Brave paramedic retires after 36 years

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A PARAMEDIC from Newhaven, who risked his life trying to save a fire fighter caught in a massive explosion, has retired after 36 years.

John Larkin, 63, a clinical team leader for South East Coast Ambulance Service, was commended for bravery after responding to a 999 call at Marlie Farm in Shortgate near Lewes in 2006 after a blaze at a fireworks factory.

Two long-serving members of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service died while trying to contain the blaze when an explosion tore a storage facility apart. At least 20 others suffered burns and limb injuries.

John, who lives in Bishopstone, Newhaven, with his wife Sylvia, said: “We had just assessed the scene when our senior officer, Glenn Borthwick, arrived and ordered all the ambulance crews to fall back about 300 metres from the fire.

“Shortly afterwards there was an almighty explosion. We saw something that you see in films but I had never experienced it until that day – the actual distortion as the blast wave travelled towards us, it warped the buildings and hedgerows. The shock wave made it look like everything was rippling.

“We were told that the fire brigade had suffered casualties - that’s when we went in to do a rapid triage of the casualties and get them to a safe distance.”

When a group of fire fighters emerged with the first of their ranks to be fatally injured, the full impact of the disaster was realised.

Grandfather-of-two John said: “At that point everyone was ordered to evacuate the area. It wasn’t until we did a roll call that we knew there was one fire crew member missing.”

The request was put out for a paramedic, accompanied by a fire fighter, to go back to the scene of the explosion and check if the missing crew member was still alive. John volunteered knowing that another explosion could rock the site at any second. Surrounded by lumps of twisted burning masonry, they tragically discovered the lifeless body of the second fire fighter. For his actions John received a commendation from ambulance Chief Executive Paul Sutton.

John has served with SECAmb since joining in 1975. He attended his first major incident a year later when his crew was the first to reach the scene of the Sweet Hill rail derailment. On October 12, 1984, he witnessed the devastating aftermath of the Grand Hotel bombing, Brighton. John worked for many years on the Police Helicopter using his extensive clinical skills as a paramedic before transferring to Lewes in 1986 and then to Newhaven in 2003.

Clinical Operations Manager for Newhaven Ambulance Station, Glenn Borthwick said: “John will be missed by his friends and colleagues but is wished a long and healthy retirement.”