Firefighter Simon’s career reaches “purr-fect end” after dramatic fire in Birkenhead

When firefighter Simon Swann, from New Brighton, joined the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service 30 years ago, he always imagined hanging up his coat one last time.

Little did he realise just how purr-fect his final hour would be.

Teaming up with Fire Control Operator Katie Wagner, Watch Manager Swann was called out to an 2am emergency call to Arygle Street in Birkenhead, on Thursday, 1st October.

An electrical fire broke out, trapping a family of three in their bedroom as the flames took hold in their living room.

Birkenhead Green Watch were the first on scene, and thanks to the swift action taken by WM Swann and FCO Wagner, the family left the blaze relatively unscatched.

However, the rescue was not without its twists and turns, as Swann told Mersey Community News.

Simon, who is due to retire later this month as a firefighter, explained: “As we were getting close to the bottom of the road, Fire Control got in touch with us. We thought they were going to tell us that everyone had got out – but they didn’t.

“Instead, they told us the family were trapped in the bedroom – directly above the fire in their living room.”

WM Swann told Mersey Community News how they could see smoke pouring from the house as the crew pulled into the street. The family were clearly visible in the upstairs window, and their faces were covered in soot.

Recalled the severity of the situation, the firefighter explained how quick- thinking led his team to make a series of life saving decisions.

Simon explained: “We looked through the living room window and you could see the orange glow of this really severe fire. My two firefighters – Lee Hodgers and Barry Clarke – were in breathing apparatus (BA) ready to go under air.

“They knew they had to gain entry quickly to deal with the fire but the priority was obviously getting the family out safely.

“It would have taken 10 minutes for the team to cut through the front door – we didn’t have that time so I said to my driver, FF John McDaid, that we’d best get the short extension ladder.”

After pitching the ladder to the roof of the bay window, WM Swann rapidly climbed up within reach of the family.

Despite the perilous situation, WM Swann instructed the family on how to leave the house safely. After calming the family, he rescued the child first.

Simon said: “I got to the top and said ‘pass me the lad’.” “When I joined 30 years ago, we were taught how to do a firefighter’s carry. It’s something I haven’t had to do since but it was instinct.

“I got the lad and carried him down the ladder to Lee and Barry who were waiting at the bottom. It was quite dramatic as the fire was right underneath me.”

Local hero WM Swann was one of the many firefighters to attend the scene in Argyle Street South, on 1st October 2020 (Image credit: Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service)

However, it was the next couple of moments which stood out to WM Swann the most. After rescuing the child, Simon climbed up the ladder again. His plan was to lift mum out of the property to safety – but instead he was handed a small kitten.

Simon recalled: “I got it down quickly – it was obviously terrified! I then shot back up the ladder, got mum, walked down and then did the same with the dad.

“The whole time there was smoke pouring out – really black, acrid electrical smoke. As we got to the bottom of the ladder, the second appliance arrived, shortly followed by the third – it was five minutes of chaos.”

Once everyone was safe, crews forced entry to the property and extinguished the fire. The family were taken to hospital for treatment for smoke inhalation but were released later that same day.

Simon added: “I’ve spent 30 years in the job at some of the busiest stations and you just don’t get rescues like that. People I’ve worked with for 28 years have said ‘that was brilliant’ but you feel embarrassed – it’s just instinct and any one of them would have done the same.

“Everything came together for a successful conclusion. They had working smoke alarms and an escape window – the only way it could have been better is if there wasn’t a fire to start with.”

Simon joined the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service as a firefighter in September, 1990. During his 30-year long career within the fire services, WM Swann has been stationed as a firefighter at West Kirkby, Liverpool City, Toxteth and Birkenhead. He also spent two years as a firefighter in Canada.

WM Swann is set to retire on the 17th October this year, and after 30 years of saving lives, he loved every moment of his role as a firefighter.

Reflecting on his years in the fire service, WM Swann added: “I have loved this job – it’s the best job anyone could ever imagine to do.

“It has been fantastic and to be given the opportunity to make a difference like this, it has made me and the whole crew feel blessed. It’s the perfect high to end my career on.”

Of course, WM Swann was not alone during the rescue process. As with all incidents attended by the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, this incident was resolved through exceptional team effort. This includes the actions of those on the scene, and those working over the phone.

While this emergency drew a curtain on WM Swann’s career, it was also a career first for the fire control operator who answered the call .

FCO Katie Wagner, who joined Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service just over a year ago, was the first person off-scene, working hard to keep the family reassured during those vital few minutes before the emergency services arrived.

Her calm demeanour kept the family on the phone, offering them crucial survival advice while help was on the way.

Katie told Mersey Community News that she dealt with the situation just as if it were ‘a normal call.’

She said: “It was my first fire survival guidance call. Everyone was saying ‘well done, you handled that really well’ but I just dealt with it like a normal call. It was only when I put the phone down that the adrenaline kicked in. I did breathe a massive sigh of relief though when I saw that the crew was almost there.

“It definitely wasn’t a one-man job though – it was a team effort. When you join Fire Control, you go through a great training course that really prepares you for these kinds of situations.

You never know what it’s going to be when you get the call. Sometimes you answer and it’s a cat up a tree but then sometimes it’s something serious like this – every call is different.”

Whilst the actions Katie and Simon’s actions ultimately saved the family, the presence of working smoke alarms were instrumental. There is no doubt in the minds of those attending that, without working fire alarms, the incident could have had a much darker ending.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service have reiterated the importance of having at least one working fire alarm on every level of your home. Fire alarms should be tested at least once a week.

If you don’t have working smoke alarms, call the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service on 0800 731 5958 to receive further advice.

April Ryan
Follow @April_L_Ryan
Feature image courtesy of Pixabay. Article image courtesy of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service