‘I couldn’t get to him’: 90-year-old Marcus Opit mourned

Firefighters at the scene on Tuesday. Photo: Daniel Shaw

A JEWISH firefighter has spoken of his desperate attempts to save an elderly man’s life after heroically entering his burning house in Dover Heights while off-duty this week.

Senior firefighter Eddie Vaysbakh was in the driveway of his Napier Street home on Tuesday morning when he noticed smoke billowing from a property two doors down.

Inside was his neighbour and family friend, 90-year-old Marcus Opit, who has been remembered this week as a “lovely, really nice guy” after tragically passing away in hospital.

Marcus Opit (back row, centre), pictured with his six children (clockwise from top right) Leigh, Karen, Phil, Melinda, Ben and Michelle celebrating his 90th birthday last year.

“I heard the security guard at KTC [Kesser Torah College] scream out so I turned around and I just saw smoke,” Vaysbakh told The AJN.

“I ran down the street and saw smoke coming up through the top. 

“And then I asked the people there have they seen the old man and they said no, no one’s seen him.”

The security guard, Adam Lewis, then kicked the glass in and Vaysbakh, without any protective equipment, went inside the burning home to frantically search for his neighbour.

“I first searched downstairs and there was no one down there, and then I went to go upstairs but then the fire was fully engulfed,” Vaysbakh recounted.

“The heat was unbelievable. It was very intense, very hot, very fast. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.

“I crawled on my chest and kept calling out, ‘Fire brigade, can you hear me, can you come to me?’ I couldn’t hear anything from him.”

After repeated attempts to locate Marcus, Vaysbakh was forced to leave the house for air, before entering the inferno for a second time.

“I went back inside again and got to the top of the stairs [but] the flames and the heat forced me out and then I heard the sirens coming.”

When his firefighter colleagues arrived, Vaysbakh immediately gave them all the information he could and starting running hose links out.

“It’s just what we do, that’s what we’re trained to do. I didn’t think about it, I just did it.”

Describing Marcus – or “Mr Opit” as Vaysbakh knew him – as a “lovely old man”, Vaysbakh said, “He used to walk around the street all the time, I used to see him all the time on my days off. Really nice guy, never a problem. Just a nice old man.”

When Marcus’s three sons arrived at the scene they came up to Vaysbakh and said, “Thank you for everything you did.”

“I said, ‘I couldn’t get to him. I was close. But I couldn’t get to him.'”

The Opit family has been an integral part of the Jewish community since 1887, with Marcus’s father, Nahum, grandfather Julius and great-grandfather Marcus Israelowitz all active members in the Jewish communities in Melbourne and Sydney. 

The family has been heavily involved with The Great Synagogue, Central Synagogue, The Hebrew Benevolent Society, JASA, Maccabi and other Jewish communal organisations.

Marcus is survived by six children, 17 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

EVAN ZLATKIS