POLICE officers, council workers and members of the public have been praised for their part in evacuating dozens of residents from a block of flats in Rushpark during a fire last Thursday (January 12).
The blaze on the first floor of Woodland House meant residents on all 14 floors of the building had to be evacuated.
Around 40 people, many of them pensioners, were moved out of the high-rise flats after the blaze was discovered shortly before 1am.
Police officers forced entry to a number of flats in order to safely evacuate residents, who were then taken to the nearby Valley Leisure Centre as part of Newtownabbey Borough Council’s ‘emergency plan’. Council staff, Housing Executive officials and members of the public were also involved in the evacuation operation.
The fire, which started accidentally, was quickly extinguished by firefighters and one person was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.
One resident, who didn’t want to be named, told the Times: “It was a bit of a shock being woken up out of bed at that time of the morning, but the police officers and the others who helped get people out all did a great job. Thankfully there wasn’t much damage to the place and no-one was hurt, so that was the main thing.”
Freddie Ferguson, owner of Cavehill Coaches, was awoken by police at around 1.30am and asked to drive his bus to the flats and transfer residents to the Valley Leisure Centre.
“I was approached by the police in the early hours of the morning to see if I could help and I was only too glad to be able to help. If someone’s stuck and in need of help, I don’t like to see them stuck so I just did what I could and drove them (the residents) to the Valley and then brought them back again a couple of hours later.
“I think it was a learning experience for everyone, but I think it would be good if they (the authorities) had names of people on standby just in case something like this ever happens again,” he told the Times.
Praising all those involved in helping to safely evacuate the flats, PSNI Area Commander, Chief Inspector Stephen Reid said: “The fire at the Whitehouse flats is not being treated as malicious, however this in no way detracts from the bravery and kindness shown by the police officers, members of the public and council staff involved in the subsequent operation.”
Read the full story in this week’s Times...