Quick-thinking truck driver awarded for brave decision to drive burning truck extra 5km

SUPPLIED A spectacular fire has destroyed two large trailers carrying milk powder in South Canterbury

The truck driver whose quick-thinking ensured he was able to manoeuvre a truck and trailer engulfed in flames off the road at Makikihi, in South Canterbury, without further endangering people or property early last year has received industry recognition for his brave actions.

Summerland Express Freight driver Deane Rodgers was travelling through South Canterbury on State Highway 1 on the morning of February 1 when he realised his load of milk powder had caught fire after seeing a cloud of smoke in his rearview mirrors.

“The fire had obviously been burning inside the trailer for some time before smoke became visible in my mirrors.”

Rodgers, 51, said he could not pull over immediately as there were paddocks of wheat crops, tinder-dry grass close to the edge of the road and a strong wind was blowing.

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Deane Rodgers managed to drive the burning truck about 5km to this truck stop at Makikihi on February 1, 2019.

Supplied Deane Rodgers managed to drive the burning truck about 5km to this truck stop at Makikihi on February 1, 2019.

“If I pulled over there was a good chance the flames would spread into the fields straight away.”

He knew the Makikihi Country Hotel, which was about five kilometres ahead of him had a big open truck parking area, so continued driving with police sirens blaring behind him all the way.

“I was petrified.

I didn’t know how far along the road I would even get. All I was after was somewhere safe to get off the road.

“I had already rung the fire brigade and had them in place before I got to where I needed to get to.”

Chief executive Road Transport Forum NZ, Nick Leggett, presents the Castrol Truck Driver Hero Award to Deane Rodgers in Cromwell on Friday evening.

Supplied Chief executive Road Transport Forum NZ, Nick Leggett, presents the Castrol Truck Driver Hero Award to Deane Rodgers in Cromwell on Friday evening.

Those actions saw him recognised at the Road Transport Association AGM in Cromwell on Friday night where he was presented with the industry’s Castrol Truck Driver Hero Award.

Rodgers, who has been driving trucks for 33 years, said he was over the moon to be given the award, but was nervous about delivering his speech on the night.

“I’ll probably drive a flaming truck again, (rather) than give another speech.”

Without Deane Rodgers' quick thinking the fire could have resulted in a multi-million dollar loss of crops and property.

Ron Joll/Supplied

Without Deane Rodgers’ quick thinking the fire could have resulted in a multi-million dollar loss of crops and property.

Summerland Express Freight general manager Grant Lowe said the company was proud to have Rodgers in their team, and his award was “thoroughly deserved”.

“It’s fantastic to see an everyday humble guy like Deane get recognised.

“We were very proud.

The owners of Summerland and I were present to see Deane being awarded.”

Rodgers’ cool thinking and prompt action averted what could have resulted in a multimillion-dollar loss of crops and property, Lowe said.

Farmers in the Makikihi area have been in touch with Deane Rodgers to thank him for his actions which helped prevent the fire spreading.

Ron Joll/Supplied

Farmers in the Makikihi area have been in touch with Deane Rodgers to thank him for his actions which helped prevent the fire spreading.

Lowe said Rodger’s forethought and calmness on the day of the incident were extraordinary.

“What stood out the most on the day was that it was tinder dry out there with strong winds, and who knows what would have happened if they had gone into the paddocks.

“The farmers around that area have heaped praise on him, and they have in touch with him personally because it prevented what could have been catastrophic for them and who knows how far it would have extended.”

The Castrol Truck Driver hero award was established three years ago by the Road Transport Forum of NZ and NZ Truck & Driver magazine, to highlight drivers who go above and beyond the Call of Duty on the road.

“Deane’s actions were significant due to the fact that he averted danger and his actions saved millions of dollars of damage to the local economy,” NZ Truck & Driver magazine managing director and judge, Trevor Woolston, said.

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