Saudi student Noah Al-Harbi risked his life to save his 94-year-old neighbour from a house fire in Adelaide. The heroic deed comes as he fights to be reunited with his family, after 18 months of separation due to Australia’s border closure.
At least 50 Australians die in residential fires each year, or around one person per week.
But this terrible statistic has been spared at least one more victim, thanks to the heroic actions of Saudi student Noah Al-Harbi who recently saved his 94-year-old neighbour from a house fire in Adelaide.
At around 1:30pm on April 3, Mr Al-Harbi said he returned home for a few hours following classes at Flinders University, where he is majoring in engineering.
As he took a moment to rest, he heard a woman begging and screaming hysterically from the footpath outside of his home.
“I was coming home from university for a two-hour break before returning back, and then, I heard a hysterical screaming.
“When I hurried outside, I saw my neighbour’s house completely covered in smoke and fire, and all I could do was hurry out to the front door and break into it amid the woman's assertion that her husband was stuck inside.”
Mr Al-Harbi broke through the front door, which caused bleeding that he said he couldn’t feel due to adrenaline.
Although he managed to enter the house, he was unable to immediately assist as the smoke had filled the hallway leading to the man's bedroom.
Mr Al-Harbi decided to step out of the house and head towards the back door which he broke into.
Once inside, he saw his neighbour on the ground.
“It was a situational moment that I wish I will never see again.
“I saw the man lying on the ground, looking at us, waiting for death, and searching for a breath.”
At first, he thought that his neighbour had already passed away, but it did not stop him from pulling the man from the house.
The flames were rising rapidly, and consequently, the two men, along with a volunteer who rushed to help, were trapped inside the house.
Luckily, those desperate seconds coincided with the arrival of firefighters, who instructed them to evacuate through a kitchen window.
Paramedics treated the elderly man at the site, and he was transferred to the hospital. Mr Al-Harbi and the volunteer were also treated for their injuries.
A beginning that could have been “the end”
During those moments that almost cost his life, Mr Al-Harbi said: “Frankly, I thought of my children whom I had not seen for a year and a half.”
The family moved to Adelaide a few years ago when Mr Al-Harbi obtained a student visa to study.
At the end of 2019, the family flew back to Saudi Arabia for a three-month holiday with the intention of returning in March 2020.
Mr Al-Harbi had returned early to secure a house to rent in Adelaide, though his family’s flight on March 13 was cancelled after the government’s prompt decision to close the country’s international borders, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
They have been separated ever since.
Furthermore, his youngest son Abdurahman had undergone two brain surgeries in 2019 and was scheduled to have his third when the family returned to Australia.
Being separated from his family has taken a toll on him emotionally.
“I lost a lot of weight due to the academic stress and the distance from my family.”
And thus, he said the recent incident marked a “new beginning” for him and his elderly neighbour to persevere through adversity.
“A word of gratitude from the old man was my greatest honour. He invited me to his house and was surrounded by his children and he looked into my eyes saying, ‘I am grateful for my life thanks to you’. I envy any doctor, paramedic, or rescuer who feels these great feelings.”
Mr Al-Harbi does not consider himself a hero, but rather someone who merely fulfilled his "humanitarian duty".
“I hope that we reflect a more beautiful image of Arabs and Muslims in terms of humanitarian values, morals and good neighbourliness.
“I hope that such humanitarian responses are recurrent every day.
“What motivated me to help was the humanitarian values on which we were raised in our religion and culture, beyond any gender, race or colour.”