A MUM has thanked the brave firefighter who saved her from a fatal fire four decades ago.
Marie Ganley was just six months old when she suffered 80 per cent burns in a fire in Gray Road, Hendon, in January 1973.
The fire killed three teenage girls who were babysitting Marie, but she defied the odds to survive, thanks to firefighter John McCowliff.
He fought through a burning staircase and thick smoke to reach the four trapped girls.
At first he thought Marie was a doll on the floor, only realising she was a baby when she moved her arm. He lifted her from the flames and rescued the three teenage girls, who later died from their injuries.
Marie, now 42, says she can never thank John enough for his actions.
“It was amazing what he did,” said Marie, who lives in Hendon.
John was reunited with Marie at the Dun Cow pub for his 65th birthday party, just yards from the Old Fire Station where he used to work.
He recalled: “That was one of the first serious fires I had dealt with. The staircase was on fire and you couldn’t see in front of you as the room was black with smoke. The heat was unbelievable, the plaster was peeling off the walls.
“I went in one room upstairs and couldn’t find anything, then I heard the three girls crying. They were in another room, huddled in the corner together.
“Marie was on the floor, I think they must have dropped her because of the heat. I passed her to my boss and we managed to get the other girls one by one.”
The girls – one 18 and two 17 – later died as a result of the blaze. It was started when some boys downstairs tried to light a fire by throwing petrol on a coal fire. The petrol ignited and flashed back up the stairs, trapping the girls above.
The boys managed to get out of the house before two crews from Sunderland Fire Brigade arrived.
Marie spent the next 18 months in hospital recovering from her injuries. During her childhood she underwent around 100 procedures to try and alleviate the scarring caused by the fire.
“As a child I remember more of hospital than I do Christmas and birthdays,” said Marie, who is mum to Millie, seven. “Then when I got to about 13 I decided I didn’t want anymore surgery.”
Dad-of-two John and Marie were first reunited in 1985 when family friend Peggy Bogie turned to the Echo for help finding John for a charity night. Over the years, he forged a strong friendship with Marie, helping to raise funds for transport to hospital treatment.
He invited her along to his 65th birthday party which was also a reunion for the former firefighters from the Old Fire Station.
John, who is dad to John, 34, and Steven, 31, said: “We have great memories of coming here in the ‘70s and it’s great to see it back open. We used to get our pay slips on a Friday then come over here for a pint.
“I remember on the picket line in 77/78 the barmaid would bring us drinks.”