Locals praise hero who entered a burning pub and rescued the unconscious barman

By Regina Motalib

Locals have praised the hero who entered a burning pub and rescued his unconscious neighbour, the pub’s barman, Asa Holmes.

Michael Goldberg who lives off Dartmouth Road and close to the The Bird in Hand pub, with his wife Sharon Vardi, described Joe O’Rourke, a gravedigger who works at Camberwell New Cemetery, as a “true hero”.

Michael took photos of firefighters tackling the blaze on April 14 and captured Joe O’Rourke in one of the shots. He said the hero – who was unknown to anyone at the scene – didn’t stop to consider his own safety.

Michael described the moment Joe responded to publican Monika’s cries for help.

Michael Goldberg

He said: “Monika the publican came out on the back balcony yelling about Asa the barman still being inside.

“She was covered in ash, distressed and obviously suffering the effects of all the smoke.

“Then this chap rushed in and brought out Asa who was shaking and in an even worse state.”

Joe, the 46 year old hero and father of two, from South Norwood rushed in through the fire exit and carried barman Asa out to safety.

Michael said: “The guy in the red T-shirt was definitely the hero of the day – he went in without a single thought for his own safety.”

Michael’s eye witness account described just how much danger Joe had put himself in to save the life of a stranger. He added:  “The fire engines started arriving, the glass windows blew out and thankfully the fire brigade soon got the blaze under control. Can’t praise them enough either.”

Michael was on a local walk with his wife Sharon when they realised the pub next door was on fire.

Sharon Vardi said: “My mobile rang and our neighbour just said ‘The pub is on fire!’.

“We apologised rather abruptly to the friends we were walking with and ran the mile back to our home which is right next to the pub.”

Sharon rushed inside her house and gave her distressed neighbour Monika a pair of her own shoes to wear.

She explained how hard the publican had been working and preparing to welcome punters back after lockdown.

Sharon said: “Monika had spent much of lock-down making improvements, adding colour and looking forward to welcoming her family of regulars back.

“It is a lovely traditional pub, with a colourful history, that had been recently renovated.”

Sharon was also full of praise for hero Joe.

Joe O’Rourke, seconds after coming out of the pub carrying Asa Holmes, looks on as medics treat him

She added: “The man in red was fabulous! A super hero. He raced past us up the stairs as neighbours worked together to move large commercial bins to get to Monica on the balcony.”

Sharon said Monika was inundated with offers of help from neighbours and friends.

She said: “Monika now has my crocks and good friends have sorted out some clothes.”

Sharon added her neighbour Monika has been ‘overwhelmed by everyone’s amazing support.’

She said: “Loads of people are checking in on her and she is now trying to take it “one day at a time”.

Sharon feels neighbourly support is so important.

She added: “This is what community is all about. Not just about social media.

“It is like Joe, the quiet man in red, jumping in and helping out when and where you can.”

A spokesperson for the Bird In Hand, said: “The investigation into the extent of the damage to the building is still ongoing.

“Thankfully, no one was seriously harmed in this fire and we are hoping to reopen to our customers as soon as possible this summer.”


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