Cap­tain Curl bows out after 35-year ca­reer

After serv­ing his com­mu­nity in Childers so well, veteran fire­fighter Col San­taca­te­rina is hang­ing up his boots to en­joy re­tire­ment

Isis Town and Country - - News - By MATTHEW MCIN­ER­NEY matthew.mcin­er­ney@apn.com.au

COL “CURL” San­taca­te­rina re­clines in the lounge of his Childers home look­ing into the open space in front of him.

He, wife Bev and I are seated in the San­taca­te­rina fam­ily home, re­liv­ing Curl’s fire­fight­ing ca­reer, which will end early next week.

“What am I sup­posed to do with my Wed­nes­days now?” he asks with a laugh.

It would be an un­der­state­ment to de­scribe fire­fight­ing as be­ing one of the big­gest parts of Mr San­taca­te­rina’s life.

He first be­came in­volved in the ser­vice in 1980, and rose to the rank of cap­tain in his 35 years of ser­vice.

But come Tues­day he will no longer be an ac­tive fire­fighter, with Queens­land Fire and Emer­gency Ser­vice’s com­pul­sory re­tire­ment age for aux­il­iary fire­fight­ers com­ing into ef­fect.

“If I didn’t have to re­tire, I wouldn’t,” Mr San­taca­te­rina said.

It re­mains to be seen how Mr San­taca­te­rina will ad­just to life after fire­fight­ing.

He will still drive trains for Bundy Sugar dur­ing the crush, though there will be a size­able hole left in his life come Tues­day.

Mr San­taca­te­rina has been in­volved in some of the worst tragedies in the re­gion’s his­tory over his years, in­clud­ing nu­mer­ous high­way fa­tal­i­ties and the un­for­get­table 2000 fire at the Palace Back­pack­ers Hos­tel that claimed 15 lives.

THE BE­GIN­NING

“THERE was no PPE (per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment) and all of that back then,” Mr San­taca­te­rina said.

Bev re­veals there are pho­tos of Mr San­taca­te­rina fight­ing fires wear­ing only shorts, some­thing you wouldn’t con­sider pos­si­ble in 2014.

Fire­fight­ing in re­gional Queens­land was an en­tirely dif­fer­ent set-up to the cen­tralised ser­vice it is to­day, with dis­tinct bound­aries be­tween brigades and their ju­ris­dic­tions.

The tech­nol­ogy was com­pletely dif­fer­ent as well, with Mr San­taca­te­rina first learn­ing to use a pump sys­tem.

“It works a lot bet­ter now,” Mr San­taca­te­rina said. “You’re not on your own any more.

“We learned how to do it the hard way.

“I had to pump it be­cause I was the youngest. It was a

lot of hard work.”

IT’S MORE THAN A JOB

IF YOU ever need to be con­vinced about the ben­e­fits of skills learned in the emer­gency ser­vices, look no fur­ther than Bev and Curl San­taca­te­rina.

“If the ser­vice hadn’t have taught me, Bev wouldn’t be here,” Mr San­taca­te­rina said.

Mr San­taca­te­rina lit­er­ally saved Bev’s life after she had a car­diac ar­rest at the fam­ily home.

Thank­fully, he was at the house when it hap­pened and per­formed CPR un­til lo­cal paramedics ar­rived.

Sto­ries like that drive home not only the im­por­tance of learn­ing vi­tal life­sav­ing skills, but also the sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion the San­ta­ca­teri­nas have made to their com­mu­nity.

“He did it for the com­mu­nity and I think the fact we are both com­mu­nity-minded helped us,” Bev said.

“He’s go­ing to miss it.”

TOO CLOSE TO HOME

THROUGH all the pos­i­tive life ex­pe­ri­ence and skills fire­fight­ers learn through­out their ca­reers comes the neg­a­tive as­pect of be­ing among the first re­spon­ders.

“We’ve had a few bad ac­ci­dents we’ve had to go to,” Mr San­taca­te­rina said.

“There were six killed be­tween here and Howard not long ago. There’s been a few of those.”

As hard as crashes with mul­ti­ple fa­tal­i­ties are, they didn’t com­pare to the time Mr San­taca­te­rina turned up to a crash scene only to find his daugh­ter’s car.

“She was sup­posed to be at work,” Mr San­taca­te­rina said.

“When I saw the car I thought ‘Christ, my daugh­ter has a car like that’.

“When I re­alised it was hers, my mind turned to how I was go­ing to tell her mother.”

She walked away from that crash but there are plenty he has at­tended where the driv­ers aren’t as lucky.

“I’ve got a job to do,” Mr San­taca­te­rina said.

“I don’t talk too much about it.

“It comes with the job. They’ve got peer support pro­grams now and all of that, and I keep a close eye on the fel­las now.”

THE FU­TURE

CURL’S ca­reer will be hon­oured at a spe­cial din­ner at Isis Cul­tural Cen­tre on Satur­day night, be­fore his last day on duty next Mon­day.

“I’ll be gut­ted if they get a good call­out on Tues­day,” he said.

“We usu­ally meet on Wed­nes­day nights, so I haven’t had any off for years. I’ve got no idea what I’m go­ing to do – I don’t even know what’s on tele­vi­sion.”

The spare time means he and Bev can spend more time with their two kids and four grand­chil­dren, while the chance to en­joy a Christ­mas hol­i­day has al­ready ex­cited the pair.

Mr San­taca­te­rina said he might join a bush­walk­ing club or other out­door ac­tiv­i­ties, but you could tell he was go­ing to miss be­ing out with the fire­fight­ers.

“The time has flown but it’s been great,” Mr San­taca­te­rina said.

“I still love it, but who wants a 70-year-old climb­ing a build­ing at 3am?”

PHOTO: MATTHEW MCIN­ER­NEY

LONG SER­VICE: Childers' Queens­land Fire and Emer­gency Ser­vices cap­tain Col "Curl" San­taca­te­rina is re­tir­ing after an amaz­ing 35 years of ser­vice.

PHOTO: MATTHEW MCIN­ER­NEY

IN­SET: Veteran fire­fighter Col San­taca­te­rina has seen some hor­rific crashes in his time, and be­low, Cap­tain Curl in his pro­tec­tive gear.

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