
YARRAMAN firefighter Andrew Hopkins got a "surreal" sense of what his night would entail when he saw a huge water tank banging between bridges on a creek locals had never seen flood.
But the 41-year-old man never expected to be confronted with the question, "if the house floats away do I stay with it or jump in the water", during a rescue.
Mr Hopkins was awarded a silver medal for bravery from the Royal Humane Society at a ceremony at Government House in Brisbane on Friday for rescuing a man trapped in his house by floodwaters on January 11 last year.
"It was about 1.20am when the pagers went off," he said afterwards.
"We rushed down and the water was running through the station eight inches deep (20cm) while we're trying to get socks and boots on and get the truck out," he said.
"We got a call to say a man was trapped in a house and I thought, 'That's a bit strange, it's in Yarraman', which is on the side of a hill, more or less.
"As we were driving down the main street, we saw the big 5000-gallon tank from the produce store banging between the bridges.
"We thought it was a truck coming across.
"No one's ever seen that bridge go over, not even the locals 100 years ago.
"I don't think you'll ever see it go that high again because Yarraman Creek, there's no steep banks.
"It was 100 metres wide that night.
"It was very surreal, phenomenal."
Mr Hopkins said they found an anxious man on his front verandah as the water lapped around him.
"He wanted to get out because he said the house felt like it was moving," he said.
"When I got through, the water was actually lapping through the boards of a house that was 4-5 foot high.
"The back room downstairs was destroyed and his fridge and his washing machine were actually floating at floorboard level.
"I've never seen anything like it."
Mr Hopkins said he had phoned for a swift water rescue team, but North Coast
Command told him no one was getting out of Toowoomba or the Lockyer Valley, which had already been slammed by an inland tsunami.
Knowing houses had collapsed or been lifted from their stumps thanks to raging floodwaters in the Lockyer Valley earlier that day, Mr Hopkins found it difficult to answer the man's fears should his house float away.
Mr Hopkins, who would soon wade through powerful water while dodging dangerous debris to get him, told him he would be safer staying within the structure.
He decided to enter the water when the man's house began to collapse.
Two other firefighters tied a rope around Mr Hopkins as he went into the house, took hold of the trapped man and helped him wade back through the fast flowing water to safety.
Mr Hopkins said he wanted to dedicate his award to fellow firefighter, Garry Holmes, who died after a short illness about 12 months after the flood event.