Samuel Lawson almost lost his life when he went into rough seas to save a drowning man.
The Riverina firefighter not only pulled the man to shore, he also saved the man’s wife and his own fiance.
Mr Lawson was to be married two days later.
The 31-year-old Junee man’s heroism at Kingscliff last year was commended at an official ceremony this week.
After receiving Fire and Rescue NSW’s second-highest award, the firefighter said he was “shocked”, “honoured” and “very grateful”.
“It’s not something you receive everyday,” Mr Lawson said. “I didn’t expect to be given a bravery award.”
The retained firefighter said he was walking along the unpatrolled beach with Kelly – his wife-to-be – in early 2016 when they saw a man waving frantically to them from the water.
“We realised how bad the conditions were,” he said. “He was the only man out there.”
Mr Lawson turned to Kelly and said he was “going to have to go in”.
Swiftly reaching the man, Mr Lawson realised they were in a rip. The man, John, had lost the strength to keep swimming.
Waves pummelled and churned the pair as Mr Lawson attempted to pull an exhausted John to safety.
“I just thought we were both gone,” he said. “But we managed to get closer to shore.”
Mr Lawson said the only thing that saved them was the ability to stand as the sea drew out. When a wave separated the pair, two women entered the water to help – including Mr Lawson’s fiance.
Swimming to Kelly first, Mr Lawson got her to a position where she was then able to help John to safety. Mr Lawson rescued John’s wife and the four were met by emergency services.
Despite personal risk, the off-duty firefighter’s swift and heroic act saved three lives that day.
“You couldn’t stand by and watch him drown in those conditions,” Mr Lawson said. “Something had to be done.”
FRNSW Riverina duty commander Dean Emery presented the Bravery Award to Mr Lawson at Junee’s council chambers on Thursday.
“I think it’s well deserved,” Mr Emery said. “Without hesitation he jumped into the surf.”
Mr Emery said it was a good example of the characters within his organisation.
“I’m glad to have him as part of my second family,” Mr Emery said. “I’m very proud he’s working for us.”
The ceremony also recognised the efforts of recently retired captain Robert Duncan, who was commended for 45 years of service and retained firefighter, Simon Crowder, for his 10.