FIRE magazine profiles ten standout nominees for this year's Spirit of Fire awards, who, like every nominee in all eight categories, have shown outstanding dedication and bravery often in the most difficult of situations.

Fire Fighter Mike Barton: Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service 

Mike Barton is a fire fighter based at Barrow who, whilst off duty, was one of the first on the scene at the Keswick Coach Crash which involved a coach carrying schoolchildren and a car. Tragically the driver of the car was killed and two children on the coach lost their lives, whilst many more were seriously injured.  

The scene Mike encountered was extremely harrowing but he immediately started the rescue process whilst waiting for his on duty colleagues from the emergency services to arrive. Mike reviewed the situation, kept in touch with Fire Control, and as the rescue crews arrived he was able to brief them with the relevant facts and actions required so they were able to start the rescue process immediately.  

Mike's prompt actions ensured that the right help and assistance was soon on its way. He continued to assist in the rescue working tirelessly alongside his comrades. To come across such a horrific event would be overwhelming for many, whatever their training, but Mike kept a clear head and acted with great professionalism in the face of a scene of utter carnage.  

Station Manager Keith Merchant: London Fire Brigade  

Keith Merchant was off duty when he risked his life to pull an elderly neighbour from a blazing flat in Brentwood, Essex.  

Keith, a 52-year-old station manager for London Fire Brigade, was at home when the smoke alarm actuated from the flat on the opposite side of the road. He looked out of his window and saw a neighbour knocking loudly at the door of the ground floor flat and shouting through the letterbox. 

Fortunately, Keith was aware that an elderly man lived alone in the flat. Without hesitation, Keith and his wife, a nurse, went to the 86-year-old's assistance and asked his neighbour to call the Fire Brigade. Keith looked through the letter box and saw that the hallway was heavily smoke logged with flames coming from the bedroom; he could also hear the man murmuring from behind the door.  

Thankfully a neighbour had a key for the property and Keith tried to open the door, but without success, as the deadlock was on. Keith used a paving slab to break a small glass panel on the door, which enabled him to unlock it from the inside. He then tried to force open the door, but this proved difficult as the man had collapsed and was leaning against it. When Keith eventually gained access the smoke had increased significantly and it was essential to quickly drag the man outside.  

Once Keith had successfully rescued the elderly gentleman, his wife Ruth checked for vital signs and looked after the casualty until the ambulance arrived.       

Gareth Cooke: Hull, East Yorkshire (Public Hero) 

Gareth Cooke (28) turned superhero after embarking on a daring early morning roof top dash to save a neighbour from a burning building. Gareth had let his dogs out after returning home from the pub in the early hours when their barking made him come into his back garden. He heard the yells for help from a nearby street and leapt into action with no thought for his personal safety. 

Gareth, who stands at 5ft 10in tall, scaled a 6ft wall in his back garden before jumping on to the extension of the house backing on to his. Then, as if embroiled in an action film, he began to scramble across a row of single-storey kitchen and toilet roofs until he reached the stricken man. 

After leaping across about eight houses, some with a gap of 4ft between them, Gareth was faced with choking black smoke pouring from the window. He first tried to pull the distressed resident, who was in his 20s, out of the small opening but the smoke pushed him back. 

In a stroke of quick-thinking Gareth, of Hull, East Yorks, kicked the bottom window in and, after removing the glass, dragged the man on to the roof until the emergency services arrived. He asked the young man if there were any more people in the house and was told another two were inside. 

Just as Gareth was about to clamber back through the window to help them, a fireman in a respirator appeared through the smoke and indicated he would look for them. The other men, also in their 20s, were soon rescued by fire fighters on ladders. A fifth man who had entered the front of the house to try and help was also rescued by the fire service and a cat and dog also escaped the house unharmed. All of the men were taken to Hull Royal Infirmary and treated for smoke inhalation.   

John Mason: Hunts Cross, Liverpool   

Heroic passer-by John Mason and his friend, Nick Passmore, rescued a mum and her three young children from a serious house fire last February.  

