The coroner overseeing an inquest into the deaths of three people following a fire at a St Leonards hospice has praised the emergency services and hospice staff for their response to the tragedy.
Jill Moon, 62, David Denness, 81, and Pearl Spencer, 78, died after the blaze at St Michael’s Hospice on July, 11, 2015.
On Tuesday (November 19), the second day of the inquest, senior coroner for East Sussex Alan Craze said it was due to the emergency services and care staff ‘that many more people did not lose their lives that night’.
Addressing the court, he said: “It seems quite clear to me that the hospice staff and all the emergency service personnel showed immense bravery.
“They will never forget what happened that night.
“The fire service are trained for instances like this but they carried out their tasks brilliantly.
“The hospice staff and police, however, are not trained for situations like this, nor did they have protective clothing.
“They showed immense courage and our community owes them a huge debt of gratitude.”
After Mr Craze finished speaking, a police officer in attendance also thanked the staff at the Leolyn care home, where a number of patients were taken and given a bed after the evacuation at St Michael’s.
Earlier in the hearing, the court heard from the firefighters who first arrived at the scene in the early hours of July 11.
In statements read to the court, firefighters said they arrived within minutes of the first call.
Crew manager Ian Rose said, within five minutes of arrival, he ordered the evacuation of the entire building.
Firefighters described crawling around on their knees or stomach in an attempt to get some fresh air while they searched for missing patients.
The inquest was also told that police were called to assist as fire crews from Bexhill, Battle and Rye were expected to take a while to arrive.
PC David Mendes, alongside PC Ella Bugsby, were the first police officers at the scene.
They both told the court they went into the burning building to find three missing patients.
They said they found two in a room and the third, who later turned out to be the patient Rodney Smith, was found lying down on the floor in a locked toilet.
It was later determined that the fire started in Mr Smith’s bed. He was arrested that night before being charged with arson. He died in jail before his trial.
In her statement to the court, PC Bugsby said she was stood with Mr Smith once she had got him out of the building. Recalling that moment, she added: “Mr Smith had an asthma inhaler and he did seem short of breath.
“Then he said something to me. He said we may need to get away from here as it’s not safe. I told him we were safe enough away and he tapped me on my arm saying we need to move right away.
“I didn’t know his involvement so I didn’t treat him differently to anyone else. He just seemed like a frightened old man.”
PC Bugsby said she worked two more night shifts after the night of the St Michael’s fire, which she spent guarding patients who had been taken to Conquest Hospital. She said she felt ‘reassured’ that families were given a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones.
The inquest, in Hastings, continues.