Bin man hailed as hero after triple rescue from maisonette fire

A West Midlands bin man is praised for his heroic actions after rescuing a man, a woman and a dog during his round

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Published on 27 February 2024

A bin man has been praised for a triple rescue after a fire ripped through a West Midlands maisonette.

Just after 8am this morning (Tues 27 Feb) fire crews responded to Ridgeway Road in Tipton, after several 999 callers reported the incident.

They arrived to find smoke and flames billowing from the property – but a man, a woman and a dog had already been brought to safety by quick-thinking Steve Whitehouse.

Serco employee Steve (49), known as Winnie by his colleagues, lives in Yew Tree with his partner and daughter. He was on his trade waste round with driver, Kevin Marriott, when they spotted the blaze. He climbed to a first-floor balcony three times to rescue the trio.

Steve, who’s worked as a Refuse Operative in Sandwell since 2007, said: “I saw a young woman screaming from the balcony and all I could think was that I needed to get to her as quickly as possible.”

Within seconds he got out of the bin lorry, leapt over a fence and scaled a wall to the maisonette balcony, from which he pulled the woman to safety.

A 999eye photo showing smoke billowing from a maisonette.
The rear of the maisonette after the blaze, showing smoke damage to the balcony area

He added: “The smoke was getting thicker. I called to anyone else who might be inside and could hear a young man shouting in distress for his dog. I managed to bundle up the dog in a blanket, jumped back down to the ground, and got the owner to throw the dog to me. I then went back up to help him.”

Once Steve had completed the rescues, he started banging on neighbours’ doors to alert them to the danger. Kevin tended to neighbours who’d evacuated their homes for safety, and let Steve’s family know what was happening.

Later, once they’d recovered over a coffee, the pair continued with their round.

“I wanted to be sure that all our customers got their collections. But that’s just me – it will probably sink in later today what actually happened,” Steve added.

Four fire engines crewed by a total of 19 firefighters responded, from Tipton, Dudley, Bilston and Wednesbury fire stations. The first arrived within four minutes of being mobilised.

The kitchen area of the maisonette showing blackened walls, appliances and other damaged items.

Tipton Watch Commander Chris Green, the incident commander, said: “It was clear as we approached that this was a severe fire. I have no doubt that, without Steve’s incredible bravery, the outcome could have been very different.

“I have no idea how he managed to do what he did. It was heroic. The fire and smoke were coming out of the property’s rear door like a blow torch.

“One rescue would have been remarkable. To save the lives of two people and a dog is staggering. We will be putting him forward for official recognition.”

Councillor Danny Millard, Sandwell Council’s Cabinet Member for Environment and Highways, said: “I would like to thank Steve and Kevin for their quick-thinking actions and for the way they supported residents and the fire service.

“Our bin crews already do an important job for Sandwell residents, and I praise Steve, Kevin and the rest of their crew’s efforts to continue with the day job and complete the collection round following this incident.”

The fire is believed to have started when an e-bike battery exploded while on charge at the bottom of the stairs – cutting off the occupants’ escape route.

Fire crews gave first aid to a man in his twenties before he was taken to hospital suffering from the effects of smoke. A woman, also in her twenties, was checked over at the scene by paramedics. The dog was given oxygen therapy by firefighters.

The fire affected the entire flat and destroyed its contents. It was confirmed to be out by 9am.

Read our tips on the safe charging of e-bikes and other devices