WHEN Senior Sergeant Nathan Blain responded to his colleagues' call for help, time was fast running out for anyone left inside the burning Airlie Beach building.
Thick, suffocating smoke from the Beach Plaza restaurant fire had quickly taken hold in the backpackers' accommodation above.
Just minutes earlier, father of four Sergeant Barry Haran and Senior Constable David Murray bolted inside to rescue three disorientated guests and lead them to safety.
But Snr Sgt Blain and the first responders quickly learned there was still an elderly couple unaccounted for.
With the smoke and flames intensifying by the second - and breathing becoming increasingly difficult - the trio's first attempt to locate the couple proved fruitless.
It was only when brave hostel manager Fiona Bennion helped point them in the right direction they were able to locate the permanent residents, believed to be in their 70s.
Oblivious to the life-threatening danger outside and still fast asleep, their glass sliding door was locked, forcing the desperate officers to smash their way in with a baton.
"They were in shock. They didn't know what was going when we burst in saying 'you've got to get out, there's a fire',” recalled Snr Sgt Blain.
Once the disorientated pair were safely outside, SnrSgt Blain and his colleagues covered their faces as best they could with their shirts and handkerchiefs and quickly returned inside, fearing there were still people trapped.
"But by that time the smoke was pretty thick. We yelled out a few times but got no response.
"You couldn't see anything in front of your face, so we had to find our way back down the stairs and back outside.
"Fortunately there was no one else inside - everyone else had been taken out.”
Snr Sgt Blain said he and his colleagues were humbled by their recent bravery awards in the Australian Bravery Decorations last month, and again last week at the annual Mackay district police award ceremony.
"We were basically just responding to the fire like any job we get called to,” said the modest hero and father of two.
"But reflecting back on it, it is quite nice to get recognised - it doesn't happen every day.”
At the time, Snr Sgt Blain said his training kicked in and he and his colleagues were running on auto-pilot during the rescue.
None of them stopped to consider the danger they might be getting into when they charged back inside the burning building to save the elderly couple's lives.
"Now you might think back about what might have happened, but you don't dwell on it. You think of the positives - that we got these people out.”
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