A FIREFIGHTER who died working to protect the Hunter has been praised for his selflessness.
Paul Sanderson, a deputy captain of his brigade, died on Thursday while fighting to protect Stanford Merthyr from a bushfire that began around midday.
RFS NSW Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Mr Sanderson had been honoured with life membership to his brigade.
“The brigade will miss him, the community will miss him,” he said.
But more than anyone, his wife Deena and their children had lost someone irreplaceable.
“They have lost a husband, a soulmate, a dad and a grandfather,” Commissioner Fitzsimmons said.
Mr Fitzsimmons also paid tribute to the firefighters who came to Mr Sanderson’s aid at the fire ground.
“I caught up with the paramedics at John Hunter Hospital and they said all that could be done was done,” he said.
“There is sadness right across the firefighting community.”
NSW Emergency Services Minister David Elliott joined the public and firefighting community in mourning for the 48-year-old man on Friday.
“I am deeply saddened by the death of a NSW Rural Fire Service volunteer in the Hunter region tonight,” Mr Elliott said.
“The volunteer, like all our emergency service workers, was selflessly dedicating his time to the protection of the community.”
“It is a timely reminder of the dangers faced by our emergency service workers every day.”
Mr Sanderson, 48, died while battling a blaze that emerged at Stanford Merthyr about 11am.
As the news broke that a firefighter had died on Thursday evening, Herald readers mourned the loss of a man who ran towards fires as others ran away.
The NSW Rural Fire Service confirmed the decorated volunteer suffered suspected cardiac arrest about 7pm while working to control the bush fire.
Other volunteers came to his aid and provided medical assistance, including using an automated external defibrillator (AED), until ambulance paramedics arrived.
Mr Sanderson was taken by ambulance to John Hunter Hospital but died a short time later.
Hot and blustery conditions throughout Thursday had made things difficult for firefighters battling the 58 hectare blaze, but more than 70 firefighters had managed to bring the blaze under control.
The blaze began in a difficult to reach area near Cessnock.
A fire investigator was deployed to the fire ground to try to determine what caused the bush blaze.