Hero truckie: 'I couldn't let him burn in there'
"I WASN'T going to let Ken burn in there, I would have hurt myself to get him out."
Not many people are prepared to put themselves in harm's way to help others, but truckie Darren Cooke is not like most blokes.
The Lindsay Transport driver had been down the Hume Highway hundreds of times without issue, but back in February he showed just what kind of man he is when he came across a multi-vehicle crash near Yerrinbool in NSW.
A B-double had crashed when it ran out of room trying to avoid a stricken vehicle. Darren brought his own truck safely to a stop and ran straight to the other driver's aid, pulling him from the cabin as the truck caught alight.
"I was running to the fire and trying to process everything, but my main thing was thinking about getting this guy out of the truck," Darren said.
"I'm thinking the worst, this isn't going to be real good at all, and I'm thinking I haven't got anything to break the windscreen and I was starting to get pretty scared.
"Just as we got to the truck, Ken was crawling out of it so me and the other young fella grabbed him. I only had paper-thin thongs on, you know, well-worn truckie's boots, and there was debris everywhere and I was trying to run through these stones and debris - my feet were killing me.
"We got him away from the truck and we thought we'd better get him a bit further and then the truck exploded. It happened really quickly, within two minutes. We got him to where my truck was and called the coppers."
Big Rigs was told by Freeman Freighters boss Darren Freeman that his driver, Ken Donohue, was very grateful for his fellow truckie's help. He said the crash happened when another truck and trailer rolled in front of Ken's vehicle and "failed to put out triangles or alert other traffic travelling towards this incident, therefore he approached without warning and subsequently collided with the trailer on the road".
The grateful boss thanked Darren for his bravery.
Darren's heroic actions won him the Australian Trucking Association's Bridgestone Bandag Highway Guardian honour, which recognises the unsung heroes of the trucking industry, highlighting those who go above and beyond when faced with adversity.
NSW Police Force Traffic and Highway Patrol Chief Inspector Phil Brooks attended the award ceremony and told Big Rigs he recalled the incident "vividly".
"When I became aware of Darren's heroic actions, I immediately referred this event to the Australian Trucking Association for consideration of some recognition," he said.
"This is a prime example of truck drivers being first on the scene of crash events, administering first aid to victims, calling in emergency services, managing traffic, usually for some time until the situation is resolved."
According to ATA chairman Geoff Crouch, accidents like this highlight the potential danger all those in the industry face.
"Darren Cooke was selfless in helping others get to safety, and it is fitting for him to be named a Bridgestone Bandag Highway Guardian. His actions helped prevent the loss of a life that morning.
"Any time a truck is involved in an accident, it's a serious matter, but when a truck ends up on its side and becomes engulfed in flames, it has the potential to end in tragic circumstances.
"Thankfully we have Highway Guardians such as Darren Cooke on our roads who are willing to put others ahead of themselves."
Lindsay Transport regional manager Ken Haddad said although Darren had been with the company for only six months, he showed a side of his personality that meant if you needed help, he would always lend a hand.
"This is not his first heroic deed. There was another one in Queensland a few years ago where he was transporting a BD load of ethanol, where he pulled into the Marlborough Roadhouse and realised his tank had ruptured and was leaking ethanol," he said.
"As it was during the day, there was a lot of people at the roadhouse so without worrying about his own safety, he hopped back in the truck and drove it across the road away from the public.
"When the authorities realised what he had done, they praised him for his efforts and documented it in newspapers at the time."
Despite all the accolades, Darren is hesitant to call himself a hero.
"It's not often you get a pat on the back and twice is overwhelming," he said.
"I recently read a book on what the guys went through in the war - it's overrated what I did. Even the emergency services, the s--t they go through every day, they're the real heroes - you can make a phone call and they're there.
"People say 'hero', I say I was 'there to help'. I was just doing the right thing. Hero is overstated but never regret singing people's praises. I just did what anyone else would do in those situations. I feel a bit embarrassed about being called a hero."