Quick-thinking Cheshire East Council staff ran into a burning block of flats to help rescue residents as a blaze tore through the building.
Staff at the Council’s Westfields offices leapt into action on Wednesday afternoon (August 31) when the fire started at Saxon Place – directly opposite the council building.
John Watts, Andrea Weaver, Kate Carson and Jenny Williamson were working on the ground floor of the offices when they spotted smoke billowing from a second-floor window and flames inside the flat on Middlewich Road, Sandbach.
Jenny, who works in the Council’s adult social care Smart team, dialed 999, while colleague John and Kate and Andrea from the reablement team dashed across the main road to raise the alarm.
Andrea said: “The building’s fire alarm hadn’t gone off, so our first thought was we needed to get everyone out. We banged on windows until eventually someone let us in and we then began going door to door and clearing the building. Everything happened so fast but you just don’t have time to think in these situations – your natural instinct is just to help.”
Meanwhile, John and Kate headed to the second floor, to the flat which was the source of the fire.
John said: “You’re just totally acting on instinct and running on adrenalin. It all happened really quickly. We banged on the door and shouted that there was a fire and once the lady who lived there answered we quickly led her outside.
“She was really shook up but thankfully wasn’t hurt and was just checked out at the scene by the ambulance. It was such a relief when you realise no one is in immediate danger.”
By this point other Cheshire East Council staff had brought out chairs and drinks for the shocked residents of the flats.
Fire crews, an ambulance and the police were quickly on the scene and once all residents were safely outside, Andrea and Kate began dealing with the traffic build up, which was impacting on Middlewich Road.
Kate said: “Andrea and I then took it upon ourselves to start directing the traffic outside the flats as the fire engines parked on the road meant only one lane was clear for traffic to get through. You don’t really think in these circumstances you just act.
“You don’t have time to be scared – and it’s only afterwards you realise what you’ve done.”
Kate and Andrea were still at the scene helping the police direct traffic more than two hours after the fire started.
Andrea added: “It was only after it was all over that we had a moment to take it all in. The two of us actually broke down in tears and started shaking. I think it was the first point we’d had to reflect on what had happened. You just don’t see yourself as being heroic.
“The whole ethos of our team is about helping people out who are in difficult circumstances so you just get stuck in and do what needs to be done.”
Council Leader Rachel Bailey said: “Our staff acted quickly and selflessly to ensure the safety of others. They are the living embodiment of this Council’s commitment to put ‘residents first’. All four of them should be proud of their actions, as we all are.”
Council Chief Executive Mike Suarez said: “Our staff responded quickly, effectively and bravely to this frightening incident. It’s clear their quick-thinking actions have helped to prevent a dreadful situation from turning into a real tragedy.
“On behalf of the Council I’d like to thank them for what they did. They are a credit to Cheshire East.”