In two very different acts of courage, Career firefighter Andrew Strunk and Albany Sea Rescue volunteer Jason Shepherd have been recognised for their life saving actions.
On 19 August 2019, the two were announced as recipients of one of the country’s highest decorations for bravery, the Australian Bravery Medal. The medals recognised their outstanding actions while putting their lives on the line to rescue community members from life threatening situations.
Both men were off duty when the incidents occurred but instinctively jumped into action using their lifesaving knowledge and skills when they saw tragedy taking place.
On a windy August day in 2017, Andrew was pulling up to a North Fremantle gym when a serious incident began unfolding across the road. Andrew joined fellow gym members rushing to the aid of a woman who was trapped and badly injured by stone blocks that had fallen from a building rooftop, crushing her vehicle.
Stone blocks continued to fall as the group worked to clear debris from the car putting the woman and the rescuers in danger so Andrew’s instincts as a firefighter and trained medic kicked in.
He assessed the situation and quickly put a plan into place to move the vehicle away from the building to help save the woman’s life and provide easier access for emergency services when they arrived.
“The guys from the gym were big strong lads so we formed a bit of a rugby scrum at the back of the car and pushed it away from the wall and out of the drop zone,” Andrew said.
Andrew’s quick thinking, situational awareness and leadership played a vital role in saving the trapped woman from further injury but he praised the efforts of everyone who had rushed to help her.
“When I got to there they had already started clearing the large bits of rubble from outside and inside the car and one guy from the gym was comforting the woman,” he said. "This was only a few minutes after the incident had occurred, and they didn’t hesitate to jump in.
“I was lucky to be surrounded by very capable and switched on guys. They were fantastic and I can’t say enough about what they did.”
In another case of remarkable courage in February of 2017, Jason Shepherd was bodyboarding with his son at Nanarup Beach, 20 kilometres east of Albany, completely unaware that he was about to save seven lives.
He had just paddled into shore to take care of a cramp in his leg when he noticed swimmers in the water looking distressed. When he saw they were caught in a rip he knew he had to act fast.
With thirteen years of service at Albany Sea Rescue and a love of the ocean on his side, Jason’s open water skills and knowledge of marine hazards allowed him to navigate through the powerful rip current three times to ferry two adults and five children back to safety.
“I was thinking about how my cramping leg was locking up and that I was on my own, but they were in trouble,” Jason said.
“They were trying to get back to shore but were swimming straight into the rip so they would never have made it.”
The swimmers were local to the area but didn’t realise there was a rip at the time – a common and deadly situation that Jason urged beachgoers to give more thought to.
“If you’re going to spend time in the surf, do a bit of research.
“Know the beach and what to look out for – understand the currents, know what a rip looks like, and even look for holes along the beach showing deeper areas in the water where you could lose your footing,” Jason advised.
“And really watch your kids because this kind of thing can happen really quickly. The adults turned away for a second and the kids were in serious trouble.”
Incredibly, this is the second bravery award Jason will receive this year. In April, Jason was awarded a Group Bravery citation following the rescue of a seriously injured woman in 2015, but he remains characteristically humble on receiving another award for his brave actions.
“Of course it’s great, but it isn’t why you do these things – you do these things because you’re there and you can help.”
Andrew and Jason’s outstanding actions and modesty brings into focus the selfless contributions emergency services personnel make to keep WA communities safe – Thank you both and congratulations!