TWO council workers and a dad-to-be have been hailed as heroes after helping to rescue two people from a flat fire in Birstall.
Kirklees refuse workers Kevin Stainburn and Ian Chamberlain were driving in a bin lorry at around 7am last Tuesday when they stopped at Birstall Smithies traffic lights and spotted flames in a nearby flat window.
A third man, Lee Foster, was driving directly behind the dustbin wagon. He also saw the blaze and pulled over to help.
The three men managed to gain access to the flat complex, between Carr Street and Smithies Lane, and ran to the first floor flat, alerting other occupants as they went.
They tried the flat door, which was unlocked but secured by a chain.
After banging on the door and getting no response they realised that somebody must be inside as the chain was on.
The trio then kicked the door and door frame out of its mountings but had to retreat downstairs due to the amount of smoke.
Kevin, a father-of-two from Dewsbury, got a torch and went back upstairs, crawling under the smoke and into the flat.
He got into the living room and saw one of the occupants laid on the floor, near a sofa which was ablaze.
Kevin, 53, dragged the man out. Leaving the casualty on the communal landing, he re-entered the flat looking for a second occupant but was overcome by smoke.
Kevin dragged the first casualty down the stairs and into the fresh air, where he was assisted by Ian, while 41-year-old Lee, of Baildon, continued to alert other neighbours and also flagged down a passing ambulance.
Fire crews from Cleckheaton and Dewsbury rushed to the scene and the second occupant, a man who had been in the bedroom, was led to safety by firefighters in breathing apparatus.
Fire investigator Jamie Lister said: “The two men in the flat were taken to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation but the consequences could have been far worse had it not been for the brave actions of these three men.
“Not only did they manage to gain entry into the complex, they also managed to knock down a very sturdy door, before entering into an acrid environment without the benefit of protective clothing and breathing apparatus our firefighters depend upon.
“Their persistent and determined efforts to rescue people, who were ultimately strangers to them, is truly commendable.”
Since the incident the men have received a card of thanks from local residents.
And this week they were invited to Cleckheaton Fire Station where they were reunited with the crew which attended the blaze, which is believed to have been started by an unattended candle.
Watch Commander Martin Bleasdale added: “Whilst we would always advise people not to enter a burning building, the instinctive, brave and clearly determined actions of Kevin, Ian and Lee, before the arrival of crews, are highly commendable.
“Such selfless actions undoubtedly assisted towards a successful conclusion to the incident.”
Kevin Stainburn said: “It’s just something that you instinctively do and you like to think that somebody would do it for your family.
“I had to crawl down because above me was completely smoke-logged. I just crawled in and felt the heat and saw the sofa on fire. It was black, acrid smoke.
“I was struggling to breath. I was shouting for this guy and heard a murmur. I pushed the door open and saw an arm. I just instinctively grabbed it and dragged him round.”
Ian, a 58-year-old dad of two from Batley, added: “I went upstairs a couple of times but with the smoke you could not even see at the top of the stairs. It seemed a long time, it might have just been seconds.”
Lee, a commercial vehicle technician who is expecting to become a dad in the next few days, said he had since reflected on how lucky the occupants were.
He said: “What are the chances? For us to be parked at the traffic lights, for the fire to be at the stage it was, for the ambulance to be where it was.
“It was a success story, a good result.”