A first responder who treated a 23-year-old Belmont man found fatally burnt on the side of the road at Whitebridge says no job has affected him more in his decade with Fire and Rescue NSW.
The twist of fate that Wade Still was jailed last year after a drug-fuelled attack on two paramedics who were helping his heavily pregnant partner was not lost on the firefighter, but he said no-one deserved what he witnessed Mr Still suffer through in the early hours of Monday.
“I’ve been to fatal fires before but this person was alive, talking, screaming,” he said. “I’ll never forget this incident, it’s one that is already keeping me awake thinking about that night, remembering the screams, the images in my head of what I saw.”
The firefighter, who asked not to be named, told the Newcastle Herald his crew arrived at Oakdale Road just after 1am following a report of a grass fire – their fifth during that 24-hour shift.
“I put the window down to look closer and noticed a man screaming in pain and noticeably burnt,” he said.
“We got out of the truck and went over to the victim and noticed he had horrific injuries. I’d never seen anything like it and I think we were all almost in a state of shock.
“The smell of petrol was very strong and it was clear something terrible had happened to this man.”
The crew provided first aid until paramedics arrived.
The firefighter who spoke with the Herald said he travelled with Mr Still in the back of the ambulance as it took him to the waiting Westpac Rescue helicopter.
But by the time they travelled a few kilometres, Mr Still had to be unloaded and treated by the side of the road.
“I assisted where I could and witnessed nothing short of brilliance by these men and women of the NSW Ambulance service who did their utmost to save this man’s life,” he said.
“We were on the roadside for what felt like about 20 minutes and I saw things I’ve never seen before in my career medical-wise.”
The Herald reported last year that Mr Still was high on ice in the early hours of April 2, 2017, when he threatened paramedics treating his pregnant partner, telling them “I’ll smash your face in”.
He grabbed one of the emergency service workers by the shirt and kicked the ambulance as it fled after the paramedic pulled free of his grip.
Flowers were left at the spot on Oakdale Road on Tuesday morning where taxi driver James Madden found Mr Still in agony and called for help.
Police from the State Crime Command’s homicide squad, Lake Macquarie and Newcastle police districts are continuing their investigation under Strike Force Yaraandoo.
They are treating Mr Still’s death as suspicious, but no arrests had been made as of Tuesday evening.
Police are urging anyone with information to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.