John Mason (26) was at his friend's house in February this year, when they went outside for a cigarette and spotted a fire up the street. Whilst his friend went to ring 999, John ran towards the blaze and saw a woman - who he later learned to be 28-year-old Laura Bates - in the upstairs room.  

Laura, along with her three children (aged 7 years, 18 months, and just 4 months old), became trapped when her terraced home in Old Swan caught fire. John went through the house of a neighbour to access the back of Laura's house and used an abandoned fridge to help him climb up onto a flat roof extension.  

The heat was so intense that the PVC frame windows were melting, so John pushed the whole window through.  Laura passed her 18-month-old daughter to John, whilst flames were licking at his feet, before her 8-year-old daughter jumped out. John helped her down, but the frightened mum was still inside with her four month old son. 

John returned to the window and took hold of the baby so that the mother could climb out whilst he had both the young daughter and the baby in his arms. John passed them both down and saw Ms Bates was safe before getting down himself. 

  Matt Hancock, Mark Lingard, Ray Molyneux, and Tony Sullivan: Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service 

A group of four fighters from Birchwood Fire Station gave up all their holiday time to take on a gruelling 3,435 mile challenge in aid of The Fire Fighters Charity.  Matt Hancock, Mark Lingard, Ray Molyneux and Tony Sullivan successfully completed the USA Coast to Coast bike ride in 2010.      

Taking over four years to plan, the team cycled from Astoria on the West coast of America, to New York on the East coast. They cycled over the Hudson River and passed through Central Park and Times Square before their Statue of Liberty finishing line came into view.  Averaging over 81 miles a day the team completed the trip in 49 days - a staggering 42 of which were spent in the saddle, with the longest day being 120 miles.     

During the entire trip the team had no support vehicle and they carried all their supplies and equipment with them, spending each night lodging with 42 different Fire Departments across America and Canada. Their journey saw them climb mountains with a 10% gradient and summits over 9,500ft high - but they all agreed that the hardest thing about the whole trip was being away from their families.   

The team also organised a variety of fundraising events including bag packs, car washes, race evenings and collection days. So far the USA Coast to Coast bike ride has raised over £12,500 but the team hopes to increase this to £20,000 when all money is collected and subsidiary events have been completed.   

Erin McNeill: Clackmannanshire in Scotland 

Erin McNeill was seriously injured in a fire at a friends' home in February 2009 when she was just 19. Erin was trapped upstairs in the house and had to be rescued by crews from Alloa Fire Station. Flames from the fire did not make it upstairs but the family were told the heat was estimated to be around 600 degrees and it was the heat in the smoke itself which burned Erin. When she realised she was trapped in a fire, Erin recalled advice about the floor being the safest place to be and got down, covering herself with a duvet. Erin was left fighting for life as a result of total organ failure, receiving between 30 and 40 per cent burns to her body and only being able to breathe through a ventilator following the blaze.  

Erin, who was about to sign to an agency as a Celine Dion impersonator when the fire happened, spent 70 days in intensive care and 94 in the burns unit during her five and a half month stay in hospital. In that period she also contracted MRSA, pneumonia, and lost her hair through stress.  

Permanently disfigured, doctors considered amputating Erin's entire right arm and her left forearm before settling on the pioneering surgery, where shark skin is used to trick the human body into growing skin cells. She has undergone over 10 operations, with more to come in the future.  

In addition to the huge achievement of surviving this horrific fire, Erin has thrown herself into working voluntarily to help others. In her first year of recovery, she raised £3,000 for The Fire Fighters Charity and additional funds for the Glasgow Royal Infirmary through her fundraising efforts.  

Steve Moore: Follow That Fire Engine!  

In 2009, retired fire fighter Garth Moore passed away following a brave battle with lung cancer. Garth had served as a fire fighter at Wimborne Fire Station in Dorset, dedicating his life to fighting fires and saving the lives of others over a 33 year service.  His son Steve, wanting to honour his father's memory, planned a trip never attempted before: 1 fire engine, 9 months, 30,000 miles, 28 countries, and 5 continents. 

