AN ENGINEER engulfed in flames died despite heroic efforts to save him, an inquest heard.
Electrical engineer Matthew Christopher Michael Smith, 31, of Harlech Court, was in his garage at the back of Denbigh Court flats on November 25 last year when a blast blew the door across the road.
Yesterday an inquest at Chester, Ellesmere Port and Neston Magistrates heard it had been a freak accident as Mr Smith, a week away from starting a new job, decanted petrol.
Taxi driver Gerard Martin, whose Denbigh Court home backed on to the garage, was returning home for breakfast with his son Craig at 10.30am that day.
When Gerard spotted smoke coming from the garage, he walked toward it.
“I heard screams and started running toward it,” he recalled. “The garage door blew off and the lad came running out.
“I screamed at him to lie on the ground. He ran past me then he stopped. I took my coat off, pushed him on the ground and put him out. He put his hand up to me and I sat there holding his hand.
“The only thing that got me down in the end was that I never saved him.”
Paramedic Mark Stevens told how crews ignored advice to ‘stand off’ because of the danger of further explosions.
About a dozen members of the public had already gathered to pour water on Mr Smith to douse the flames.
“The man appeared to have 100% burns to his body,” said Mr Stevens.
“I asked the man’s name and he said Matthew. I asked what was the fire caused by and he replied ‘petrol’.
“I put burns gel all over his body.
“A decision was made to take the man’s shoes off and he was administered morphine. He was fully conscious.”
After firefighters helped paramedics at the scene, Mr Smith was rushed to the Countess of Chester Hospital, then to the specialist burns unit at Whiston Hospital in Liverpool. But the efforts of doctors to save him were in vain – he died at 12.05am the next morning with his family by his side.
Fire officer Colin Hayes told the inquest crews had emptied more than 3,000 litres of water on to the garage and still struggled to extinguish the flames.
He said: “We’ve concluded that the most likely cause is there was some activity which involved the decanting of petrol. The exact ignition source we cannot be precise on.
“Mr Martin was visibly and audibly very distressed about what he’d seen. He faced a very challenging situation very bravely and deserves to be commended.
“Mr Martin witnessed an explosion which blew the door off but he still went to the aid of Mr Smith.”
Widow Nickie Candeland-Smith, 35, who was left to bring up six-month-old son Ethan alone, attended the inquest with her father and Mr Smith’s parents.
Mrs Candeland-Smith, a district nurse, said her husband had gone to the garage to look for the foot of an oil-filled radiator previously held up by wire.
She added: “He was going to start a new job in a weeks time. It was more money because we’ve got a baby.
“He was no different that day, very laid back.
“Matt used to give Ethan express milk by a bottle. He did that every morning since Ethan was born.
“We had a car that was full of petrol so he had taken the petrol out and put it in the jerry cans. It was stored round there away from the house because of the dangers of petrol.
“I’ve gone on every day thinking what could’ve gone on there. Could he have knocked [the petrol can] over? He had a bad hand as well.
“There was lots of plastic, lots of paint, lots of white spirit because we decorated the whole house before Ethan came along.”
PC Paul WIlliams confirmed there were no suspicious circumstances and no suggestion a third party was involved.
Coroner for Cheshire Nicholas Rheinberg concluded: “Exactly what happened remains something of a mystery.
“Mr Smith was a happily married man looking forward to a new job that was starting in a weeks time.
“He was looking forward to a holiday that had been booked. I’m satisfied that however the fire started, this was not a deliberate attempt to harm himself.”
He gave the cause of death as 1a) inhalation injury due to 1b) severe burns.