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
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.
“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.”
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?”
LONG SERVICE: Childers' Queensland Fire and Emergency Services captain Col "Curl" Santacaterina is retiring after an amazing 35 years of service.
INSET: Veteran firefighter Col Santacaterina has seen some horrific crashes in his time, and below, Captain Curl in his protective gear.