AN EX-PAT Barry man and volunteer firefighter has faced death tackling Australia’s bushfires less than three months after he underwent a kidney transplant.

Former Barry Island and Cadoxton resident and Gladstone School pupil, Alex Newcombe, 49, now lives in the town of Blackheath in New South Wales, after his parents decided the family would move to Australia in the ‘70s.

His wife Kate, also a volunteer firefighter, donated a kidney to him in September last year.

Mr Newcombe, a volunteer with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS), has been stationed at the Blackheath/Mt Victoria Brigade for around 20 years,

The deputy captain takes charge of a crew on the fire ground and he is also a driver putting in eight or 12-hour plus shifts as well as attending incidents out of the area.

The crew has been tirelessly tackling the flames, but on December 12 the team were involved in an overrun (spread), 87 days after his transplant, which put them in further danger.

Mr Newcombe said: “We had our two Cat 1 (3500 litres of water) trucks out in Blackheath.

“I was driving the 1A truck and another deputy was on the 1B truck as a crew leader.

“The fires were approaching the other deputy’s house so we sent her to look after her own house.

“Within minutes she called for assistance as the fire was going to impact her house.

“We were just down the road at the next property.

“Within minutes we arrived on scene.

“We had just enough time to get out of the truck only to be confronted by a wall of flames approximately 20 to 30 metres or more high.

“We told the other crew to get out which they did.

“It was too late for us to do so.

“Our only option was to use our “Tanker Protection” which I have never had to.

“The tanker protection consists of a halo of sprinklers around the cabin to keep it cool and sprinklers over the wheel to stop them melting and bursting, we also have thermal/heat resistant blinds to roll down over the windows.”

“We rolled down the blinds and activated the sprinkler system,” he said.

“The cabin filled with smoke and the temperature went up and the noise from the embers hitting the cabin was horrendous.

“There was a sense of panic in the cabin.

“My one crew mate was texting his wife and telling her that he loved her.

“I was trying to think of a way out and how to do it with all blinds rolled down.

“Then something changed a noise or lack there off.

“We had run out of water.

“My captain looked at me and said, ‘Alex time to go”.

“Not knowing the lay of the land, I decided to reverse out with a little help from the backseat driver giving me direction.

“We did get out ok - just very shaken.

“We when to refill our water tank and have two minutes time out.

“We realized how hot it was in that situation.

“When we filled up our water tank there was steam coming off it.

“After we finished that shift myself and the other three crew returned to our station and had one or two well deserved cold beers and an informal debrief.”

Mr Newcombe added: “I have never seen fires like this in the time I have been with the RFS.

“The Gospers Mt fire has burnt over half a million hectares and the Green Wattle Creek fire has burnt over a quarter of a million hectares.

“These fires are both directly north and south of where I live.

“As for the men and women fighting the fires it can be gruelling, physically and mentally exhausting.

“All the time the heat gets to you and then there is the radiant heat to add to that.

“For the majority of the time you get extremely hot and sometimes struggle to keep hydrated.

“This takes its toll.

“The biggest problem I find is the levels of fatigue that we experience.

“With the amount of fires and the amount of crews we have we probably push ourselves just that little further than we should, going out on crews day after day and not having rest days as often.

“We have no other option but to do this.

“In the brigade I’m in we have a reasonably large membership so we can have up to three fire truck with crews out at a time.

“This doesn’t always happen, but it is an option.

Urging tourists to keep visiting Australia, Mr Newcombe said rain had fallen.

“This is such a relief for firefighters - making our job on the fire ground a lot easier,” he said.

“There is an end in sight, the tricky part is getting there.

“We will in the end.”

His brother Jean-Paul Newcombe, in Perth, Australia, added that the amount of land burned in the eastern states was more than the land mass of the UK.

He said: “It is hard to comprehend, even for us and we know how big Australia is.

“The fires are enormous and truly gobsmacking.

“Some problems that people don't think of is the enormous impact of travel and freight movements.”