TWO Eastbourne police officers who risked their lives to drag an injured man to safety after an explosion at a fireworks factory have won a prestigious bravery award.
Last night (Thursday) Sergeant Dan Pitcher and PC Dave Upjohn, both from the Road Policing Unit at Polegate, were honoured at the National Police Bravery Awards for their work during the Marlie Farm disaster in December 2006.
They battled through flying debris in the blazing barn to rescue a man with serious head injuries and gave him first aid.
The two officers were on duty the night a large fire broke out at the factory in Ringmer and rushed to the scene along with colleagues.
They set up road closures and started evacuating members of the public to a safe distance as the large fire raged within the factory and there were small explosions coming from inside.
Sgt Pitcher was knocked off his feet and both officers were hit by large missiles, flying debris, lumps of concrete, metal sheeting, wood and glass. They were almost hit by a lump of telegraph pole which flew past them.
Mark White, from the Sussex Police Federation, said, “The officers were surrounded by injured colleagues and firefighters and began administering first aid despite the threat of further explosions.
“They were informed there was a seriously injured man at the rear of the site, about 50 metres away from the burning factory.
“They entered the site and approached the man, all the while surrounded by pockets of fire and with fireworks and explosions going off all around them.
“They pulled the casualty clear of the danger area and saw the man had a serious head wound to the extent part of his skull was exposed. PC Upjohn administered first aid while Sgt Pitcher commandeered a nearby vehicle to drive the man to safety.
“Due to the effect his injuries were having on him, the man initially resisted the officers and pulled his bandages off but was eventually calmed down.
“Both officers remained in the area as there were reports of another casualty.
“They searched for the casualty, assisted with the evacuation of a nearby community and in the midst of all this had to deal with abusive and obstructive persons connected with the factory.”
Tragically two brave firefighters Brian Wembridge and Geoff Wicker lost their lives in the main explosion. The factory owners were later sentenced to seven and four years respectively for manslaughter.
The officers have already received a Chief Constable’s Commendation for fearlessness and resolve in the face of extreme danger.
Mr White, Federation secretary, said, “We are incredibly proud of the actions of Sgt Pitcher and PC Upjohn. Having witnessed an enormous explosion, they risked their lives going back onto the site in order to save a life, while the fire was still raging and with fireworks exploding all around them.
“However, of course, our hearts go out to the families of Brian Wembridge and Geoff Wicker, the brave firefighters who lost their lives that day. They will never be forgotten.”
The awards are hosted in partnership with The Sun newspaper and Police Mutual and is an annual event which honours police officers across England and Wales for their actions to tackle criminals and keep the public safe.