Family express guilt over firemen deaths in their home

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The Independent Online

A couple have expressed their feelings of guilt for the fire that ripped through their flat, killing two firemen.

Karl and Kirsty Hoffmann said they felt responsible for the deaths and praised the bravery of the dead men. "I blame myself for their deaths," Mrs Hoffmann said. "It was because our curtains were on fire that they went into the flat and didn't come back."

Her husband added: "I feel sorry for their families. They were very brave to go in there and they didn't deserve to die. I'm devastated." James Shears, 35, and Alan Bannon, 38, were among the first at the scene of the fire at Shirley Towers, in Church Street, Southampton, on Tuesday. A post-mortem examination revealed they died from exposure to excessive heat.

They were members of Red Watch at St Mary's Fire Station and are thought to have been found unconscious on the ninth floor of the 15-storey 1960s-built block. One died at the scene and the other in hospital.

A joint fire service and police investigation is underway to establish the cause of the fire in Flat 72. It is thought the fire might have started when a curtain was left over a light bulb. Two other firefighters suffered burns to their hands fighting the blaze. A date is yet to be set for the opening of the inquests into the deaths.

Southampton City Council said a risk assessment had been carried out at the property, adding that further inspections took place after six people died in a fire at a tower block in Camberwell, south-east London, last July.

John Bonney, chief officer of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: "These two men risked their lives to save those of others and as a result gave their own." Mr Bannon, from Southampton, was married and had a five-year-old daughter, Abigail, with his wife Charlotte. He joined Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service in 2001. His mother Margaret said in a statement: "Alan was an incredible person and managed to cram a massive amount into a short life."

Mr Shears, known as Jim, lived in Poole, Dorset, with his wife Carla and two sons, aged four and five. Carla paid tribute to him in a statement: "Jim was the most wonderful dad and husband. He had always wanted to be a firefighter and was truly our hero."