Newspaper article The Northern Star (Lismore, Australia)

Brave beyond Words; Fire Hero Relivesbattle to Savecity Hospital

Newspaper article The Northern Star (Lismore, Australia)

Brave beyond Words; Fire Hero Relivesbattle to Savecity Hospital

Article excerpt

Byline: Alex Easton Alex.Easton@northernstar.com.au

SEARING flames roared between John McAlister and the smallmetal tap that could kill the gas and save St Vincent's Private Hospital in Lismore.

So he did the only thing he could think of and plunged his handsinto the inferno.

It was a brave but futile move that left Mr McAlister's hands badly burned and the fire, fuelled by leaking gas in the hospital's boiler room, undiminished.

Speaking at a reception for him at St Vincent's yesterday, Mr McAlister, 38, the hospital's maintenance manager, said he had been looking up at another gas cut-off valve above the boiler after the initial explosion on April 29, wondering how to reach it, when a second blast knocked him down.

The boiler room was filled with a giant gas fireball, and Mr McAlister was in the middle of it.

"I remember scurrying out of there and as I scurried it (the fire) was surrounding me," he said. "It was like I was being followed by the flames."

He got through, but suffered horrific injuries in those seconds.

"I looked at my hands and saw there was no skin left. It was dripping off my arms and legs, stringing like it had melted," he said.

"I remember screaming for help once I got out."

Mr McAlister said he had believed his ears were burned from his head and his lips from his face.

Terrified, he banged on the door of the hospital calling for help, then looked back at the flames still shooting from the boiler room.

There have been reports Mr McAlister ran back into the flames to shut down the gas valve and save the hospital. If he had, he and possibly many others would be dead now and that section of the hospital burned to the ground.

What he did was even more amazing. Despite horrific injuries, fear, and pain, Mr McAlisterbegan looking for another way to turn off the gas and eventually found an outdoor gas meter. …

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