A FIREFIGHTER from Bromsgrove has been awarded a Commendation Medal for saving a man’s life at Birmingham International Airport.
Lee Rowley, who was a member of Blue Watch in the airport’s fire service, arrived to find an aircraft maintenance technician stuck in the fuel tank of an aircraft he was working on.
The brave firefighter climbed up and put his head in and was immediately was overcome by fuel vapour.
He called out to the technician who he could hear screaming but he was not responding to what he was being asked.
Due to the life-threatening conditions, including asphyxiation and risk of explosion, Lee suggested either a snatch rescue to get the man out or to place oxygen on the casualty and then get out until a safe rescue could be carried out.
Access to the tank was through a small oval which was just 35cm at its widest point and Lee was unable to wear his firefighting kit in there.
He had to access it with just his trousers and t-shirt on and entered wearing an oxygen mask, crawling on his chest through holes and two bulkheads to reach the casualty.
The man was in a state of seizure due to the fuel affecting his nervous system and he was screaming but was not responding. He would also not wear the oxygen mask and his position made a snatch rescue impossible.
Lee said: “My eyes were streaming, I was struggling to breath and starting to burn from the fuel which was approximately an inch from the bottom of the fuel tank.
“I crawled back to the opening and called for a breathing apparatus set to be passed up. This got stuck in the opening and took a couple of minutes to free.”
He then put on the breathing apparatus mask but could not put the set on his back because of the confined space so had to drag it with him.
He then had to crawl back to the technician and drag him through the bulkhead holes and back to the fuel tank opening before feeding him down through the hole to the fire crew outside.
Lee then got himself out.
The technician had suffered significant chemical burning from the fuel and respiratory distress, he was semi-conscious, given oxygen and immediately taken via ambulance to hospital where he spent a number of days recovering.
Lee, being in the fuel tank for almost 20 minutes, suffered chemical burns to his arms, legs and chest.
“This was not extensive and after treatment I recovered within a number of days.”
The citation praised Lee’s attitude and commitment and said without Lee’s intervention the man would have died.
It added his actions ‘personified the spirit and call of the firefighter’.
Modest Lee said: “When the commendation notification came through it was a complete shock.
“It was very scary at the time – I couldn’t have done it without the other guys on the watch – it was very much a team effort.”
Lee recently left the Airport Fire Service, due to ill health, and now works in corporate resilience.