Earlier this week a sadly horrific story appeared in the news about a major gas explosion in a residential street in Shaw, Manchester. It quickly became apparent that a two year old boy, Jamie Heaton, died in the blast – watching television whilst his mum hung the washing out in the back garden.
The cause of the blast, which totally destroyed two homes in the road, is still being investigated by Greater Manchester Police and other agencies. It is widely believed a faulty boiler was to blame and a man, thought to be a gas Installer, has been arrested in connection with the incident so it’s not right to comment on that side of things whilst the enquiries continue.
It’s now been revealed that the first emergency workers on the scene were three undercover police officers who were in a nearby street. The following extract is borrowed from the Manchester Evening News :
Three undercover police officers risked their lives to search for survivors in the wreckage of the blast-hit homes, the M.E.N. can reveal. The plain-clothed officers were in a car on a routine patrol nearby when the explosion erupted.
They were first on the scene – and immediately saw Andrew Partington, 27, trapped in the rubble. Tragic toddler Jamie Heaton’s mum Michelle was ‘distraught’ nearby and screaming for help, police chiefs revealed.
One officer focused on Mr Partington as the two others ran into the ruins of the Heaton family home, No 11 Buckley Street. They used torches to fight their way through thick dust and debris.
Michelle, 31, was in the yard hanging out washing at the time and Jamie – described by his family as a ‘happy loving boy’ – is believed to have been alone in a front living room watching television.
Police said the two officers crawled through the wreckage on their hands and knees to search the rubble for Jamie. His body was located and they checked for signs of life.
Police chiefs today praised their bravery. Chief Insp Andy Harty said ‘instinct’ took over and all three officers acted without any thought for their own safety.
He said: “Three plain-clothed police officers were on a routine patrol nearby when they saw the absolute devastation.
“They immediately ran to the scene and saw the man who was trapped under the rubble and that Jamie’s mother was absolutely distraught. The officers began to evacuate residents from their homes and as soon as they heard that Jamie was also trapped, instinct took over and without any thought for their own safety two of the officers went into the destroyed building, crawling on their hands and knees to find Jamie.
“Although they found Jamie, sadly it was too late and there was nothing they could do.
“The officers risked their lives to find that little boy and are clearly very distressed by what happened and that they were unable to save Jamie.
“I know their thoughts are with Jamie’s family following this awful tragedy.”
I know some will say that they were ‘just doing their job’ but that is exactly my point – it’s not just a job we do …. would you; immediately after a major explosion; one big enough to blow up and completely destroy three houses; without knowing if there might be further explosions or risk, put your own life on the line and run towards the scene of devastation to try and help other people ??? or would you, like the vast majority of people, through their own fear, panic and inbuilt instinct for self preservation and survival .. run the other way ??
There’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of by getting as far away from the scene of danger as quickly as possible – but for dedicated police officers that’s not normally an option. You can’t train for a scenario like this; you can’t follow a Powerpoint or email quiz to test your reactions – this is just who you are.
Put yourself for a moment in the shoes of those three police officers: You’ve heard an almighty bang; found where it’s come from; the whole street is literally like a bomb site; you are there, with minimal protective equipment; there are people screaming, panicking; the noise, dust and debris is everywhere; you see a man, injured, lying in the rubble; it’s your instinct to help him.
Suddenly, you are confronted with a distraught, terrified, inconsolable woman who tells you her 2 year old child is amongst that rubble. The fire service aren’t there yet; the ambulance service aren’t there yet, other police officers aren’t there yet – it’s just you three ! What would you do ??
I just hope that the officers mention in this article, and of course all the other emergency workers and members of the public who helped in the rescue mission, and since, get properly recognised for all of their very brave efforts.
On a more positive point, can I just say just how amazing it has been that everyone in the local community has pulled together to help everyone affected by the blast. Within moments of the emergency occuring local residents and firms began to rally round. These are just a few of the stories I’ve found :
The local Asda store donated around £2,000 worth of household items and £1,000 of gift cards. Manager Andy Taylor said: “When I heard about the blast we took some water for the people at the scene. I said to the police they could send people here, we cordoned off part of the car park for police vans and put on lunch for the residents in our canteen. We sent some toasters up to the refuge centre this morning for their breakfast.”
Director of local taxi firm Borough Taxis, Imran Aslam, offered residents free trips to and from the scene and the refuge centre. “Lots of people were shocked and had glass on them,” he said. “They haven’t got access to their cars so we were just glad we were able to take part.”
Chris Donohue, manager at the Co-operative Pharmacy in the town centre, said: “We waived the fees on any prescriptions for people evacuated. We’ve been told people could need up to five days worth of prescriptions, and we’ve also donated hundreds of items of toiletries.”
Then there’s the personal stories like this:
Ten-year-old Megan Shaughnessy picked out her favourite dolls, books and teddies to bring for the children who have lost theirs. She said: “I thought the children there haven’t got anything to play with or read, I hope I can help them.” Her mother, Michelle, added: “It was Megan’s idea, she wanted to give some of her things. She said they have lost everything and she’s got lots.
Donations to help those affected by the incident can be made via the Forever Manchester’s Disaster Relief Fund. Send cheques made payable to Forever Manchester (marked Shaw) to Forever Manchester, 5th Floor Speakers House, 39 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 2BA
www.localgiving.com/forevermanchester or text Shaw01 and the amount you want to donate to 70070. A charity to support all residents affected by the explosion has also been set up by Oldham council. Donate to the Oldham Distress Fund by visiting www.oldham.gov.uk, phone 0161 770 6611 or drop cash off at Debenhams in Oldham town centre.