Reluctant hero: John McAlister, of Goonellabah, will receive a bravery award from Fire and Rescue NSW today for his role in containing a gas explosion at St Vincent’s Hospital in Lismore last April.
Reluctant hero: John McAlister, of Goonellabah, will receive a bravery award from Fire and Rescue NSW today for his role in containing a gas explosion at St Vincent’s Hospital in Lismore last April. Cathy Adams

Hospital fire hero receives award

ON THE eve of receiving a bravery award from Fire and Rescue NSW for his crucial role in preventing a gas explosion from engulfing St Vincent’s Private Hospital, in Lismore, John McAlister was reluctant to recount the past.

He was far more interested in praising the hospital’s staff that has helped with his recuperation, after he received burns to 60 per cent of his body, and, in particular, his physiotherapist.

“Recovery is a slow process but I’ve got full movement, which is to the absolute thanks of my physiotherapist and the whole physio team at St Vincent’s.

“It’s a credit to them where I am now. They are absolutely awesome.”

Mr McAlister and the two nurses that came to his aid – Monique Rhodes and Shirley Brown – will each be presented with a bravery award today by Fire Rescue NSW Commissioner Greg Mullins.

Commissioner Mullins said there was no doubt the immediate, selfless and brave actions of the trio had averted a far more serious emergency.

“The fast actions that these three took reduced the potential for further injuries to hospital staff, members of the public and responding emergency service personnel, and averted more serious damage to St Vincent’s hospital,” he said.

“Actions like theirs are commendable and that is why I am pleased to publicly acknowledge their courage.”

Mr McAlister, an engineer from Goonellabah, was working at St Vincent’s last April when he turned on the hospital’s gas boiler and a fire ignited. He tried to turn it off, but was driven out by a second explosion.

Terrified, he banged on the hospital’s door calling for help, then looked back at the flames still shooting from the boiler room.

Despite his horrific injuries, he realised the pending danger and looked for another way to turn off the gas.

With his hands badly burnt, he kicked off the cover of an outdoor gas metre and managed to turn off the gas valve with his foot.

By then, the hospital’s nurses had reached him – one of them burning her hands from the radiant heat from Mr McAlister’s body.

“It’s not an accident and emergency hospital, so the way they reacted in that situation was just fantastic.

“It was pretty traumatic for them,” Mr McAlister said.



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