Bravery award for firefighter

A HERO firefighter who risked his life to try and save two men trapped in a disused fuel tank received a top bravery award last night.But Philip Johnston said his thoughts were with the families of the two victims, who lost their lives in the incident in March.

A HERO firefighter who risked his life to try and save two men trapped in a disused fuel tank received a top bravery award last night.

But Philip Johnston said his thoughts were with the families of the two victims, who lost their lives in the incident in March.

Mr Johnston, 34, received a Chief Fire Officer's commendation for courageous or exemplary conduct at an awards night for Suffolk's public protection workers.

He was lowered into the fuel tank at Lake Lothing in Oulton Broad, without breathing apparatus as the gap was too small to fit through. The breathing gear was dropped into the tank after him. It is believed to be the only time this procedure has been followed in brigade history. But the crew's efforts were in vain as Charles Buckenham, 52, and his stepfather Brian Dove, 55, died through lack of oxygen.


You may also want to watch:


"It was extremely nerve-wracking," said Mr Johnston, who has been a firefighter at Lowestoft for just two-and-a-half years.

"There were two guys in the tank and we didn't know if they were alive or dead. We didn't even know what was down there, gases or whatever.

Most Read

"I was asked to go down into the tank. You have the right to say no – it's not the Army – but I didn't. It was just as hard a decision for my officers to ask me to do it and my crew was there to back me up.

"I didn't sleep too well that night but I've had no after-effects. It does get mentioned a lot at work. It is just unfortunate that it is associated with such a tragic incident.

"It's nice to be recognised and I'm happy to accept it, but it's really for the whole of the crew and my thoughts are with the victims' families."

Retained firefighter Andrew Armes also received a certificate for his role in the operation.

The ceremony at Ipswich's County Hall, saw Chief Fire Officer Malcolm Alcock present certificates of merit to control operators Sharon Langley and Elizabeth Tinson for their handling of calls from people who were trapped by fire.

Firefighters at Haverhill were also recognised for their project work on mass decontamination. Officers from Stowmarket, Debenham, Princes Street in Ipswich and Stradbroke, received RSPCA certificates for their actions after a lorry transporting pigs overturned on the A140.

The ceremony also honoured companies which have released employees to do retained firefighter duties and saw newly-qualified trading standards officers receiving certificates.

Two officers, Paul Craven and Dave Pearsons, were honoured for more than 20 years service and Reg Ruffles was recognised with an award for his "tenacity and determination". The ceremony ended with fire service long service and good conduct medals.

Peter Monk, portfolio holder for public protection on Suffolk County Council, said: "These people are a credit to their professions, the county council and the county of Suffolk."

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter