A holiday home boss and father-of-five who ‘died’ for five minutes when his heart stopped beating after a terrifying house fire sent him into cardiac arrest has become friends with the firefighter who brought him back to life.
Retired architect Steve Taylor, 64, and his wife, Jo, 53, who run the business based at their home in Upper Tysoe, Wawickshire, together, had sat down to dinner in January 14 with her 80-year-old parents when smoke poured through the ceiling light fittings and the fire alarms sounded.
Ushering everyone out, Steve – father to Jessica, 36, George 34, Ben, 22, Will, 12, and Bob, six – soon saw the side of the house and the roof were engulfed by flames, which he fought, valiantly, with fire extinguishers they kept on site.
But his heroism cost him dearly, as he went into cardiac arrest, saying: “I only had a 10 per cent chance of being revived after my heart stopped, so I feel incredibly grateful to still be here.
“My youngest hasn’t left my side since. My top priority now is spending time with my family.”
What started out as a pleasant family get together that evening soon turned into a terrifying drama.
Steve said: “We were eating dinner with Jo’s 80-year-old parents when smoke suddenly started pouring through the light fittings in the ceiling and the alarms went off.
“I got everybody out of the building and went back in to see where the smoke was coming from.”
He added: “At first, I thought it was an electrical fire, because the smoke was coming out of the lights, so I switched off the electrics but that did nothing.
“Then I went outside and saw that the side of the house was on fire.”
Springing into action, while they waited for the fire brigade, determined to do his best to stop the blaze from spreading to the six homes which were booked up by guests, Steve started trying to put it out.
He said: “Because we have the holiday homes on site, I have a shed with 10 fire extinguishers in, so I ran and grabbed two and took them into the house.”
He added: “I was sweating and my heart was pounding. Jo rang for a fire engine while I tackled the flames, running in with two extinguishers and running back out for more when they ran out.
“I was bashing holes into the ceiling upstairs and spraying with the fire extinguisher into the rafters to try to put the fire out.
“But it was everywhere. There were effectively 20 fires happening at once within the house and I couldn’t put them out quick enough.
“It took eight minutes for firefighters to arrive which felt like an eternity. I had just used up the last extinguisher when they got here. ”
Six fire engines turned up to take over from Steve and put out the flames.
He said: “Towards the end, the fire was red hot and I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face for the smoke. I was breathless and sweating and I remember sitting down on the patio completely knackered. My heart was going like a train engine and not slowing down.
“I’d had a heart attack 10 years ago, so I know what it feels like.
“In a daze, I told a firefighter that I was about to have a heart attack. I just had time to wash down a couple of aspirin with a bit of water when all my peripheral vision went to a pinpoint. The next thing I knew, I was lying flat on my back. What happened next is a bit of a blur. Everything went dark.”
After the strain of fighting the house fire, Steve went into cardiac arrest, with his heart stopping completely while emergency services tried to save his life.
He said: “They tried CPR on me at first which broke six of my ribs, but it wasn’t working. There was a firefighter called Pip Blair, who used to be a paramedic, and she used a defibrillator on my chest.”
It took three attempts with the defibrillator before Steve’s heart restarted.
He said: “My heart stopped for five minutes and they thought I was going to die.”
Steve added: “Technically, I did die for five minutes, and it was the strangest feeling. I went to a place that was really dark and cold and silent.
“The first thing that came back to me was my sense of touch and I remember reaching out and holding Pip’s arm. I was very grateful to be back with the living.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Pip and my five kids wouldn’t have a dad. She knew exactly what she was doing.”
Steve was rushed to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford while firefighters continued to tackle the inferno.
He said: “I spent three and a half weeks in hospital where I had a triple bypass, with veins from my legs used to repair my heart and I now have an implantable cardioverter defibrillator below my shoulder to monitor my heart rate.
“When I was in hospital, I had to video call my youngest every night to read him a story until he fell asleep. Even when I’d just got out of surgery and didn’t know whether I was coming or going, I called him. He’d always ask when I was coming home and I’d say, ‘three sleeps.’ In fact, it ended up being three weeks.
“Since being discharged, I have been recovering at home.
“We’re still not back in the house yet – that probably won’t be ready until July – but we’re living onsite in one of our holiday lets.”
The fire, which the couple later discovered had been caused by their wood burning stove, is estimated to have caused £500k of damage to Steve and Jo’s home, as well as ruining half their belongings.
Steve said: “What actually happened was that sparks dropped out of the flue for the wood burning stove and ignited a load of dry leaves in the guttering. This then spread across the roof and into the house.
“It’s been an incredibly tough time for all of us, but I think our youngest has found it the hardest.
“He talks about my heart attack all the time and asks if I went to heaven. I tell him, ‘Yes, but I came back to look after you.’”
He added: “Now, he sticks to me like glue and wants me to take him to school every morning. When it’s bed time, I have to sit on the end of the bed and hold his feet until he falls asleep.”
Steve enjoyed a memorable reunion with Pip, the firefighter who saved him, and says they have now become pals.
He said: “I got to meet Pip again and thank her and we’ve become good friends.
“When we spoke about what happened, she told me that only 10 to 12 per cent of people are revived using the defibrillator and most don’t make it if the first two attempts are unsuccessful.”
He added: “It really put into perspective just how lucky I am to still be here.“Jo and I also went round to the fire station with cakes for the firefighters who put out the flames.
“We’re very grateful to everyone who helped us.”
As a result of his experience, Steve hopes to encourage more people to learn lifesaving skills.
He said: “It’s essential that more people learn CPR. That’s the message I really want to spread.
“We’ve since bought a defibrillator for the site and we’re also holding a CPR training session at the village hall for anyone who wants to learn.
“You never know what situation you might find yourself in where you really need it and it will mean the difference between life and death.”
The steps to doing CPR are simple and can be learned in 15 minutes by playing Resuscitation Council UK’s Lifesaver game at lifesaver.org.uk