An elderly patient was saved from an ambulance moments before it was engulfed in flames, a transport company has said.
Three ambulances were destroyed and part of a hospital was damaged as a fire raged outside East Surrey Hospital, in Redhill, yesterday afternoon.
The fire service said the blaze started in one of the ambulances near the east entrance to the hospital at around 2.15pm.
Two of the vehicles belonged to South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) with the other belonging to private patient transport service Medicar European.
Chris Jones, senior partner at the Kent based firm, said the fire broke out in one of the company’s vehicles.
He said: “We had to wait to get a parking space.
“As it (the ambulance) was moving forward the driver noticed smoke was coming from the dashboard.
Two members of staff along with an elderly patient were on board the vehicle at the time.
Mr Jones said the staff quickly evacuated the vehicle moments before the chaos begun.
“One of our members of staff stayed with the patient and we were assisted by SECAmb to take them to their appointment.”
The other member of staff went inside and raised the alarm.
“He then went out with a fire extinguisher and tried to extinguish the fire,” Mr Jones added.
The member of staff managed to buy a bit of time for SECAmb staff to remove other ambulances from the area.
He was then pulled away by firefighters when the flames became too fierce.
Eyewitnesses said they heard several explosions coming from the blazing ambulances.
Mr Jones said he believed it was the oxygen tanks, stored in all three vehicles, which caused the explosions.
He said that although the tanks themselves are not dangerous the gas is stored so tightly inside when they get too hot they become “bombs”.
“He (The member of staff) was fighting the fire as they were removing other ambulances from the area,” Mr Jones said.
“There could have been six or seven vehicles there all with oxygen tanks on board.
“When one of those gas containers explodes it can go in any direction. It could have been an absolute disaster.”
Mr Jones praised the team work and bravery of the emergency services who managed to avoid a ‘major disaster’.
“I can not express how proud I am of those two members of staff,” he said. “They did such a wonderful job but they were part of a team.
“The reason we didn’t have any casualties is because everyone did their job and everybody did their job incredibly well.
“At the end of the day vehicles are just plastic metal and wood and can be replaced but you can’t replace anyone being hurt.
“A major disaster was avoided because of quick minded staff at the hospital, SECAmb and fire brigade.
“It was a massive team effort.”
The fire is still being investigated and the cause of the blaze has still not been confirmed.
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