Dad hailed a hero for saving 17 from a burning building

Mayor and Mayoress of South Ribble, Jim and Susan Marsh, Chief Fire officer Peter Holland, Ben Johnston and his mum Rachel Johnston
Mayor and Mayoress of South Ribble, Jim and Susan Marsh, Chief Fire officer Peter Holland, Ben Johnston and his mum Rachel Johnston

A heroic Leyland dad has relived the terrifying moment he helped save 17 people from a burning building.

Ben Johnston, 23, risked his own life to warn tenants of a block of flats about the inferno.

He was commended for his bravery by the Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service last week, and has spoken to the Guardian for the first time about the ordeal.

The dad-of-two said: “I was staying at my girlfriend’s at Cedar Court and woke up at around 3am to get my daughter a drink.

“I heard someone screaming upstairs, so I told my girlfriend to get our children outside, and knock on all the doors she past on the way down.

“We were on the first floor, and I ran up to the second floor where the hallway was on fire.”

He was met with a wall of black smoke and heat, but carried on with the rescue.

“It was really hot,” he said. “But all I could think about was all the children asleep in their beds.

“Because I’m a dad, I was just worried about their safety, and I knew that some families were trapped.

“I shouted and banged on the doors to wake them up, but I couldn’t get past the fire.”

Firefighters arrived soon after, and Ben told them where the people were trapped in the East Street building.

The fire had been started deliberately, and firefighters rescued 17 people during the incident on May 30 last year.

Nine needed hospital treatment as result of smoke inhalation, including Ben.

Ben said: “I don’t really feel like I did anything brave, because I didn’t manage to get anyone out myself, but I did wake them up.

“The firefighters used a ladder to reach some of the people.”

Ben, who has three-year-old daughter Rachel and four-year-old son Ryan with girlfriend Rebecca, was presented with an award from the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire in recognition of his bravery.

He attended the ceremony at Leyland Fire Station on Thursday, with proud mum Rachel.

He said: “I was really gobsmacked that I was given an award, and I didn’t realise the whole night was just for me.

“There were speeches and I was given my certificate and some flowers, and it was a really great night.”

A spokesman for the Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service said: “Without Mr Johnston’s intervention, the outcome of this fire could have been very bleak.

“In a situation like this, there really is no time to lose, and Mr Johnston provided vital information to get our crews to where the residents were trapped.

“With all the smoke and heat around, his commitment was astonishing and he really went the extra mile.

“We’re relieved he wasn’t hurt, and we believe his contribution was literally life-saving.”