Belfast Telegraph

Daphne Reid tried to save husband Franklin in house fire tragedy that claimed both their lives, inquest told

By Cate McCurry

A pensioner died while rescuing her husband from a burning bedroom after his cigarette fell and ignited the carpet.

Daphne and Franklin Reid both died after the fire engulfed their Co Fermanagh home just days after Christmas last year.

The fire started in 70-year-old Franklin's bedroom when a cigarette fell on the floor while he was sleeping. Smoke had enveloped the room unknown to Daphne (66), who was having a few drinks with family friend Ellen Stewart in the living room of their home in Enniskillen on December 27.

At the inquest into their deaths yesterday, Enniskillen court heard how as Ms Stewart got up to leave they could hear Franklin shouting out for Daphne. As he suffered from mobility problems, Ms Stewart went to his room to check if he was OK, but when she opened the door a thick plume of smoke billowed out. "I could not see into the room and I shouted 'fire' and rang 999 and then I ran for help outside the house," she said. "The last I saw of Daphne was at the sitting room door."

The court heard how Daphne pulled her husband from the bedroom and brought him to the sitting room but for some unknown reason she returned to the bedroom.

Ms Stewart wiped away tears as she told the coroner she didn't think Franklin smoked in the bedroom and described them as a "happily married couple".

Coroner Joe McCrisken praised her for her actions, saying she did the right thing by calling the emergency services and getting out of the house.

Franklin, a retired lorry driver and Daphne, a retired library administrator, referred to each other by the nicknames 'mammy' and 'daddy'.

Daphne also called 999 after the fire took hold and her use of those names led the emergency services to believe there were children in the house.

Coroner McCrisken hailed the emergency services who attended the scene as "heroes" and said that their actions should be officially recognised.

A number of police officers who first attended the scene disregarded their fire training and crawled into the burning house.

PSNI Constable Daniel Finnegan described how he got on his hands and knees and held his breath as he crawled under dense smoke making his way into the house in an attempt to find anyone inside.

He said he was concerned there were children in the house and despite being told to stay out of burning properties during his fire training, it was a "personal judgment call".

However, the smoke was too thick and he had to make his way out of the house.

Enniskillen fire station commander Padraig McKeon arrived at the scene a short time later and spotted Franklin in the sitting room.

He broke down the front door using a sledge-hammer and went in to the house without wearing any breathing apparatus. He found Franklin lying on the floor in the sitting room and scooped up the elderly man and carried him out of the house.

Mr McCrisken asked the experienced firefighter to comment on the actions of the police officers. "They did what they felt was the right thing to do," he replied.

"They felt there were children inside and that puts an emotional pressure on people to react."

Fire officer Darren Johnston found Daphne lying on her back in the doorway of her husband's bedroom. Her burns were so severe from her knees to her head that she had to be identified by her teeth.

The coroner pointed out that 50% of all fires involved people who take alcohol while every six days someone in the UK dies from a fire caused by a cigarette.

Emer Cox, a solicitor representing the couple's family, thanked the emergency services on their behalf.

Belfast Telegraph


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