91-year-old heroine saves 97-year-old neighbour from fire in Knowle
WHEN a 97-year-old Bristol pensioner's flat filled with smoke, his salvation came from an unlikely source – his 91-year-old neighbour.
Despite her age and small frame, Jessamine Skuse bravely saved Evan Davis and prevented a potential disaster at St Martin's Close in Knowle.
She helped her neighbour – who had only recently been discharged from hospital – from his flat and lifted him onto a mobility aid while they waited for the fire brigade to arrive.
Afterwards, rescue staff said her actions could well have saved Mr Davis' life, as smoke inhalation can kill quickly.
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Miss Skuse's swift actions meant the fire brigade could get to the flats – home to many elderly people – and extinguish a smouldering tea towel before it burst into flames.
And the modest pensioner counts her blessings that waking up early allowed her to spot, and smell, the danger.
She told The Post: "I wake up at 6am every day because I worked for 40 years and it's programmed into my body clock.
"That was very fortunate because at about 6.30am, I could smell smoke.
"I went out into the corridor and I could smell it out there too, but I didn't know where it was coming from. I came back to my flat to see if I'd left anything on, but I hadn't.
"I went back out and could see the smoke coming from under Evan Davis' door. I banged and banged and shouted to him and he said 'just a minute'.
"When he opened the door he was on the floor and the flat was absolutely full of smoke. It was such a shock – it was billowing out.
"Evan went back in and sat down in his front room, not realising how dangerous it was.
"I went over and grabbed him by the arm and said 'Come on, Evan'. I put my arm around him and helped him out of the door and he said 'Where are we going?' so I said 'It's all right, come with me'.
"I got him out into the corridor and went and got a shop mobility aid for him to sit on, but by the time I did that he was on the floor again.
"I managed to pull him up and sit him down, but he was very heavy, then I got him a glass of water and waited for the fire brigade to arrive.
"He asked 'Are we in the BRI?' and I said 'No, we're in St Martin's'. He'd been at the BRI three days before and he thought he was still there.
"It was a good job I was up early because otherwise Evan could have died in all that smoke.
"And if his flat had caught fire it could have spread to all of our flats.
"These are private flats with People For Places. We don't have a warden here all the time, so if I'd been up any later there would have been no way of me getting in if he couldn't answer the door.
"I had a bit of coughing from the smoke, but I'm all right now."
Mr Davis was taken to hospital suffering with smoke inhalation and has not yet returned home.
Avon Fire & Rescue crews from Brislington and Temple stations used a CO2 extinguisher on what was believed to have been a tea towel Mr Davis had left on a lamp to dry.
Miss Skuse, who lives alone, worked for the civil service in The Pithay for 40 years and was proud to receive the Imperial Service Medal (ISM).
From 1942 to 1947, she served her country with the 80th Searchlight Regiment – a time that taught her to be calm in an emergency.
"Being in the Army definitely taught me a lot," she added. "I don't think I would still be here today if I hadn't gone into the Army. It teaches you to keep calm in emergencies, keeps you fit and teaches you discipline. We used to get up early and do 12-mile route marches."
Miss Skuse doesn't have any children, but dotes on her many nieces and nephews.
Still active and healthy, every Sunday she rings one of the bells at St Martin's Church, which is next to the flats, and during the Olympics last summer managed to ring the bell for three-minutes non-stop to mark the event.
Relieved she was able to help Mr Davis, her neighbour of 11 years, she added: "You've got to be alert even though you get older. You've still got to care for one another, because a lot of people don't."
Avon Fire & Rescue spokesman James Bladon said: "There is little doubt the actions of Miss Skuse played a significant part in averting a much more serious incident.
"Just a couple of breaths of smoke in a house fire is enough to kill, so the sooner you can get to a place of fresh air, the better.
"Although we would never advise anyone to enter a property that's on fire, we thank Miss Skuse for the part she played that morning.
"Not everyone is fortunate enough to have such a quick-thinking neighbour, which is why installing smoke alarms on every level of your home and testing them on a regular basis is so important.
"Smoke alarms provide vital early warning of a fire, allowing you and your loved ones time to escape safely.
"Avon Fire & Rescue Service visits the homes of those at most risk, to provide home fire safety advice and fit smoke detectors if required.
"For more information on fire safety, call 0117 926 2061 or visit www.avonfire.gov.uk."