Rescue hero fails to save toddler from fire

2012-07-13 00:00

PURE adrenalin helped a former fire chief rip wooden poles from the ground to break burglar guards in a bid to rescue a mother and her children from a burning house in Hillcrest on Wednesday evening.

Gabby Diedericks said yesterday that after he and others pulled the pregnant Tara Blignaut and her oldest son, Wade (7), through the window, they took turns to enter the smoke-filled house to find three-year-old Riley.

The fourth time, when it was his turn to go back inside, he found Riley in a corner of the bedroom.

Riley was unconscious and despite 40 minutes’ struggle, he could not be resuscitated. He was declared dead on the front lawn.

Diedericks said yesterday: “If only I’d found him five seconds earlier … if I’d got him the first time … If my son had been at home, it could have ended so differently.”

Despite his 27 years’ experience as a fire fighter, he was devastated by little Riley’s death.

“I just don’t have any answers,” he said.

His daughter-in-law, Gaylene, who lives a few doors from the Blignauts in Waterfall, was putting her baby to bed at 7.30 pm on Wednesday when she heard screams.

“I thought someone was being murdered. When I went outside, I heard her screaming, ‘Someone help! My house is on fire! We can’t get out!’,” she said.

Because her husband, who is also a fireman, was on duty in Durban, she phoned her father-in-law.

Diedericks snr lives about three kilometres away. Other neighbours also heard Blignaut’s screams and rushed to help.

Diedericks said Charl Koen forced open the security gate on the front door. The main fire was in the living room.

“I don’t know how he did it,” said Diedericks.

He ripped gum poles from a jungle gym out of the ground to force open the burglar guards on the window of the room where Blignaut and her sons were.

When she was pulled to safety, she had already suffered burns on her back. Wade was also rescued on their first try.

Then Diedericks, Koen and a guard from Blue Security took turns going in to look for Riley.

Roof tiles were removed to allow smoke to escape and ease the search.

Melvin Ramlal, regional commander of the fire brigade at Pinetown, said the fire was confined to the living room.

Blignaut and her children were already outside when the fire brigade arrived and it quickly extinguished the flames.

Diedericks said he tried to revive Riley for about 20 minutes before paramedics arrived and took over.

He helped them for another 10 minutes, but then could not continue, because his lungs were too full of smoke.

André Visser of ER24 said Wade suffered only scrapes and cuts. Blignaut was in a stable condition in Hillcrest Private Hospital with moderate burns.

Her husband, Brian, was on his way back from Sudan, where he is working.

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