Melbourne Fire Brigade Four-year-old Leo Waterhouse, who spent more than five hours with his hand trapped in a vending machine on Sunday. Emergency services in Melbourne have carried out a delicate operation to free a young boy who spent more than five hours with his hand stuck in a vending machine.
Firefighters were called to an apartment block on Lonsdale Street in the city centre at noon on Sunday. Four-year-old Leo Shorthouse had put his hand in the dispensing slot of a vending machine before becoming caught in the anti-theft mechanisms.
Aaron Shorthouse, Leo’s father, told 9 News that Leo was an inquisitive child – “I don’t think he’s ever seen a vending machine before.” The Shorthouse family live in Nhulunbuy, a small town in the very remote north-east Arnhem Land, approximately 650 kilometres east of Darwin and 1,000 kilometres west of Cairns by air.
As many as 12 personnel, including four firefighters, one commander and teams from Victoria police and Ambulance Victoria were involved in the delicate operation, which took more than five hours. A locksmith was also at the scene.
A spokesman for Melbourne Fire Brigade said it was “quite a difficult operation”, with the anti-theft mechanisms of the machine working “like traps”: “He really rammed his hand up there.”
Angle grinders were used to cut open the machine but caused Leo too much distress – “so we had to do it softly, softly, slowly, slowly, with screwdrivers”.
Aaron, Noah, Molly and Leo Shorthouse, pictured on an East Arnhem beach. “There was a threat because his hand was wedged in there we could have caused further injury … but more importantly was bearing in mind his welfare, not to stress him out.”
Leo was “understandably scared” and had to be sedated multiple times during the operation. He was freed just before 5.20pm.
Dr Molly Shorthouse – Leo’s mother, and chair of the Northern Territory chapter of the Rural Doctors Association, which is holding a breakfast briefing at Parliament House on Tuesday – told Guardian Australia from Canberra that Leo had “a few nightmares last night” but minor physical injuries.
Shorthouse said it was “terrible” to be away from her son during his ordeal – “I had to hear him crying down the phone,” – but praised the efforts of emergency service personnel to keep her updated and Leo calm.
“It takes a special kind of person to choose such a career and they all proved that yesterday. As a mental health doctor I often see the effects of trauma in emergency workers, and I don’t think the public realise just how intense the work is that they do.
“Aaron told me the first thing Leo said this morning is ‘I want to be a fireman’.”
Aaron, Leo and his brother Noah flew to Canberra on Monday instead of returning home to Arnhem Land. “I want to be able to cuddle him through those nightmares,” said Shorthouse.