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Retired ambulance worker heroically pulls elderly Portadown neighbour from burning house

"It was a matter of seconds. We drove past the house and didn't notice anything; then all of a sudden you could see the flames engulfing the window of the room he was sitting in at the time."

Kenny Irwin Portadown
HERO: Kenny Irwin (inset) pulled his neighbour from his burning home in Portadown on Friday evening

A retired paramedic saved the life of an elderly neighbour by pulling him from his burning home in Portadown on Friday evening.

Kenny Irwin, who spent 34 years with the NI Ambulance Service, says if it wasn’t for the sheer chance he was parking up his car at that exact moment, the man – who lives on his own in Sandringham Court – would have almost certainly died.

Kenny, speaking to Armagh I, said he had been out for a drive to Warrenpoint and was returning back to the house shortly before 6pm.

“We came up the hill towards home, past the house and everything was dead, pitch black,” he recalls. “I backed the car into the garage and I looked down the hill and I saw flames coming from the house down below.

“I ran down to a neighbour; he came out too. I went down to the door of the front house and the door was open. The man in the house; he was lying in the hall. Me and another man took him by the arms and pulled him out of the house onto the paving.”

Kenny says the house was engulfed in smoke, the front living room encased in flames.

“He had tracksuit bottoms on him and the back of them seemed to be smoking a bit so I got him a couple of blankets to keep him warm – it was a very cold night.”

As Kenny raced towards the house he could hear his neighbour scream for help.

“Luckily, we had been out for a drive and came back at the time we did. It was a matter of seconds. We drove past the house and didn’t notice anything; then all of a sudden you could see the flames engulfing the window of the room he was sitting in at the time.

“He got to the hallway and couldn’t make it any further. If we hadn’t got to him when we did, the smoke would have overcome the man and he would have been dead.”

Despite years of dealing with some of the worst incidents imaginable through his work as a paramedic, Kenny says it was still a huge shock to him.

Fortunately, that instinct to help in the most dire of situations kicked in. Kenny raised the alarm with next door; told them to call the fire service and get out of the house.

“The house, I think, has been completely destroyed inside. When the fire brigade put the fire out the floor was all burnt, the window cracked with the heat and the chair he was sitting in at the time was burnt badly. I’m not sure he’ll be able to come back to that house.

“Thankfully he was conscious at the scene and thankfully it was spotted so soon or else we’d be talking about an altogether different outcome.”

Other than a bit of a dry throat the next day, Kenny didn’t suffer any physical injuries but warned, “it’s the simple things people don’t seem to realise can catch you”.

“We don’t know what happened on this occasion. [The man] doesn’t smoke and couldn’t explain what had caused the fire so it just calls for extra vigilance in the home.”

A spokesperson for the NI Ambulance Service said: “We received a 999 call at 5.43pm on Friday, January 5 following reports of an incident in the Sandringham Court area of Portadown. NIAS despatched one emergency crew to the incident.

“Following assessment and initial treatment at the scene, one patient was taken by ambulance to Craigavon Area Hospital.”

Four fire crews attended the incident; two from Portadown and one each from Lurgan and Armagh.

An NIFRS spokesperson said: “Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus used two hose reels to extinguish the fire. One casualty was out on arrival of firefighters and taken into the care of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service. The incident was dealt with by 6.29pm and the cause of the fire is believed to be accidental ignition.”

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