How heroes unknowingly saved killer arsonist

 

 

An explosion that ripped through shopfronts and apartments, reducing them to rubble and killing three people rocked a Sydney community. Rescue teams mourned the lost lives before being devastated by news the one they did save was the killer himself.

Firefighter Brad Giersch had just spent about five hours of his night shift at Sydney airport doing a training drill before he and his crew headed back to their station just after midnight.

It was September 4, 2014 and as he and his crew made their way back to Glebe fire station they'd hoped to catch some sleep before their next call out.

But those hopes were short lived when just after 4am officer Station Officer Giersch and his brigade were woken by the sound of a large explosion.

"Whenever you get woken up by that, you just wonder what it was. And within probably 30 seconds, the bells went off," Officer Giersch told The Night Watch.

Numerous calls to Triple-0 initially reported a car explosion or that a car had crashed into a shop front on Darling St, Rozelle.

The force of the explosion was so great an elderly woman would later tell Officer Giersch the blast knocked her out of bed.

LISTEN: NSW Fire & Rescue Station Commander Bradley Giersch recounts for The Night Watch leading the team of firefighters first on scene at a now infamous explosion and fire in Sydney's Rozelle that killed three people and was later revealed to be intentional.

 

 

"Our station's approximately 2km away … when we arrived on the scene … we had two cars fully alight. Two shops, ground-floor and first floor fully involved with fire. We had an awning that was coming down. We had a building collapse," he reveals.

For such a chaotic scene, Officer Giersch vividly remembers how "very silent" it was.

"It was quite eerie because when we got out of the truck, it was very silent," he adds.

"Apart from a lot of cracking of glass, there was no one shouting."

Rescue crews sift through the rubble for survivors.
Rescue crews sift through the rubble for survivors.

But the silence was soon shattered by the sight of two shirtless, bloodied men running towards Officer Giersch screaming that their friend Chris Noble was trapped inside their burning apartment.

"They were panicking. Panicking for their mate who they couldn't hear or see," he adds.

"I made my way into the back as fast as I could to get the other crew into where they needed to be."

As fire crews continued to battle the blaze, two officers reported seeing a hand sticking out from under a mountain of rubble.

Officer Giersch and another officer were the first to respond, spotting a hand "just moving in the rubble".

"His hand was moving, his fingers were moving, so we knew he was alive - it was remarkable" but it was trapped under a pile of bricks and tiles," he said.

It was then officer Giersch realised the hand belonged to a man and for a split second thought he had found Mr Noble. They had to get him to safety.

He was trapped under an industrial-sized drinks fridge, which took rescue crews almost five hours to get off him.

"And we got him out to the ambos and got him to hospital," he said.

"At that stage we didn't know who he was. We presume that it could have been Chris … so we were thinking it's gonna be okay.

"At that point, we didn't know until later that it was a completely different person".

It was shop owner Adeel Khan, who would later be accused of deliberately setting fire to his store, triggering the catastrophic, deadly chain of events.

Fire crews on the scene were faced with an impossible task to find survivors.
Fire crews on the scene were faced with an impossible task to find survivors.

But officer Giersch and his colleagues would not find that out for a while yet. And it would be several hours later while having breakfast that officer Giersch would learn Mr Noble didn't survive.

Just as they were processing the news of Mr Noble's death, they learned grave fears were also held for young mother Bianka O'Brien and her baby Jude - who lived in one of the apartments upstairs.

"I felt terrible," Officer Giersch said.

"It went from one to three people that we could have lost and did lose in the end.

"I just think we're here to try and save lives. And that night we didn't. In reflection we couldn't have done any more. But it's sad to think we've lost three people."

 

Chris Noble (right) died in the explosion despite efforts to find him.
Chris Noble (right) died in the explosion despite efforts to find him.

 

Ms O'Brien's husband John had left home early for work heading towards Wollongong when he was told about the fire. When he couldn't contact his wife, he called the police and a short time later returned home.

Officer Giersch and his crew would later attend Ms O'Brien and Jude's funeral.

"It was pretty sad. Very sad. It was a pretty heavy day," he says.

 

 

In June 2016, Khan was found guilty of the murder of Chris Noble and the manslaughter of Bianka and Jude O'Brien. Khan was also found guilty of one count of causing grievous bodily harm to Mr Noble's flatmate, Todd Fisher, one count of wounding a second flatmate, Corey Cameron, and destroying the building for financial gain.

Khan is currently serving a 30-year jail sentence.

Officer Giersch will remember that night for the rest of his life.

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Hand in the rubble: How heroes unknowingly saved killer arsonist

Flames leap from the apartments above the street. Picture: Tom Hancock
Flames leap from the apartments above the street. Picture: Tom Hancock
Rescue teams cleared the rubble brick-by-brick as the searched for survivors.
Rescue teams cleared the rubble brick-by-brick as the searched for survivors.
An aerial view of the collpased complex which resulted in three deaths.
An aerial view of the collpased complex which resulted in three deaths.
A shop owner was eventually convicted of blowing up his own shop. Picture: Tom Hancock
A shop owner was eventually convicted of blowing up his own shop. Picture: Tom Hancock
Smoke filled the air as the sun rose and fire crews tried to extinguish the fire. Picture: John Grainger
Smoke filled the air as the sun rose and fire crews tried to extinguish the fire. Picture: John Grainger
It took weeks to clear the debris following the explosion. Picture: John Grainger
It took weeks to clear the debris following the explosion. Picture: John Grainger
Jude O'Brien died in his cot as the building collpased around him.
Jude O'Brien died in his cot as the building collpased around him.
Bianka O'Brien (left) died in the explosion trying to get to her son.
Bianka O'Brien (left) died in the explosion trying to get to her son.

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