Culcairn fire captain Andrew Godde tells of 'fire tornado' that led to Samuel McPaul's death

LEFT: Megan and Samuel McPaul were expecting their first child in May. RIGHT: Culcairn fire captain Andrew Godde has been a member of the rural brigade for 35 years.
LEFT: Megan and Samuel McPaul were expecting their first child in May. RIGHT: Culcairn fire captain Andrew Godde has been a member of the rural brigade for 35 years.

The driver of the truck involved in Monday's deadly accident at the Green Valley bushfire has told of the "fire tornado" that engulfed the vehicle and paid tribute to volunteer firefighter Samuel McPaul who died at the scene.

Culcairn fire captain Andrew Godde, who was in charge of the Rural Fire Service truck near Jingellic when it was flipped in a "freak weather event", said Mr McPaul was a "ripping young bloke" who would always put others before himself.

The 28-year-old Mr McPaul was expecting his first child in May with his wife Megan, who he married in 2018.

Mr Godde, who has been with the brigade for 35 years, said he had never seen conditions like those they encountered as they tried to protect a house and herd of cattle on River Road on Monday.

"You hear people talk about these fireballs but I've never experienced anything like that before," he said.

"Unfortunately our truck was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"It was a direct hit.

"To pick up an eight-tonne fire truck and throw it to the ground like a rag doll. It's a pretty wild force of nature.

MUCH LOVED: Megan and Samuel McPaul, who were married in 2018, were expecting their first child in May. Mr McPaul died when the fire truck he was in flipped on Monday.

MUCH LOVED: Megan and Samuel McPaul, who were married in 2018, were expecting their first child in May. Mr McPaul died when the fire truck he was in flipped on Monday.

"We were on the flank of the fire, which is the safest spot to be. But when you are hit by a freak tornado, you can't calculate for that.

"It wasn't a dangerous situation but it became dangerous in a matter of seconds."

Mr Godde said Mr McPaul, a mechanic in Culcairn and a member of the Morven brigade, had been among the first to put up his hand to help tackle the blaze in the Upper Murray region on Monday.

"He often said to me if I ever needed someone to help man a truck he would be happy to go," he said.

"I rang him yesterday and he didn't hesitate to go.

"He was a ripping young bloke and the fact that he and his wife are expecting their first child only adds to what is an extremely sad, sad situation.

"It's a young life taken way too soon trying to save the lives and property of others."

EXPERIENCED: Culcairn fire captain Andrew Godde has been a member of the rural brigade for 35 years.

EXPERIENCED: Culcairn fire captain Andrew Godde has been a member of the rural brigade for 35 years.

Mr Godde, 52, was treated at Holbrook hospital and released on Monday night after receiving burns to his hands, while his "cousin, neighbour and good mate" Rodney O'Keeffe, 39, was flown to The Alfred hospital in Melbourne after suffering serious burns in the accident.

The Culcairn captain said he had been overwhelmed by the support of the community following the tragic incident.

"I have had so many phone calls last night and today, text messages and everyone has been so supportive," Mr Godde said.

"They have just been amazing.

"But as a community we need to rally around Sam's wife and family and do whatever we can to help out after this tragic accident."

An emotional Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons on Tuesday said: "I don't think the comprehension has set in yet".

"Crews described what they experienced as truly horrific, an extraordinary wind event, describing it as a fire tornado or the collapse of a pyro-convective column that had formed above the main fire front.

"That's resulted in cyclonic-type winds that have moved across the fire ground and has literally lifted up a 10 or 12-tonne fire truck."

Mr McPaul is the third NSW volunteer firefighter to die this bushfire season. Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O'Dwyer, 36, died on December 19 when a tree hit their tanker as they were travelling south-west of Sydney.

Albury RFS district manager Patrick Westwood told reporters Mr McPaul was "a beautiful young man" who was fully equipped and trained and "doing everything right on the day", but Monday's events were unforeseeable.

Samuel McPaul playing for Charles Sturt University in the 2015 university games.

Samuel McPaul playing for Charles Sturt University in the 2015 university games.

Mr McPaul studied at Charles Sturt University in Wagga, where he was also a representative basketball player.

He grew up at Broulee on the NSW south coast.

While living in Wagga, Mr McPaul was a coach, administrator and player, according to Basketball Wagga.

Wagga basketball identity Peter O'Leary described Mr McPaul as a "really nice guy" who was quite a talented basketball player.

"He did a lot of basketball admin work, too." Mr O'Leary said.

"He was a very dedicated sort of person. I couldn't speak more highly of him."

Wagga Heat's Zac Maloney also recalled Mr McPaul's hard work for basketball in the city.

"He put in a lot of time and effort. He was really dedicated to not just the team, but the association and basketball in general," Mr Maloney said.

"He coached a few junior rep teams and played a few years with our senior state league team.

"Sam was always happy to help out with anything that was going on and would always be first to put his hand up and be involved."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had spoken to Mr McPaul's wife following the tragic incident.

"I cannot imagine the terrible sense of loss and grief that Sam's family are now feeling," he said.

"Sam McPaul was a brave firefighter.

"I have spoken to Megan to extend my deepest sympathies and our love and support at this terrible time and express that same sentiment on behalf of the entire country.

"Sam McPaul was the best of us. This is devastating news and I also extend my sincere condolences to his entire family, friends and fellow brigade members.

"It is an unimaginable loss and one felt by the entire country."

This story Truck driver tells of 'fire tornado' horror first appeared on The Border Mail.