Inspiring burn survivor supports Fire Service’s Bonfire Weekend fire safety campaign

An inspirational burn survivor from Wearside is teaming up with the fire service to urge teenagers not to make the same mistake he did this Bonfire Weekend.

Connor Rowntree, 29, of Houghton-le-Spring is best placed to give his help and support behind Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service’s ‘Darker Nights’ campaign.

As the brave young man has endured fourteen years, of at times painful recovery, after messing around with aerosols at the age of just 15-years old left him with third degree burns to 90% of his body, and needing over 100 operations.

Connor has today (Friday) offered advice to young people who might be looking to cause mischief with fireworks or fire this Bonfire weekend.

“Stop and think about it! The serious consequences are here in front of you to see, in my own life-changing burns. I don’t wish this to ever happen to anybody else,” said Connor.

“It’s always going to be there in the back of my mind that I’ve got these scars that I’ll have to live with them for the rest of my life.

“But I’ve been able to cope with it thanks to the amazing support I’ve had around me.

“From my family, friends, teachers, the Fire Service and Ambulance Service – as all of their support has kept me busy and focused.

“Even if one young person decides to make a conscious u-turn and change their life after hearing my story then it would be worth it.

“One moment of madness nearly cost me my life!”

The accident occurred in 2009 at the house of one of Connor’s friends, and that moment of madness was to quite literally tear his young life apart.

Connor spent nearly a year in hospital with six-weeks of that time being unconscious in a coma.

The extent of his burns were so severe that, although he was deemed a child, he was to spend his time on an adults’ ward in the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.

Alongside his horrific burns he also had to endure kidney failure, a collapsed lung, and C-Diff in his right leg, which nearly resulted in amputation.

Connor now works as a driver mentor for Go North East with people who’ve recently passed their driving test – preparing them for driving on the road by themselves.

For the past 12-years, Connor has intermittingly worked closely with the emergency services including fronting a national fire safety campaign.

That saw him travel up-and-down the country with TWFRS officers giving advice to young people in pupil referral units or from troubled backgrounds.

Connor talks about how he approached his own personal journey of trying to come to terms with his injuries.

He said: “I want to raise awareness to people the dangers of playing with fire and messing about with aerosols on Bonfire Night.

“It’s all about the young people being responsible for their own actions. The potential injuries don’t just affect the victim themselves but everyone around them.

“I also want to highlight the issues of anti-social behaviour not only against our beloved emergency services but also to public servants like bus drivers.

“Some of those incidents in the local community aren’t always associated with fire but the consequences for people on the receiving end are just as bad.”

Connor has set up The Connor Rowntree Project, which helps burn survivors and their families – who are experiencing a similar journey to himself.

He has also worked alongside The Katie Piper Foundation assisting individuals in their recovery from burns.

Figures recently released by TWFRS showed that last year deliberate fires in public areas – such as rubbish or wheelie bin fires – increased by 94% over the school holidays and Bonfire weekend.

With many of those incidents being associated with anti-social behaviour, often carried out by young people, who are putting public safety at risk.

Firefighters have been carrying out visits to schools and colleges, sharing messages about the consequences of anti-social behaviour and the dangers of playing with fireworks or setting fires.

Station Manager Jonathan Ramanayake, of the Prevention and Education Department at TWFRS, said: “We are fortunate to have inspirational people like Connor, who are willing to tell their life story for the benefit of others.

“To work hand-in-hand alongside the Fire Service to help raise awareness of the dangers of playing with fire and other dangerous materials during times like Bonfire Night.

“We would urge young people and their families to attend officially organised bonfire and firework displays, and not to play with fireworks at home as the consequences can be truly life-changing.”

To ensure that you and your family stay safe this Bonfire Night we have compiled all of the organised and third party displays taking place across Tyne & Wear – please click here for further information

Please stay safe this Bonfire Night and respect your emergency services.