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Off-duty officer saves vulnerable elderly man from burning building

An off-duty Leicestershire police officer who put her life at risk to save that of a vulnerable elderly man from a house fire has been nominated for a national Police Bravery Award.

Constable Catherine Burnham will be recognised at the 21st Police Bravery Awards on 14 July. The awards honour and recognise police officers who performed outstanding acts of bravery while on or off duty, and are sponsored by Police Mutual.

On 19 August 2014, PC Burnham was off-duty and preparing to go to work. Whilst getting ready she heard an alarm sounding which she believed was coming from a road nearby in Melton, Mowbray. Due to the constant sound of alarm she went into the street to investigate further and spent some time finding the source of the alarm and found thick smoke coming out of the windows of a local property.

PC Burnham immediately called for the fire service but she was aware that the person living at the address was a 90-year-old elderly man who suffered from dementia.

PC Burnham started to bang on the front door to get the man's attention and to get him out of the burning house, but there was no reply and no access as all the doors were locked. On looking through one of the windows the officer could see the occupant on the phone.

The man eventually opened the door but returned back into the house towards the kitchen area, which was now well alight. The man was now trying to put the fire out by throwing water on it and PC Burnham used all her communication skills to try to talk him out of the house and to safety. The fire was getting bigger and the elderly man's attempts to put out the fire were failing and he was now in serious danger or harm or death.

Due to the immediate danger that the elderly man was in, PC Burnham entered the property and physically helped him from the property due to his age, difficulty in walking and his mental wellbeing. Once outside, the man still wanted to return inside and PC Burnham had to use a combination of restraint and communication skills to make sure that he did not.

Tiffany Lynch, Chair of Leicestershire Police Federation said: "PC Burnham was acutely aware of the risks involved when entering this house. Had it not been for her bravery and self-motivation in these extremely difficult circumstances, then this could have resulted in a tragic fatality."

Stephen Mann, CEO of Police Mutual, said: "This year marks the 21st anniversary of the Police Bravery Awards and the eighth consecutive year that Police Mutual has sponsored them. We are proud to continue our support for such an inspirational event in the Policing calendar and to be able to show our respect for the exceptional courage shown by Police Officers who risk their lives every day to protect the public."

PC Catherine Burnham also received a Chief Constables Commendation for Bravery, and was awarded with the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire in March 2016