On Monday, August 20 a Whittlesea house fire started in the lounge room roof. The smoke alarm did not sound until it was too late as the tiled roof began collapsing.
Black acrid smoke was seen throughout Whittlesea.
Within seconds of the smoke alarm sounding the lounge room was ablaze as the roof collapsed onto a couch. Despite Geelan’s best efforts the fire took hold within seconds and there was nothing Geelan could do.
A 15 year-old boy, Tray, assisted by grabbing the dogs as they ran from the house and also helped get the lid off the nearest fire hydrant ‘plug’ so it was ready for the Country Fire Authority (CFA) to use on arrival. Every second counts.
Whilst running television and radio communications cables in the roof Geelan had noticed and removed some insulation ‘pink batts’ that showed evidence of burning from being too close to low-voltage down lights that create heat in the transformers.
Geelan hadn’t got as far as the lounge room ceiling yet, where the fire started.
Most of the house was destroyed with only items in the bathroom and rear of the home surviving. What the fire didn’t get was soon water or soot damaged.
As a former Country Fire Authority volunteer (Eltham 1994 – 2000) Geelan shouldn’t have gone back inside the home without building fire turn-out gear (PPE), a charged canvas 38mm fire hose, a rope trace line and breathing apparatus.
Adrenalin took over and Geelan went in anyway.
Later Geelan was taken to hospital after suffering mild burns taking in too much carbon monoxide to my bloodstream from breathing the toxic smoke.
Kerry’s friend and former CFA volunteer John* saved Kerry’s car whilst protecting his property too.
“Now I’m not in the CFA anymore I’m allowed to say to you that it’ll be those fuckin’ pink batts near the downlight transformers.
“We were instructed not say anything but the local CFA were attending 30 house fires a month caused by insulation in government housing near transformers for down lights,” John said.
Radio communications and computer equipment that Geelan used to keep police and fire on air during Black Saturday were destroyed.
Whittlesea, Mernda and South Morang CFA attended the fire which took over an hour to be declared under control.
Due to asphyxiation and possible carbon monoxide poisoning Barbara Kress and Geelan were taken to the Northern Hospital for oxygen and observation, before detectives took all of our clothes – yes all – for forensic testing.
The clothes were returned, no evidence of arson was found and our clothes were returned last Thursday, September 27. No charges were laid.
Geelan lost nothing on Black Saturday, but helped others.
For Kerry, this is the second time within a decade she’s lost everything. It is extra difficult for Kerry’s intellectually 23 year-old disabled daughter who lost everything yet again and doesn’t – and can’t – understand.
How does one explain what happened to someone who doesn’t – and can’t – understand? You can’t.
Why didn’t Geelan report on this as it happened you ask?
This reporter always has – and always will – put people’s safety and well-being before filing reports. It was rather disappointing to see so many capable people standing around filming on phones and posting to face(less)book rather than helping out. I’m a reporter and photographer, but if I see someone who requires first aid or needs assistance, then fuck the camera, news reporting and taking photos of it, administer first aid and help first. Report later. Editor, Ashley Geelan.
To all those that helped, both during and after the fire Kerry and (Ashley) Geelan thank you all so much.
*John is not his real name.
Lifeline: 13 11 14