THE quick thinking of a visiting friend and the courage of a paramedic saved the lives of an elderly Tavistock


Pensioners Percy O'Donnell and his wife, Joyce, 91, were overcome by fumes last Thursday morning at their cottage at Wallabrook.

Unbeknown to them falling stones had blocked the chimney and led to a build-up of poisonous carbon monoxide from their solid fuel fireplace and back boiler, fuelled by coal and anthracite.

Percy, 85, a retired fishmonger from Tavistock Pannier Market, said: 'I didn't know anything had happened. I got up to get breakfast for my wife who was still in bed. I thought she was asleep. I let the dog out for a walk, came back sat in the chair and just dozed off — the next thing I remembered someone had an oxygen mask on me.'

Their lives, and that of their dog, 14-year-old Jack Russell Terrier Patch, were saved when their friend Jill White came to pay her weekly, social visit.

'Jill comes around most Thursdays between 11am and 11.30am for a game of Scrabble and a cup of tea. Her husband dropped her off but had to go and move his car. She came in and tried to wake me up and then went upstairs and found my wife unconcious.'

Mrs White, 83, from Dousland, and who walks with a frame, immediately called 999 and the emergency services — an act that undoubtedly saved the lives of Percy and Joyce.

A paramedic from Tavistock was the first emergency responder on the scene and realised that carbon monoxide was the cause.

Two fire engines from Tavistock were also sent to the property and crews confirmed a high reading of carbon monoxide and requested a further fire engine with a positive pressure fan, which came from Bere Alston, to help ventilate the property.

Tavistock fire station watch commander Glenn Arundel said a blocked chimney could have forced the fumes back through the walls and into the room, which could have had deadly consequences for the O'Donnells.

Glenn said: 'The paramedic did an excellent job as he undoubtedly put his life at risk because the gases were highly flammable.

'The firefighters also put their lives at risk but at least they had the proper breathing apparatus, he didn't. When we went in we found very high levels of carbon monoxide, which rises — so the higher you went in the building the higher the reading.

'With carbon monoxide you cannot see it and you cannot smell it. We have attended several such incidents with carbon monoxide and it can be lethal. I cannot stress how important with gas or smokeless fuel burners it is to have a carbon monoxide detector. People can purchase them locally and for £20 or £30 they could well save your life.'

He also praised Mrs White for her actions: 'If she had not acted so quickly and rung the emergency services immediately the couple could have died.?She could even have been overcome herself. She did exactly the right thing.'

The couple were taken to Derriford Hospital where they were given oxygen and hyperbaric treatment in a decompression chamber.

They have now made a full recovery and returned home.

They already had a smoke alarm, but firefighters have installed a carbon monoxide detector and the O'Donnells are having the chimney professionally swept.

Mr O'Donnell is most grateful to his friend Jill as well as the paramedics and firefighters for saving their lives.

He said: 'I thank them very much and also the neighbours for what they have done since it all happened.

'I didn't see the emergency services because I couldn't remember much but they did an excellent job. I can't thank them enough — we are lucky to be alive.'