Rescuer praised after fire at Portstewart sheltered accommodation

The spirit of goodwill was alive and well in Portstewart on Boxing Day after a fire forced the evacuation of a sheltered accommodation complex for the elderly.

The fire broke out at Agherton Grange in Portstewart shortly before 8pm on Boxing Day. Picture courtesy of the BBC
The fire broke out at Agherton Grange in Portstewart shortly before 8pm on Boxing Day. Picture courtesy of the BBC

Around 30 residents were rescued when the blaze broke out at one of the apartment buildings at Agherton Grange on the Mill Road, shortly before 8pm.

While staff, emergency services and even the local community have been commended for their handling of the situation, housing scheme manager Tracey Barker was singled out for particular praise after bravely entering the burning building to rescue an elderly man from the fire.

Cameron Watt, CEO of Alpha Housing who operate the sheltered accommodation complex, said at the scene: “Tracey in particular put herself in danger to protect the tenant most affected by the fire.

“I think the response of not just the staff but the emergency services and the local community has been fantastic.”

He added: “She (Tracey Barker) was in the flat where the fire started helping the gentleman there to evacuate. She was very brave.”

A Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said: “Unfortunately one wing of the building has been severely damaged. The fire was prevented from spreading to the remainder of the building.

“One male casualty was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation and has been taken to hospital by ambulance. There are thankfully no reports of any other injuries.”

David Gilmour, whose 87-year-old mother was one of those rescued, was effusive in his praise for emergency services and the local community who turned out to help.

The nearby Presbyterian Church hall was opened up as the residents were moved from their homes while emergency services dealt with the blaze.

Mr Gilmour told the News Letter his mother was carried down a flight of stairs in her wheelchair by two police officers.

“Her mobility is poor,” he explained. “Two policemen had to carry her down the stairs in the wheelchair to get her to safety.

“She was pushed out on a freezing cold night and then taken to the Church hall, so it was a lot for her to take in.”

He added: “If there’s one thing to say, it’s this. The fire brigade and the PSNI, some people like to criticise them, but they were ultra professional and they couldn’t have done enough to help the residents. Absolutely superb.

“It was unbelievable. By the time I got down from Coleraine – it was only about five or 10 minutes – but by that time she was already in the church hall with a duvet around her.

“She had a cup of tea in her hand. There was biscuits there, there were scones, sandwiches. It just lifts your heart and reaffirms your faith in humanity. There are some really good people out there.”

Rev Richard Craig of Burnside Presbyterian Church said: “We brought them into the hall and got the heat on. The likes of the neighbours and church members gathered round and they brought food. They brought blankets to keep folk warm. It was wonderful to see.”