Seaford: Brave paramedic retires after 36 years’ service

John Larkin
John Larkin

A PARAMEDIC from Seaford who was commended for bravery after risking his life to try and save a fire fighter caught in a massive explosion, has retired after 36 years’ service.

John Larkin had responded to a 999 call to a blaze at Marlie Farm near Lewes back in 2006 while working for the South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECamb) NHS Foundation Trust.

The clinical team leader recalled the incident in which 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.

He said, “When we got there the fire brigade were trying to fight the fire in a concentrated area because there was a house nearby.

“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.

“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.

Mr Larkin 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 discovered the lifeless body of the second fire fighter.

At least 20 others suffered burns and limb injuries.

For his actions the 63-year-old received a commendation from ambulance Chief Executive Paul Sutton.

He has served with SECAmb since joining in 1975, initially working out of Hove Ambulance Station and qualified as a paramedic in 1977.

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, which killed five people and injured scores more in a failed attempt to assassinate then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

He 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, paid tribute to him, “John has been a highly respected member of the team at Newhaven.

“He has received a number of awards from the service and at a recent retirement party was given a bronze statue of a paramedic from his colleagues.

“John will be missed by his friends and colleagues but is wished a long and healthy retirement.”

With such an eventful career, has there been a defining moment to live with the grandfather into retirement?

He said, “I was working on Christmas day in the late 1970s and on our way back from a job we got a call about a cardiac arrest, which was just up the road.

“The patient was having Christmas dinner with his family and had collapsed at the table. It was one of my first successful resuscitations.

“After that, the gentleman always used to come to our station in Hove every Christmas with a big box of biscuits and toffee and a note saying ‘Thank you for Christmas’. He did that for seven years until I transferred to Lewes.”

Mr Larkin lives in Bishopstone with his wife of 44 years, Sylvia. The couple have two grandchildren.