Risking life to save life
In a summer wildfire in Greece, Unilever Hero Andreas Triantafyllidis saved the lives of strangers
Every year, we recognise pioneering individuals within the company who have brought our values to life and truly embody what it means to be part of Unilever. Our 2018 Heroes with Impact have gone above and beyond their day-to-day jobs. Their stories paint a picture of passion, purpose and drive.
On 23 July 2018, Andreas Triantafyllidis, National Field Sales Manager, was working in his office in Athens when the phone rang. It was his father on the line, with serious news: a wildfire had broken out in the resort of Mati. The fire had taken hold rapidly, with strong winds fanning the flames.
His family had their summer house in Mati, a small town popular both with tourists and local people. His parents were at the house.
Andreas left the office at once and drove towards Mati, a distance of around 35km. As he approached the town, he found the roads were closed. He only option was to go the remaining 4km on foot, and he set out, equipped with a fire extinguisher and a bottle of water.
All around the fire was raging. He saw trees in flames, burnt-out cars and homes being destroyed. On reaching his parents’ house, he was relieved to find them safe. He took them to the beach and asked them stay close to the sea as he returned to try to save more people.
“My thoughts were, I had to help other people,” he says. “There was no alternative. People were in need and they were helpless. I was emotionally charged.”
Holding a flashlight and with a few bottles of water in his bag, Andreas walked around to see who and how he could help. The fire was spreading through the pine trees in the near gale-force winds, and there was traffic chaos as cars tried to find an exit through the back streets after the main road had been closed. The lack of early warning meant residents and tourists could not escape in time.
Andreas encouraged the people he met to stay on the beach, remain calm and breathe the air closest to the sea. He found young children with burns to their legs and took them to places of safety. He went on to rescue a further seven people, carrying those that were injured across his back. A local hotel, not threatened by the fire, was being used as an assembly point and shelter, and Andreas directed others to follow him there.
Some of those he had saved later rang him from hospital and thanked him. “It was difficult to deal with those emotional moments, but I was happy because I understood that I had done something for my fellow-citizens,” he adds.
The fire claimed 100 lives. But for Andreas’s efforts, that number would have been higher.
“Being selected as a Hero with Impact is a once-in-a lifetime reward,” he says. “We need to interact with each other and help think about others. We cannot think only about ourselves.”