HomeHistoryFireman’s helmet tells tale of survival

Fireman’s helmet tells tale of survival

Childers Backpacker Hostel fire Curl
“Curl” Santacaterina with the helmet worn by his colleague Bob Winkelmann the night of the hostel fire. The helmet is now covered with messages and signatures, many from backpackers who survived the fire that night.

A fireman’s helmet that's 20 years old continues to tell a remarkable tale of survival.

The helmet, worn into the Childers Backpackers Hostel blaze on June 23, 2000 by then local fireman Bob Winkelmann, has since become a “message board” carrying the thoughts, thanks and signatures of many of the survivors of that tragic event.

Bob, who has moved from the region, sent the helmet home for the story of its history to be shared as the Bundaberg Region community prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the fire next Tuesday.

Colin “Curl” Santacaterina was alongside Bob Winkelmann the night of the fire as the two local firemen entered the burning building in search of survivors.

“Panicked and confused backpackers were telling us that others were in the building but couldn’t say where. While we kept looking we simply kept telling people to follow the fire hose to exit the building,” Curl said.

“The fire was nearing its most intense when our outside situation controller Richard Randall told us to leave the building.

“We headed for the front doors but became aware of an audible whoosh as the fire flashed over and flame shot out across the main street.”

Curl said that as he and Bob made it through the doorway he had a sense of molten metal, presumably from lead headed nails commonly used in roofing older buildings, coming down like rain drops.

“It hit our helmets and actually burned holes in Bob’s protective jacket,” he said.

“Once outside I looked for and located a hydrant to place a standpipe to boost our water supply. Our truck had just 1500 litres of water on board and obviously we needed much more than that.”

He said that as he installed the connection to the hydrant live powerlines fell around him in a shower of sparks. It was a little hairy, but we needed the water supply.”

“In the months and years after the event Bob’s helmet, which was kept at the fire station in Lord Street, became a keepsake that attracted signatures from survivors and others who had a connection to the fire,” said Curl.

Childers Backpacker Hostel. fire helmet.
The interior of the helmet bearing messages of gratitude.

Childers woman Donna Duncan who assisted in coordinating support for the fire survivors, said she knew of the helmet and usually took visiting survivors to the station so they could add a signature.

The 20th anniversary of the fire will be commemorated next Tuesday with the memorial room open to the general community from 10am until 6pm.

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