The day firefighters faced a wall of water
IT WAS a day like no other that experienced Ipswich firefighter Kerry Weir had ever seen, and one he hopes he'll never see the likes of again.
You could call it a twist of fate, or just pure chance that his crew of firefighters found themselves stranded at Murphys Creek on the afternoon of January 10, 2011.
Unbeknown to Mr Weir and his crew of technical and swift water rescue personnel, a freak weather phenomenon was unfolding just as they were crossing a bridge into the Murphys Creek area, just after lunch that day.
Ironically, as Mr Weir recalls of that day, the crew was about to head back for Ipswich when they suddenly noticed the water levels rising at an alarming rate.
Before they even knew the extent of what was developing, they found themselves in the midst of the infamous wall of water that tore houses from their foundations, and swept people to their deaths.
"The water was still below the roads when we first headed out there," Mr Weir said.
"Not much was happening. There were some calls for assistance for minor flooding at the time.
"We decided to head back, but by the time we got back to the bridge, the water was over it and we couldn't cross. We were stranded."
Not long after, Mr Weir heard a sound that still reverberates in his mind.
He described as an eerie roar of water and wind.
It was the sound of a wall of water coming down Murphys Creek.
"I remember seeing some horses in a paddock that were starting to get spooked by this roaring sound," he said.
"I made my way into the paddock and cut some wire to let them out. By then, the water was up to my knees and rising.
"I never waited around to see if those horses escaped."
Things were just about to ramp up.
A sign of the devastation to follow came in the form of a large corrugated iron house roof being washed away, upside-down, as the torrent increased.
"At this point we were called to a couple of rescues," Mr Weir said.
"We rescued a family in fast flowing knee deep water using an inflatable platform that we carry in our truck. From memory it was a mum, dad and a couple of kids.
"Then there was a call to Spring Bluff, to assist in the search for a couple of missing people.
"There was a boy in his teens who had helped his sister up into the manhole in the ceiling to save her life.
"He survived too, but he didn't realise that his parents had been swept away behind him.
"The entire kitchen wall of the house was washed away."
Tragically, both the boys' parents died. Their bodies found downstream later that afternoon.
Though the water receded quickly, fire crews kept working well into the night.
Mr Weir's memory of much of that traumatic evening is hazy, but he distinctly recalls trudging around in a wetsuit and rubber diving boots for more than 19 hours.
Mr Weir said the experience had taught the QFRS some invaluable lessons and firefighters underwent regular training for swift water rescues.
Another experienced Ipswich firefighter who watched the inland tsunami surge through the Lockyer Valley that day, Nathan Chadwick, agreed that the swift water rescue capabilities of the QFRS had improved immensely since that time.
Station Officer Chadwick was with a separate team of Ipswich firefighters that was tasked to Murphys Creek, before being sent to Grantham - one of the worst-hit areas.
He described the inland tsunami as, "a wall of water, mud, trees, shipping containers and debris".
"To see gum trees a metre across being flipped end over end was just unbelievable. The power of the water was immense," he said.
"We rescued one lady who had lost her entire family and her house at Murphys Creek."
Mr Chadwick and others from Ipswich arrived at Grantham about dusk.
The water had started to drop but it was still head high in many places.
Mr Chadwick recalled there were still people in Grantham who were missing loved ones at that time, and were approaching firefighters in a state of desperation.
"That was quite an overwhelming situation," he said.
"By that time the rescue phase had ended. We located a number of deceased at that time."
A total of 12 deaths were attributed to the floods that hit the Lockyer Valley on January 10, 2011.
Mr Chadwick said he tried not to dwell too much on the traumatic events of that day.
He also has some happier memories, like when he swam, exhausted and thirsty, into the Grantham pub to find himself a can of lemonade, only to find two other blokes already perched up on the bar having a beer.
"It was definitely the most significant event in my career," he said.
"I have seen plenty of traumatic situations, but to have been there as it was unfolding, that is the part that makes it stand out.
"Those events really turbocharged our own capabilities for swift water rescue in terms of the gear we have now, the boats and the training we get.
"From an organisational point of view there have been some real positives."