Ex-councillor helps smash door of smoke-filled house to rescue two men from fire
The quick reactions of a former Belfast councillor saved the lives of two young men in Belfast's Holyland area this week, it can be revealed.
Declan Boyle, a former SDLP councillor who is a landlord in the student area, said he and contractors were working on a property in Carmel Street when they spotted smoke billowing from one of the small terrace houses.
"As I was driving round last Monday I saw a lot of smoke coming out of a top window," he said.
"I pulled up - we were working on a house nearby - and raised the alarm with my workers to come and help me.
"We knocked and knocked the door, but there was no answer. So I said to my men: 'Away and get a lump hammer and a crowbar, we'd need to get in her and see what's happened'.
"We had to break the front door open and were able to alert the two boys who were inside, who then ran out the back of the house."
The fire had taken hold in the hallway of the small house at the heart of the city's Holyland area, preventing the occupants from escaping into the street by the front door, Mr Boyle said.
Once the homes of artisans, houses in the narrow street at the rear of Queen's University are now almost totally occupied by students.
"The young fellow upstairs jumped out the back window. We asked him if there was anybody else in the house, and he assured us that there had been just the two people inside.
"We asked: 'Are you sure?' And he said 'Yes, yes, absolutely!'"
The Fire Service arrived within minutes, said Declan, who owns a number of rental properties in the area.
Worryingly, the fire alarms in the Carmel Street house had not gone off because the blaze had started in the alarm panel itself, mounted near the front door.
"All the bells, the 'break glass', the smoke alarms, they were all there - but they never activated because the alarm control box itself had melted and started the fire," Declan said.
"That was strange - everything was there, but because the box was at the front door it had melted and dropped off the wall to burn."
Luckily, one of the bedroom windows upstairs - in a room that was unoccupied - was open, which allowed the smoke to escape.
"If it hadn't been open the smoke would have been contained within the property, and the effects could have been very bad," he said.
A Fire Service spokesman said firefighters used breathing apparatus and a hose reel jet to extinguish the fire.
Two males were treated for smoke inhalation.
The incident brought home the importance of fire safety, Declan said, especially in shared houses.
"I don't believe people realise how smoke, and the ferocity of it, and the contamination coming from a thing just the size of a lunchbox can affect you," he said.
"The heat that came off it was fierce.
"One of the messages I want to get out there is about closing doors at night-time. I do it myself religiously before I go to bed for that very reason."
The former councillor said he was just glad to have been able to help.
"I was in the area, I was there, in the right place at the right time, and there was a successful result," he said.
"The house can always be repaired, repatched and repainted, but people can't. While the result was great, in a very short space of time it could easily have been so much worse."