'˜They were my heroes, I owe them my life'

A pensioner has hailed bravery awards given to fire officers who pulled her shattered body from the rubble of an explosion which destroyed her home and left her in a coma.

Saturday, 19th May 2018, 6:50 am
Pauline Citterio and partner Martin Viney

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A miracle escape from gas explosion at 21 Charles Street in Blackpool

Pauline Citterio, 71, who was buried under four tons of bricks and concrete following the blast at The Castleford, a former guest house in Charles Street, Blackpool.

She has described the fire crew as “heroes” and said she owes them her life, Chief Fire Officer’s Commendation and Letters of Appreciation were awarded to Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service firefighters and a North West Fire Control Operator colleague for the magnificent team response during the incident on September 23, last year.

The devastation caused by the blast which destroyed their home

Speaking for the first time since the explosion, Pauline, who is still recovering from her injuries, which included multiple broken bones and burns said: “I think it is marvellous and really well deserved that they received an award for their bravery.

“I can’t remember much about what happened but I do remember the firefighters saying they needed me to keep talking to them as they were trying to get me out.

“They were so lovely and really kind to me and without them I would not be here now.

“I am so pleased they have been recognised for what they did on the day. They were my heroes.”

Firefighters and staff with their commendations. Front, from left, David Dumigan ; Deborah Marshall; chief fire officer Chris Kenny; operator Helen Oulton; Mark Warwick. Bottom from left, Glen Thwaites, Graeme Warren, Phil Peck, Wayne Blackburn, Simon Lee, James Butcher, Ally Clark

Pauline was taken by helicopter to Royal Preston Hospital with broken legs, a shattered pelvis and severe burns where she was placed in a medically induced coma for weeks.

Her partner Martin Viney, 70, was also led to safety following the blast.

Their lodger Nigel Thomas, 64, returned home to the devastation.

He said: ““We had gone shopping and came home,”

“We unpacked it, and had a shower, and I had gone to my local, Kaos [in Queen Street].

“A friend of mine came round. They said, ‘You have to come home, your house has blown up.’

“I said, ‘Yeah, what’s the punchline.”

He said he arrived home to find Martin being helped down the road.

He said: “He was saying, ‘Where’s my missus? Where’s my missus?’ “I feel so guilty I was not there.”

Mr Viney, who described Pauline as being “beetroot red all over” after the blast said he was also pleased to hear about the awards.

He said: “I didn’t hear the explosion but I remember all the stuff falling on me like the ceiling.

“I think it is very good they should get an award for what they have done. I feel very grateful that they were there and for what they did for Pauline.

“We would like to say many thanks to them for what they did.”

Firefighters also rescued next door neighbour 28-year-old Tony Wheeler, who was pinned to the couch of his upstairs flat, and suffered leg and head injuries, when the roof caved in.

Mr Wheeler said he almost lost his leg after debris fell on top of him and was lucky not to have been crushed by the falling roof.

He said: “I just saw a blue flash and was supposedly knocked out. I woke up to hear everyone screaming.”

Despite suffering significant injuries all casualties survived - something fire safety expert Charles Morgan described as a “miracle”

After examining footage of the explosion in the aftermath he said: “How anyone escaped from that building alive is a miracle.”

Crew manager Glenn Thwaites and firefighters Deborah Marshall, Ally Clark, Philip Peck, Graeme Warren, James Butcher, Wayne Blackburn, Simon Lee and Helen Oulton were all commended during a special ceremony at Blackpool fire station attended by Blackpool Mayor Coun Gary Coleman.

Acting station manager Mark Warwick, crew manager David Dumigan and watch manager Craig Etherington were also awarded a Letter of Appreciation was attended by the Mayor of

Blackpool Station Manager Johnny Ashton praised the actions of the firefighters.

He said: “Firefighting is inherently dangerous and I know the staff all take concentrated risks to safe lives and property.

“That evening they put themselves in a gas filled environment and worked within an unsafe structure.

“They used all possible measures available to make it as safe as possible and further managed to make critical decisions that saved the life of a number of people.”

Community spirit shone

Residents in and arround Charles Street were praised for their community spirit in the hours and days following the blast Neighbour Carol Malia, 62, said: “The community has come together. We came together last night and the whole street had a hot meal.

“We’re all friendly anyway and you can borrow anything from your neighbour here.”

Shane Hearty was evacuated from his house following the incident.

He said: “I drive a taxi at night so I put my head down for a couple of hours between 5pm and 7pm. There was a very big bang.

“I looked out of the window and couldn’t see anything, just fog.”

The remains of the house were demolished almost a month after the explosion.