Brave heroes honoured at fire service ceremony

Inspector Clare McKnight of Horsham police with Leah Iwaszkow and chief fire officer Sean Ruth
Inspector Clare McKnight of Horsham police with Leah Iwaszkow and chief fire officer Sean Ruth

Two women who intervened during a fatal house fire and a firefighter who helped crash victims while holidaying in Peru have been honoured for their bravery.

They were among the local heroes celebrated at a presentation evening held at West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service’s Chichester headquarters on Friday (November 13).

Haywards Heath firefighter Phil Maynard (left) with chief fire officer Sean Ruth

Haywards Heath firefighter Phil Maynard (left) with chief fire officer Sean Ruth

Inspector Clare McKnight of Horsham police and mum-of-two Leah Iwaszkow were awarded Chief Fire Officer Commendations for Bravery for their actions during the fire in Harwood Road, Littlehampton, on October 10.

Leah, who had been visiting her mum, who lives opposite, twice entered the burning building in an attempt to pull a woman, in her 70s, out of the building, but was beaten back by the thick black smoke and extreme heat.

The 31-year-old, of Ketch Road, Littlehampton, required hospital treatment for smoke inhalation but has now recovered.

Insp McKnight was off duty and visiting a friend a few doors away when she became aware of the fire. She called for help and shouted at neighbours to evacuate nearby properties.

Ashington firefighter Darren Wickings with chief fire officer Sean Ruth

Ashington firefighter Darren Wickings with chief fire officer Sean Ruth

When she realised it was impossible for anyone to get back into the property she pulled the woman’s husband away from the fire.

Firefighters from Littlehampton were at the scene within four minutes of the alarm being raised. A team wearing breathing apparatus entered the house and discovered the woman in the living room. She was declared dead at the scene.

Both women were devastated that the lady could not be saved but were recognised by the fire service for their courageous actions, which helped prevent an even more tragic outcome.

The ceremony heard how firefighter Phil Maynard, who works in Haywards Heath, rushed to help after a car crashed and rolled down the highest road in Peru.

Station manager Phil, 43, was recognised with a commendation certificate from chief fire officer Sean Ruth.

With emergency help several hours away, Phil scrambled down the side of the mountain and discovered what he described as a scene of carnage, with six badly injured casualties.

He said: “The first casualty I came across appeared to have spinal injuries. She was incoherent and clearly in a lot of pain. I used our guide as an interpreter to tell locals not to move her.”

As Phil finished assessing the first casualty, he was joined by another holidaymaker - an off-duty medic from Los Angeles - and they began working through the other injured travellers together, before being joined by a Dutch doctor.

Phil said: “We had to prepare for the worst case scenario. There was no phone signal, so nobody had been able to call for help. We knew the nearest town was two hours away and someone had headed off to get help, but we didn’t know if, or when, they would be back.

“I tried to stabilise the minibus with rocks to stop it rolling further as there were still two casualties inside. Another four had been thrown out. One of those inside had severe bleeding with an open fracture. Another had a closed fracture and a head injury.

“We only had the basic first aid kit I had with me, so we improvised splints and spinal boards from bits of wood we found on the mountain and people’s scarves and things.”

More than three hours into the rescue a local police truck arrived. Their flatbed truck, and other tourist minibuses, were eventually commandeered to take six casualties, including four with serious injuries, to hospital.

He said: “It was a horrific crash and the outcome might have been very different for everyone involved if we hadn’t been there to help.”

A firefighter who has worked tirelessly for his local community has been awarded a Commendation from the Chief Fire Officer.

Darren Wickings, 44, from Ashington, has worked around the clock to make Worthing Fire Station’s Open Day one of the largest and most successful in the country.

More than 15,000 people attended the event when it was combined with the Broadwater Carnival this year, raising awareness of vital safety messages and thousands of pounds for good causes.

Darren was nominated for an award by group manager Gary Locker, who also commended him for his safeguarding and prevention work, particularly with one family in the Worthing area, and the work he has carried out with trainee paramedics.

Retained firefighter Ivor Henley was awarded by the BBC for his 44 years of service to the fire service.

He manages his own full-time business in carpentry and joinery while maintaining his availability to respond to incidents in Burgess Hill.

The impact on his own life cannot be underestimated as he has made innumerable sacrifices to ensure that the fire engines are available to serve the public at all hours of the day and night.

Chief fire officer Sean Ruth told award recipients: “It is a real privilege and honour for us to be able to recognise all that you have done which, in many cases, has involved putting others before yourselves.

“In one way or another you have made a difference and we are extremely grateful.”

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