Chloé Pisco says she has tried not to waste a day of the two decades since firefighter Michael Paul Murtagh saved her life.
It’s exactly 20 years since the Sunday morning Chloé awoke to smoke filling the bedroom of her rented home on the Boreenmanna Road, and on Thursday she travelled from her native Clonakilty to meet the man who has been her friend since the day he literally dragged her from a burning building.
Chloé remembers calling 999 and says she prayed as she lost consciousness that the sirens she could hear in the distance were coming to save her.
“I just remember thinking, ‘Please, I don’t want to die, I have so much I want to do’,” she says.
Michael Paul remembers coming to the fire station early that morning, and half an hour before he was due to start, a call came that there was a fire on the Boreenmanna Road, and with colleagues out on another call, he was part of the crew that responded.
“When we got there, the house was well alight, and I was the first BA (breathing apparatus) team in the door, Chloé’s room was on the first floor of the house and the fire was in the living room,” he says.
“There was a team downstairs trying to control the fire, there was another team searching on the next floor up, and when myself and my colleague, Wayne O’Donoghue, got to the top of the stairs, we were after going into the smoke layer.
“It’s like a kettle, if you like, the room fills up with smoke, and as the smoke rises up to the ceiling, it gets lower and lower toward the floor, so as we went up the stairs, it was like going into a cloud, and we couldn’t see anything.
“I shouted, and Chloé gave a shout back and we went into her room and the smoke was at knee height, which means that in another 15 minutes there wouldn’t have been any air. I literally caught her, she caught my leg, and I dragged her along the floor, dragged her down the stairs, because she couldn’t stand up, and she couldn’t breathe.”
One of Paul’s colleagues, Brian Ring, injured his back fighting the fire, and ended up in the same ambulance as Chloé, where she asked who had brought her to safety.
Chloé contacted Michael Paul, and they have been firm friends ever since. Over the years since, Chloé has travelled the world many times over, working as an aerial acrobat, dancer, and filmmaker, and Michael Paul is now a leading fire officer, and a Fine Gael County Councillor, and both passions inform his work.
“Cork City has expanded five-fold, and we haven’t got one extra full-time firefighter, so more funding is the main thing I’m always trying to push for,” he says.
Chloé replies: “The fire service means the world to me, because they literally saved my life, so, please, we really need to look after them.”