VOLUNTEER hero Simon Illingworth has been put forward for a CFA Valor Medal after risking his life to try and save rescuers Ross and Andy Powell from rough waters near Port Campbell.
The Corangamite Shire councillor and CFA volunteer was one of the first responders to the tragic Easter Sunday double drowning.
He recovered the bodies of the father and son from the treacherous waves at Rutledge Creek beach after the pair attempted to rescue a tourist that got into trouble.
"I arrived at the scene in my own car after feeding the cattle at home wearing shorts, a t-shirt and a pair of Blundstone boots," he said.
"There was a policeman there, but he was injured and couldn't go out, so I climbed down the cliff and swam out, the surf was smashing against the rocks, it was absolutely full-on and bloody scary.
"I went out there because I thought there was a chance that they were still alive."
The solo rescuer described the way his chest surged with hope when he saw a rescue tube in the choppy water, which was weighted down.
"I thought one of the boys might have been attached to it, but when I swam out it was just a clump of seaweed," he said.
"I put it around the bodies to bring them back to shore."
It was 71-year-old Ross Powell, who Simon fondly calls 'Po', that he reached first.
"When I got to him I knew he was gone. I dragged him out and got him up high towards the cliff, he was blue and so heavy," he said.
"Then I started looking around for Andy and the police helicopter above marked him with a flare.
"I was trying to get to him, the waves were hitting me, then someone in the helicopter pointed behind me. Po had started to wash back into the water."
Mr Illingworth hooked Ross Powell's body onto a harness, which was lifted by helicopter.
"The undertow was horrible, I was concerned that I was going to get dragged out too.
"I got Andy in, but he was already gone."
The tourist was airlifted from the water and taken to hospital by road ambulance and the third rescuer Phillip Younis underwent surgery at The Alfred.
Wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts and a t-shirt, Mr Illingworth climbed back up the rocky cliff to safety.
The humble hero was embarrassed about discussing his nomination for the bravery award.
"If they're willing to risk their lives as we have all have done, the very least we could do was try to help them," he said.
"It was a horrible experience, I wake up in the middle the of night most nights.
"No doubt it would be the same for all the people that couldn't get down to where I was and who couldn't do anything but stand there and watch it. I don't know which was worse.
"Having some experience like this before, you have to be really kind and patient with yourself while you get your head around what's happened."
Mr Illingworth is putting forward a motion at Tuesday's Corangamite Shire Council meeting calling for more support for emergency services volunteers.
If he receives support from his fellow councillors, a letter will be sent to the state government asking volunteers be paid.
"I think Port Campbell should be used as the test; it is possibly the most challenging emergency environment in Australia and yet we only have 15 to 20 regular volunteers and two million tourists visiting a year," he said.
"The state government should reimburse volunteers so that they can have a break from work if they attend a traumatic scene such as the Easter Sunday incident, and cover out of pocket expenses like fuel and phone costs when on-call and call outs.
"Volunteers should also be paid an allowance to attend training. Fire trucks aren't a Dodge truck with a pump on the back anymore, they are $800,000 high-tech machines that need days of training to operate. They are great, but require more training.
"We do what we do because we love it but we are playing high stakes. We willingly risk our lives but we should not have to pay for that."
He hopes that financial incentive might encourage more young people to volunteer.
"The benefit for younger people coming into emergency service volunteering is that they can receive money to obtain skills which will in turn provide them the capacity to get a job, provide them with self-discipline and give us older volunteers a bit of a hand.
"The volunteering world needs to catch up with the modern times."
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