Heroic ex-firefighter who rescued toddler from Ilford house fire shortly before he died reveals trauma in emotional book
PUBLISHED: 13:56 11 September 2017 | UPDATED: 14:12 11 September 2017
Working in the emergency services requires unswerving dedication, bravery and a relentless energy to never give up.
A former Ilford firefighter has written a memoir which details his experience of experiencing life and death situations every day.
Clifford Thompson worked for the London Fire Brigade in east London for seven years between 1985 and 1992 and his vivid account is a gripping read.
At the heart of his book, Falling Through Fire, is the story of three-year-old Gordon Taylor who died in Clifford’s arms following a house fire in Ilford.
The tragic encounter – just five days before Christmas in 1991 – and Clifford’s efforts to meet Gordon’s mother 20 years later are laid out in his book.
It describes all the emotions that go with the job and all the dangers that seem unimaginable to members of the public.
Growing up in Forest Gate, Clifford says he knew he wanted to join the fire brigade after reading an autobiography by firefighter Neil Wallington.
He writes: “I was drawn to the danger, the colour and the smell without fear of the damage that it could cause.
“I began to think of joining the fire service as a career and calling.”
But in 1991, everything changed when he was called to a house fire in Eton Road, Ilford on December 20 at 9.02pm.
The Recorder reported on the fire on December 26 with the headline “‘Match’ theory as blaze kills son”.
Reporter Steve Fleming noted that heroic pensioner William Gardiner, who was being treated for throat cancer, tried to save Gordon but could not reach the three-year-old who was in his bedroom.
The article states: “An Ilford fire crew pulled Gordon from the flames.
“But the boy – thought to have been playing with matches – died later the same night in King George Hospital from smoke inhalation.
“Parents Kim Hamilton, 29, and Junior Taylor, 49, were in a back room with son Carl and knew nothing of the blaze in the upstairs bedroom.”
Mr Gardiner described the smoke as “dense and acrid” and forced him back downstairs after attempting three times to get through the blaze.
The article later notes that “Firefighters then arrived and rescued the boy who was taken to hospital in a police car.
“The fire was put out with two hose reels”.
But now Clifford’s book gives the full story, including a moving reunion with Gordon’s mother Kim and grandmother Betty in 2010.
It reveals that 25-year-old Clifford, who had risen to second-in-command at the Ilford fire station by this point, sprinted into the property without breathing apparatus in a desperate attempt to save Gordon.
He wrote: “My nostrils flare, I feel the sticky soot hit the lining pf my nose, my eyes water furiously.
“From the outside, smoke and flames are licking the guttering level with the eaves of the roof.
“The blackened windows crack and blow out, shards of glass drop into the front garden.”
In front of the burning house, whilst Kim screamed in agony across the street, Clifford located a pulse and attempted CPR.
He then accompanied Gordon to King George, carrying out first aid for the entire journey, since an ambulance was set to take up to 40 minutes.
But at 9.34pm at the hospital, Gordon was pronounced dead.
On New Year’s Eve, Clifford attended his funeral in Leytonstone dressed in his formal parade dress.
Eight months later he was medically discharged after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
He writes: “I felt sad and ashamed at losing Gordon.
“Although his death wasn’t my fault, I blamed myself.
“I’d lost grasp of reality and in its place was a deep sense of failure.”
After leaving the brigade, Clifford found he couldn’t speak about his experiences.
He said: “When I came out of the fire service, I never thought I would have it in me to write a book.”
But after retraining as a journalist at the BBC and reporting on many major disasters, including the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing, Clifford decided to get in touch with the Taylor family.
The moving reunion, and other tales from Clifford’s life, are available to read from all good bookstores now.
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