Australia — Hero firefighter Dave Balfour died repaying Victorian colleagues who helped fight the ACT bushfires, his wife said today.
The Canberra mans wife, Celia Balfour, said her husband of 20 years was her soulmate and anchor.
The couple had three children together, aged 14, 13 and 10.
“He gave us direction as a family and he was very easygoing with simple needs. A good cup of Earl Grey tea, mostly,” she said.
Mr Balfour, 47, who was recently promoted to station chief, served with distinction in the 2003 Canberra fires.
(He) felt that his deployment to Victoria was repaying a debt of honour to those who had come to our community’s aid after our experience with tragedy,” Mrs Balfour said in a statement.
“The family and I are accepting of the fact that he was doing the best job he could to give back to the community for his fortunate life.”
Mr Balfour, from Gilmore ACT, was killed by a large tree branch while connecting a hose to his strike team’s tanker in the Yarra Ranges National Park, off Warburton-Woods Point Road, yesterday.
Before joining the ACT Fire Brigade in 1997, Mr Balfour was an electrician who volunteered for the Rural Fire Service.
He is the first member of the ACT brigade to die while on duty.
Fellow professional firefighter Ged Morrison says Mr Balfour was a strong family man and devoted father.
“His family came first and the fire brigade came second,” a clearly upset Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
He was holding a framed photo of his smiling mate.
Mr Balfour always thought of others first and was outgoing and fun-loving, Mr Morrison said.
“It was a pleasure and an honour to work beside him.”
As a professional firefighter, his friend since childhood wouldn’t have thought about the dangers, Mr Morrison said.
“That’s just part and parcel of our job.
“This time it was unfortunate for David to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a freak accident.”
The terrain in Victoria was unknown, difficult and steep, with the constant threat of falling trees, Mr Morrison said.
Battling the 2003 fires in Canberra was a matter of necessity, but heading to Victoria was a choice, Mr Morrison said.
“This time David put his hand up for Victoria because he wanted to give a little bit back.”
Mr Balfour’s family are in a state of disbelief and shock, but are being supported by the firefighting family, he said.
“We are a brotherhood and we are closely supporting Celia and her family in this great time of need.”
The 47-year-old was a mentor to junior firefighters and qualified as station officer. He was in line to be promoted when a station officer post next came up.
A professional firefighter of 10 years’ service with the ACT Fire Brigade, Mr Balfour was part of a team of 120 firefighters from the ACT who were on their final shift in Victoria and were due to return home today.
The ACT has sent four taskforces to Victoria in the last 10 days comprising more than 500 professional and volunteer firefighters and support staff.
The fourth deployment headed to Victoria yesterday, but after news of Mr Balfour’s death broke, the ACT Fire Brigade members decided to return to Canberra.
The United Firefighters’ Union (UFU) asked each platoon to observe a minute’s silence today as crews commence shifts.
“Mr Balfour was a well respected elected officer of the United Firefighters’ Union, ACT Branch who served his fellow fire-fighters and the community at the highest level,” UFU national secretary Peter Marshall said in a statement.
“It is extremely sad that a person with such a strong record in promoting community safety has paid the ultimate price for its protection,” Mr Marshall said.
“On behalf of 13,000 firefighters nationwide, our deepest sympathies go out to his family, friends and colleagues,” Mr Marshall said.
Mr Balfour is the first firefighter to die in the state’s bushfires, which have claimed at least 200 civilian lives.
His death shocked colleagues in the ACT’s fire service, ACT Emergency Services Commissioner Gregor Manson said.
Mr Manson said the man was part of a crew of long-term firefighters.
“That’s why I think it’s even more extraordinary that such an accident occurs to people who are professionally oriented,” he told ABC Radio.
Some of his crew would return to Canberra today, Mr Manson said.
“Other members of that crew have decided … they wish to continue the deployment to Victoria.”
ACT Emergency Services Minister Simon Corbell said Victorian police and the state coroner would oversee investigations into the firefighter’s death.
The ACT Fire Brigade was likely to review its mechanisms as well, he said.
The Federal Government’s representative on the bushfire reconstruction authority, Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin, said his loss was another “horrific tragedy” of the fires.
“All I can say to his family is that he has paid a terrible, terrible price and he’ll certainly never be forgotten,” Ms Macklin told ABC Radio.
The incident occurred about 6.15pm in bushland in the Yarra Ranges National Park off Warburton-Woods Point Road.
“It appears the firefighter was attempting to connect a hose to the back of an ACT strike team tanker when a large tree came down on top of him,” a police spokeswoman said.
The remote area has been ravaged by bushfires that have raged in the area for more than a week.
A paramedic who was with the team of ACT firefighters worked on Mr Balfour, but he died at the scene.
No one else was injured.
Detectives from Alexandra police will prepare a report on the firefighter’s death for the coroner.