Firie who helped rescue 76 from Palace tragedy retires

MORE FAMILY TIME: Childers’ Queensland Fire and Emergency Services captain Col Santacaterina retires after 35 years of service. His last day will be Monday.
MORE FAMILY TIME: Childers’ Queensland Fire and Emergency Services captain Col Santacaterina retires after 35 years of service. His last day will be Monday. Matthew Mcinerney

HE STARTED fighting fires when a pair of shorts was acceptable attire and he led the recovery during Childers' worst fire, but the time has finally come for Col "Curl" Santacaterina to hang up the hose for the last time.

Mr Santacaterina's firefighting career will end Tuesday, when the auxiliary captain is forced into retirement from the urban brigade due to his age.

Auxiliary firefighters must retire when they turn 65, and November 11 doubles as Mr Santacaterina's birthday.

"If I didn't have to retire, I wouldn't," Mr Santacaterina said.

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

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services will honour the Bundy Sugar train driver at a function at Isis Cultural Centre on Saturday night, but it's what he does next Wednesday that has Mr Santacaterina most concerned.

"We usually meet on Wednesday nights, so I haven't had any off for years," Mr Santacaterina said.

"I've got no idea what I'm going to do - I don't even know what's on television."

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

Mr Santacaterina was one of the first four firefighters to respond to the Palace Backpackers Hostel fire on June 23, 2000, and still rates the night as one of the worst of his life.

He helped rescue 76 people from the building, including 20 who were stranded on the roof, though the fire killed 15 people.

"I remember everything," he said.

"It was so foggy. I went past it on the main street about midnight and didn't even see it.

"There were only four of us there when we arrived with the truck and we thought 'holy s**t'.

"We knew we were in trouble."

The newly found spare time means he and wife 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.

Topics:  childers isis palace hotel

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