04 March 2020
An elderly woman and the home of her family in Beach Haven, Auckland, were saved thanks to the fire-fighting skills and training gained by a Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) sailor, Leading Combat Systems Specialist Matt Hodgkinson.
Last month, LCSS Hodgkinson, 27, went home briefly to change out of his work clothes, intending to support the Navy Rugby team playing in a services competition.
As he looked out his bedroom window, he saw smoke coming from the roof of his neighbour’s home across the road.
“I had been home about five minutes and just changed out of my uniform when I saw smoke coming off the roof,” he says. “I ran across the road to their front door, knocked, called out and opened it and called out again, but there was thick smoke billowing out.”
Another neighbour came over and LCSS Hodgkinson got him to call 111 to alert the fire service before returning to the front door.
“I heard someone inside and an elderly woman was coming out, standing in the smoke, breathing it in, so she was getting disorientated and I managed to get her out. She kept wanting to return to the house, but the neighbour looked after her.”
LCSS Hodgkinson went back around the rear of the house, climbing over a locked gate, and got the garden hose which he was able to direct at the hole in the roof and side of the house where a plastic extractor fan had melted.
“I could see through the hole that the fire was going up into the roof, and at that point, another neighbour brought over their dry powder fire extinguisher, so I used that on the fire inside the house.”
LCSS Hodgkinson also had the presence of mind to follow his training and isolate the source of the fire, turning off the house power for safety and then the gas to the stove.
“It appears cooking on the gas stove had caught fire. The fire had gone up the kitchen wall and quickly into the roof space and roof.”
The local fire service arrived and LCSS Hodgkinson was able to give them a handover, before they finished extinguishing the fire still smouldering in the roof space.
“The lady was taken by St John Ambulance to hospital and had a broken wrist, but has otherwise recovered from the smoke inhalation,” he says.
LCSS Hodgkinson, who joined the Navy in 2011, says it was his Navy fire-fighting training for ships with the Damage Control School that enabled him to act quickly in this emergency.
“I’ve done fire-fighting skills at basic training and done the Team Leaders fire fighter course in the past and the Scene Leader course last year. That helped with knowing what to do, from keeping low out of the smoke inside to operating the dry powder extinguisher,” he says.
Originally from Hawkes Bay, LCSS Hodgkinson has served on HMNZS Canterbury and HMNZS Te Mana in the past with deployments to Asia and on two exercises in Hawaii.