A man who accidentally burnt down his own house has become a firefighter in an astonishing U-turn.
Paul O’Brien, 47, put a £2 disposable grill in his wheelie bin and then went to bed in June 2021. However, it wasn’t long before he was awoken by his screaming girlfriend and banging on the front door.
Thankfully Paul and his partner scrambled out of the property in Lytham, Lancashire unharmed, taking their two-year-old and eight-year-old sons with them, as their home succumbed to the flames.
Explaining the devastation, Paul said: “Looking out of our bedroom, you could see the two kids’ bedrooms, and it was just bright orange.”
He added: “Because we opened the front door, the oxygen came in and the fire just went whoosh, and the smoke just engulfed the house. It felt like we were there for an hour. In reality, it was three or four minutes.”
The potentially fatal evening began with Paul welcoming friends into his home to watch England vs Russia in the football. After using the disposable barbecue – which he said “felt cold” to touch – he put it in his wheelie bin and went back indoors.
Paul, who is grateful to be alive, is now an on-call firefighter in Lytham as a way of “giving back to the community”.
However the fire cost the family nearly all their possessions and they were forced to live in temporary accommodation for two years.
Paul said: “I thought I knew how long the coals could smoulder for. I was wrong. There was just one little rogue ember in there even though it had been out for ten hours and a £2 barbecue caused over £100,000 of damage to my home. If you do use one, submerge it in water to be certain it is no longer burning.”
Paul and his family have moved back into the £250,000 home after a two-year absence and he’s joined the Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service as a way to “give back” to his local area.
He’s now got plenty of fire safety tips, perhaps the most salient of which relates to the disposal of barbecues.
He explained: “You think you know how to put out a barbeque, you think you’ve done the right thing. The barbecue had been out for ten hours and you put it in the bin.
“There was obviously just one little rogue ember in there that wasn’t out. It caused a hundred thousand pounds worth of damage just from this £2 barbeque.”
“We lost probably 95 percent of our possessions – photos and memories and just all the kids’ toys and clothes, all of that just went.
“[But] we got out – that was the main thing.”
He added about joining the fire service: “It feels like I’m giving something back after what happened.
“Anything with hot coals – firepits, disposable barbeques – put water on it and make sure that they’re out.
“I thought they were out, and they weren’t, and we lost everything because of it.”