Steve rallied a team of friends and supporters to join him at different stages of his epic journey, dedicating their own time and travel costs, to ensure that 100% of the trip's fundraising activities went directly to the three charities nominated, which included The Fire Fighters Charity.  The crew left London on 18th July 2010, heading east around the globe. In a vehicle designed for short, high speed trips, not for comfort, the crew travelled through Europe, Asia, Australia, South America, North America and Africa, before hitting Europe and heading home. The crew shared their adventures in daily blogs and through social networking sites. 

They arrived back in Greenwich on a beautifully sunny afternoon on 10th April 2011 to be greeted by hundreds of supporters. The team made headlines all over the world and in the British media throughout their journey and raised £120,000 to date with the money continuing to come in. 

As well as raising this phenomenal amount, Steve and the crew set the record for the longest journey in a fire engine - a staggering 31,663 miles! Look out for them in the Guinness Book of World Records this year! 

Connor Rowntree: Sunderland (Child hero) 

Connor Rowntree was only 15 when he sustained life-threatening injuries after a blaze broke out at his friend's house in St Matthew's Terrace, Newbottle, Sunderland. When fire fighters arrived at the scene, Connor was unrecognisable to his father and he suffered 90 per cent burns as the flames engulfed his body. The teenager's scalp and the soles of his feet were the only parts of his body which were not horrifically burnt in the terrifying accident on May 17 2009.  

Connor was left fighting for his life. He caught an infection, his lungs collapsed and he had fluid on his lungs. He was repeatedly in and out of intensive care and was not expected to survive. It has been a long battle for Connor who came close to losing his fight a dozen times during his 11 month stay in hospital and he has had nearly 100 skin grafts and operations. He still needs to wear a pressure suit to protect his healing skin and he is learning to live with his scars. Connor has recently had further reconstructive surgery to his face and neck in the RVI hospital in Newcastle.  

Connor Rowntree is an extraordinarily special young man who has battled against the odds and is a true survivor in every sense. Unselfishly, he has put his suffering to one side to help Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service warn other youngsters not to mess with fire on Bonfire Night. He helped to front the 2010 Bonfires and Fireworks campaign by allowing Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service to make a hard hitting documentary about his story to say to others "Don't let this happen to you".   

Alisha Williams:PenrhynBay, Llandudno  

Fire chiefs and neighbours hailed teenager Alisha Williams a heroine for rescuing her two sisters from a blaze at their home.  Alisha (13) threw the laptop she received as a Christmas present through a downstairs window of the semi-detached house in Trafford Park, Penrhyn Bay. 

Alisha then helped her sister Louise (8) out of the window then passed baby Sophia through it before breaking another window to make her own escape. The 13 year old then raised the alarm and told neighbours, who heard her screams for help, that her mum and two other adults were still in the house. 

Three men tried to get into the house but were beaten back by thick, black smoke. The children were all sleeping in a downstairs bedroom of the semi-detached house when Alisha was woken by a smoke alarm.  Her actions helped to ensure she and her two sisters escaped safely. She notified the fire and rescue service of the fact there were a further three adults in the upstairs of the building. The three adults were carried to safety by fire fighters.   

Runcorn Fire Station (White Watch): Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service  

In January 2010, White Watch at Runcorn Fire Station set themselves an objective to raise funds for The Fire Fighters Charity and Help for Heroes. The main focus of their fundraising was to run two marathons in two days, whilst carrying an appliance ladder complete with a mascot.  

The whole watch started the event in sunny Chester and ended it in rainy Liverpool some 56 miles later. They shook collection buckets as they ran and were supported by fire fighters from both Cheshire and Merseyside. On completion of this 'feet' of endurance all participants were understandably in pain and exhausted, as would be the case for weeks.  

The funds raised by the marathons were also supplemented by car washes, raffles, sponsorships, and a sell-out charity Gala resulting in the watch achieving their outstanding target of £10,000 by September 2010. Relentless in their desire to raise funds, this year White Watch arranged a 'Blue Night Fight Night' which saw them entering the ring for the first time to fight against colleagues from the Police at a sell-out sports night.   


Posted on October 03 2011 at 1530 by Richard. Comment by emailing: