Belfast Telegraph

Ex-fireman recalls saving life of young girl who's now his nurse

By Donna Deeney

Almost 40 years after Wilby McClelland helped rescue a five-year-old girl from a blaze in her home, the pair were reunited in a hospital ward where she now works as a nurse.

A fire broke out at Roisin Roddy's home in Millar Street, Londonderry in June 1980 and Wilby was part of the fire service crew attending the incident.

Inside the house, which was well ablaze, a very frightened five-year-old Roisin was hiding from the flames under a rug.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the former fireman said: "Roisin really saved her own life when she got under that carpet because she created a pocket of air that kept her going until we reached her.

"I remember well going into the room which was well ablaze and seeing the carpet move.

"I grabbed her and she was in a bad way, so I ran up the street to the ambulance crew with her.

"I never followed it up at the time, it was our job and you just did your job but I never forgot her."

Young Roisin was rushed to Altnagelvin Hospital, but the ambulance crew had to resuscitate her no fewer than three times before they reached the doors of the hospital.

She was later transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital for six weeks, but she now has little recollection of the trauma.

"I don't remember too much about what happened except I couldn't get the door open because it must have swollen," Roisin said.

"My mammy and daddy thought I was out playing so they didn't even know I was in the house.

"Someone saw me at the window and that's how they knew I was inside.

"I remember smelling smoke and I was choking so I knew I was in trouble. But I don't recall much more than that until I was in hospital and even then I really only remember leaving hospital with my mind made up that I wanted to be a nurse."

Rosin did indeed become a nurse and was on duty at Altnagelvin's Sperrin Unit where Wilby is receiving treatment.

"I was chatting to Wilby and he asked me if I was related to anyone in the Fire Service. I told him no, but then I asked him if he had been a fireman," the nurse said.

"I haven't spoken to very many people about what happened to me, but when Wilby said he was a fireman I told him that I had been in a fire in Millar Street and was rescued.

"He got a wee bit emotional and said that was him. I couldn't speak for a minute but then I asked 'did you save my life?' and he said 'well, there was a couple of us there'."

Summing up how events have come a full circle for Roisin and Wilby, he said: "In my younger days, I looked after Roisin and now she is looking after me."

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