A dad who cheated death when embers from a £2 ($2.54) disposable bbq burned down his home has become a firefighter.
Paul O’Brien, 47, said he was thankful to be alive after the disposable grill resulted in £100,000 ($127,000) worth of damage at his three-bed semi.
And he believes joining Lancashire Fire and Rescue service was his way of “paying back” the community.
The father-of-two said: “It feels like I’m giving something back after what happened.”
Paul had invited some friends to his home in Lytham, Lancs., England, for the barbecue where they watched a soccer match between Russia and England in June 2021.
He said he had set up the portable barbecue in his garden at around 1P.M. and had cooked on it for one hour with his pals in his back garden during the game.
At around midnight, he’d picked up the grill and tossed it into his black bin before heading to bed.
But cinders from the barbecue caused a fire inside the enclosed space, which spread to his conservatory and set alight to the roof of his home.
Paul said: “The barbecue felt cold when I put it in the bin. I thought I knew how long the coals could smolder for. I was wrong.
“At 5 A.M. in the morning, we heard a bang on the front door and thought ‘What the hell was that?’ My girlfriend, she started screaming.
“Looking out of our bedroom, you could see the two kids’ bedrooms, and it was just bright orange. You could hear this crackling noise – which was just wood cracking.”
Paul grabbed one of his sons while his girlfriend got the other, and they had made it out of the property just as his kitchen was going up in smoke.
The couple luckily made it out with their two boys, then two and eight, before the blaze from the bin gutted the home.
They then watched on in horror for a few minutes before four fire trucks arrived to put out the blaze.
He said: “We lost probably 95% of our possessions – photos and memories and just all the kids’ toys and clothes, all of that just went.
“[But] we got out – that was the main thing.
“Because we opened the front door, the oxygen came in and the fire just went woosh, and the smoke just engulfed the house.”
“It felt like we were there for an hour. In reality, it was three or four minutes.”
Paul said he and his family had moved to temporary accommodation for two years as he worked with his insurance company to repair the damage.
And although he’d previously harbored ambitions of joining the fire service, he said he’d pressed ahead with his decision in the wake of his experiences.
He’s since attended multiple house fires as part of his job as an on-call firefighter, where he responds to emergencies but doesn’t staff a fire station.
But Paul said he hadn’t touched a barbecue since the traumatic incident.
And he urged others to make sure to leave their grills in water after they use them in the future.
He said: “We’ve not even had a gas barbecue…It’s just not on the agenda.
“You don’t realize how dangerous they are. I’d say to anyone, ‘Just douse it in water, and then douse it again and then submerge it in water.’”
Paul has moved back into the £250,000 ($317,858) property after two years and is now warning others about the dangers of barbecues.
He said: “You think you know how to put out a barbecue, you think you’ve done the right thing. The barbecue had been out for ten hours and you put it in the bin.
“There was obviously just one little rogue ember in there that wasn’t out. It caused a hundred thousand pounds worth of damage just from this £2 barbecue.
“Anything with hot coals – fire-pits, disposable barbecues – put water on it and make sure that they’re out.
“I thought they were out, and they weren’t, and we lost everything because of it.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker