Firefighters tell how they saved woman

Ben KendallHeroic firefighters - commended for their efforts in saving a young woman from near certain death in a Norwich bedsit - have relived the dramatic rescue.Ben Kendall

Heroic firefighters - commended for their efforts in saving a young woman from near certain death in a Norwich bedsit - have relived the dramatic rescue.

Norfolk fire service's Green Watch were praised by a judge last week as rogue landlord Michael Billings' was jailed for ignoring safety laws at a block of bedsits he owned in Magdalen Street, Norwich.

Norwich Crown Court heard that tenant 20-year-old Layla Skalli, who suffered 80pc burns in the blaze, would not have survived had it not been for the bravery of the men and women of Green Watch and the skill of medics who treated her after the rescue.

Speaking for the first time since the blaze in April last year, the team described the extreme conditions they faced.

Watch manager Clive Wells said: 'When we arrived one of the occupants was on the window sill. We managed to rescue her and she told us she thought people were trapped inside.

'We had to smash the window using a ladder. This vented the room - had we arrived 30 seconds later it would have reach flash point and we would have had no hope of saving her.'

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Andrew Thomas was one of the firefighters who entered the first floor room after arriving on the scene shortly after 1am.

Mr Thomas said: 'The visibility inside the room was virtually nil. We managed to fight back the flames and search for her. She was unconscious but there were signs of life. When we passed Layla to Clive on the ladder her body was so hot he could feel it through his fire resistant tunic.'

Andrea Buckingham, the other firefighter to enter the room, said: 'It was obvious Layla was a fighter. It was obvious she was in pain but she seemed very determined.

'Recently we were able to meet up with her for a cup of tea and it was great to see the progress she has made. There is no greater reward than knowing you've saved a life.'

Mr Wells praised the entire watch - also made up of Mark Nunn, Dave Fiddy, Robert Baker, Timothy Squares, Jennie Schamp and Chris Marlow. He said: 'Time was critical and everybody played an important part.'

Miss Skalli has little recollection of the blaze. She has made a miraculous recovery since undergoing revolutionary surgery having initially being given a 1pc chance of survival.

Billings is currently serving a 30 month prison sentence after admitting 14 counts of breaching fire and health and safety laws. This sentence will be reviewed tomorrow.

Richard Herrell, group manager at Norfolk fire and rescue Service, said: 'For less than �1,000, or a few weeks rent, Billings could have taken appropriate steps, installed suitable fire safety precautions and saved innocent people an awful lot of distress and pain.

'It is only thanks to the bravery, quick thinking and good work of the fire crews on the night that a very serious incident wasn't a great deal worse.

'The majority of the landlords we work with in Norfolk take their responsibilities very seriously and understand the importance of making sure sound fire safety measures are in place. We also know that there are those who don't and this case should stand as a warning to them; we will continue checking premises and we will prosecute.'

t Would you like to praise the bravery of the emergency services? Contact crime correspondent Ben Kendall on 01603 772423 or email