Flood rescue blossoms into enduring friendship

Warren McErlean and Blake Rice spend some time with Mr McErlean's dogs Bindi and Benson.
Warren McErlean and Blake Rice spend some time with Mr McErlean's dogs Bindi and Benson. Photo Contributed

A BOND formed in an intense moment of bravery has blossomed into an enduring friendship between Toowoomba man Warren McErlean and teenager Blake Rice.

Mr McErlean regularly catches up with the former Toowoomba teenager who he helped drag from raging floodwaters at the intersection of Kitchener and James Sts on January 10, 2011.

Those same floodwaters claimed the lives of Blake's older brother Jordan and mother Donna.

The floods changed the city and certainly had a massive effect on Mr McErlean.

"I just couldn't think about anything else for a long time

"My demeanour changed," Mr McErlean said. "The way I looked at work and the way I looked at life.

"I just couldn't think about anything else for a long time."

A physical injury and the inability to concentrate made him realise he needed to change what he was doing.

He had run his own industrial shed building business in the lead up to the flood but has since given that away to spend the past year working as a wardsman at Toowoomba Hospital.

"I love the job, just helping people," Mr McErlean said.

He and wife Debra catch up with 13-year-old Blake at least once a month to go fishing or have a barbecue.

"Since they have moved down to the coast we go down regularly," Mr McErlean.

"Things come out of tragedy all of the time.

"It helps me a lot and I like to think it helps Blakey.

"He's only a little boy who deals with a lot of big things."

The McErleans are also great friends with Blake's father John Tyson.

Mr McErlean and Mr Tyson have set up a charity in honour of Blake's dead brother.

The Jordan Rice Foundation's first task has been to assist with a "portraits of patriots" project.

Its founders hope the charity will grow to be able to open crisis centres to help vulnerable people.

Mr McErlean's actions in January 2011 have earned him a Bravery Medal as a part of the Governor-General's Australian Bravery Awards.

Commendations for Brave Conduct will also be awarded to five other people for brave acts on the Darling Downs.

Mr McErlean said he was humbled by the recognition.

His memory of the day he met Blake Rice remained clear.

"It constantly stays with you," he said. "I'm really happy with the help I've got with John and Blake being there."

Our heroes

Bravery Medal

  • Warren McErlean

Commendation for Brave Conduct

  • Robert Barron
  • William Riley
  • Ron Scheuerle
  • Dr Joe Weir
  • Brendan Winter