Police officers speak of Peterborough fire rescue attempt

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Police officers who risked their lives to help a man trapped in a burning building have spoken of how they were beaten back by the smoke.

PC’s Siobhan Howarth and Karin Colbert, both based at Bridge Street Police Station, ran into the flat in Field Walk, Peterborough to help the man, who is aged in his 40s, when the building caught fire on Saturday.

I joined the police to save people and I did not want to leave him in the house when he needed help.

PC Siobhan Howarth

But despite their best efforts they were forced to leave the building because of thick smoke.

PC Howard said she had joined the force to help save lives, and ‘I did not want to leave him’ when he needed help.

The man was rescued by Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue officers shortly afterwards.

They were called to the scene at 6.50am.

PC Howarth said: “We got called to a report of a female screaming, on arrival at the address it all seemed in order. We could not hear any screaming and the house was locked and secure and seemed fine.

“A man came up to us and stated that he was the brother and had keys to the property so could let us in. On entering the address the kitchen was directly in front and it appeared hazy like someone had left something in the oven that had burnt. We shouted ‘police’ several times but there was no reply.

“I then heard a slight banging from upstairs and PC Colbert was standing on the stairs at this point so we made our way up. Once upstairs we shouted ‘police’ again yet no one respond to this.

“The first door on the right was locked so I kicked this and it opened and the room inside was empty. We then made our way down the hallway and the last door on the right as I pushed this open loads of thick black smoke came out and started to fill the corridor.

“At this point I started to hear groaning so both myself and PC Colbert shouted that we were the police and were there to help. We could identify from the moaning that it was a man and told him to keep low to the ground and try and crawl to the door.

“The door would only open about a foot and seemed to be jammed despite both myself and PC Colbert pushing on it trying to open it to get to the man. I had radioed for the fire service at this point and we were still trying to get to the man while waiting for them.

“The man was now shouting out in pain. By now the smoke had filled the corridor and myself and PC Colbert were crouched down low to the ground still trying to push the door open however it would not open.

“At this point the smoke was so thick and we were both coughing and sight was severely reduced we decided that we needed to leave the building for our own safety due to not being able to reach the man. Once outside fire arrived and we briefed them on the layout and what was inside.

“Going through my mind was that there was a man in a room with a fire and that I needed to free him. I joined the police to save people and I did not want to leave him in the house when he needed help.

“I did not feel scared at the time due to being focused on the job at hand. I have never been to a job like this one before and don’t think I will again in my career.”

Both police officers were taken to Peterborough City Hospital suffering smoke inhalation.

The male resident suffered burns to his body, and was kept in hospital for a number of days.

An investigation revealed the fire was started accidentally, with discarded smoking materials blamed for the blaze.

A Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service spokesman urged people to take extra care when discarding cigarettes at home.

He said: “So far this year, 11 per cent of all fires in people’s homes have been caused by smoking materials (27 fires out of 244).

“These fires resulted in three people losing their lives and two people being taken to hospital.

“We would urge all smokers to please ensure their cigarettes are stubbed out properly, especially before going to bed.

“We also advise not to smoke in bed or in a chair when you’re feeling very tired as it is easy to nod off and drop the cigarette.

“Sturdy ashtrays should be used and they should be placed on a firm, stable surface, but avoiding the floor where they may get kicked over or have something accidently placed on top of them.”