Firies put their lives on the line to minimise impact

WARRNAMBOOL Fire Brigade has revealed how members risked their lives to contain the Telstra communications exchange blaze.

"People would be looking at being without landline phones for much more than a week if our crews had not acted so quickly and bravely," station officer Greg Kinross told The Standard yesterday.

Some of the volunteers who turned out for the 4.35am blaze had been home for less than two hours after a stint at the Casterton bushfires.

Mr Kinross, who was incident controller, said the brigade was alerted by a direct link alarm at the Koroit Street exchange building.

"Our initial crew of four staff in a pumper truck arrived there within four minutes, followed by two volunteers in a tanker and four volunteers in their own vehicles," he said.

"Leading firefighter Ty Cleverly and firefighter Adam Gregor donned breathing apparatus and entered the building in dense smoke with zero visibility. They used a thermal imaging camera to find the hot spot and direct water to the scene.

"It was an extremely high-risk area where I wasn't sure if all the power was shut off.

"If we hadn't gone in then the whole building may have been engulfed and the district would have faced a lot longer without phones," he said. "Less than five per cent of the building was lost.

"Our guys did a tremendous job. They had it under control in 30 minutes and under total control in an hour."

Veteran Mick Corbett, who has been a fireman for 55 years, said when he first saw the pager message he thought it was probably an alarm fault.

"But when we arrived we saw smoke billowing from the vents," he said. "We do what we do as dedicated firefighters.

"Some of the crew had just come back from the Casterton bushfires. They arrived back at the station at 2.30am and would have got to their homes by 3am and had barely any sleep before the pagers went off for the Telstra fire."

pcollins@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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