Fatal house fire heroes to be officially recognised

By Rosaleen Macbrayne

Fire safety officers and police believe the house fire was started by a laptop. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Fire safety officers and police believe the house fire was started by a laptop. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Two Paraparaumu Beach neighbours who saved the life of a young boy trapped in a tragic house fire are in line for official recognition for their bravery.

Mark Gosnell and Duncan Chisholm were congratulated by Coroner Ian Smith on their "heroic efforts" when they gave evidence today at a Wellington inquest into the death of the boy's mother, Roselle Santos Ramirez.

The 25-year-old died in her burning rented house on April 13 last year. Seven-year-old Jordan was rescued by the two men after they smashed the master bedroom window. His sister, Reyna, 5, was found by firefighters hiding in a wardrobe and their mother was lying on the floor nearby. All three had been sleeping in the same room that night.

The seriously ill children were flown to Auckland's Starship Hospital, where they were treated for smoke inhalation.

They were now "thriving in their father's care" with no ongoing health problems, the coroner was told.

Mr Gosnell and Mr Chisholm did not expect such a positive outcome when they were trying frantically to find the youngsters as the house blazed soon after 12.30am.

Mr Gosnell managed to force open a small hinged window of the main bedroom. He could hear a child "sort of whimpering periodically" but could not see anyone because of the thick smoke.

In desperation, Mr Chisholm grabbed a steel-legged chair from the patio and hit the big window with it, but it "bounced off."

A second attempt shattered the glass into big shards.

Once the glass was cleared, the two men could see a boy inside underneath the window. The shards were lying on him near his head and neck and there appeared to be a lot of blood.

Said Mr Chisholm: "I felt really sick. He (Jordan) was not responsive. I thought he was dead and I had killed him."

Mr Gosnell leaned through the window frame and reached the little boy, who was lying in a small space between a double bed and a wardrobe.

By then emergency services had arrived and took over.

"It is a tough situation to be in," said the Coroner, commending the men for not entering the house or opening doors.

"It was a very sensible way to try and help by breaking the window. Both of you quite clearly saved the life of the young boy."

Specialist fire investigator Peter Fox, who also gave evidence at the inquest, said he believed there were "moves underway" to officially recognise the courage of the two neighbours.

Mr Fox said the cause of the house fire was undetermined but was possibly from an electrical source in the lounge.

It had been impossible to confirm a smoke alarm had been installed at the entry to the house. The fitting for a second alarm was in the bedroom where the fire started, with the alarm found underneath the base of Ms Ramirez's bed.

Evidence was given that the battery had gone flat the night before the fire. When the alarm started beeping in the afternoon, Ms Ramirez had taken out the battery.

Coroner Smith has reserved his decision into the cause of her death.

- APNZ

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