Warwick firefighter Michael Coombes arrives at Brisbane Airport.
Warwick firefighter Michael Coombes arrives at Brisbane Airport. Contributed

Firefighter home from quake zone

AFTER 11 days working 12-hour shifts in the crumbled remains of Christchurch, Warwick firefighter and father-of-two Michael Coombes arrived home in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Mr Coombes was flown to New Zealand as part of a team from the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service, less than 48 hours after the earthquake, to search through the rubble for survivors.

It was a gruelling task, but his specialist training in urban search-and-rescue meant he was the right man for the job.

It was no mean feat to keep spirits up for the full 11 days, especially as the days wore on and the realisation there were no more survivors hit home.

Speaking from Christchurch on Saturday, just before he embarked on his journey back to Warwick, Mr Coombes told the Daily News how the team spirit helped keep morale up.

“We really stuck together and worked hard as a unit,” Mr Coombes said. “Everyone had a job to do and we focused on that.”

Despite extensive training and a recent rescue mission after the Queensland floods, Mr Coombes said this was the first time his skills were called upon for a disaster of this magnitude.

“When we arrived, I suppose I didn't expect it to be this bad,” he said.

“It was a big shock to see mul- tiple buildings destroyed.

“When we got to the CTV building there was a lot of hope, and we got to work straight away looking for areas in the rubble wherepeople could have survived.”

Mr Coombes said the search-and-rescue mission only wound up on Friday, even though they didn't find survivors after the first 48 hours.

“We spent four days at the CTV building, then we started checking all the buildings in the city,” he said.

“Yeah, it was hard when we stopped finding survivors, buteveryone in the team supported each other and that's what got us through. It was a hard 11 days, but all my training came into play and we got on with the job.

“The people of Christchurch were terrific and they couldn't do enough to help us.”

Mr Coombes faced a hero's welcome when he returned to his wife Linda and his two sons.

“I'm really looking forward to seeing my family,” he said on Saturday.

“And I can't wait to sleep in my own bed again.”

From the family's Warwick home yesterday, Mrs Coombes said her sons were very proud of their dad.

“He's been filling us in on what happened out there,” she said.

“We only got to speak to him a couple of times while he was away.

“It's great to have him home.”

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