THE family of a firefighter who was killed while tackling a blaze in a city centre shop described him as a “gentleman” who had “lived to serve his country”.
Stephen Hunt, 38, a former soldier, was part of a team responding to a fire at a Manchester hair salon supplier on Saturday night when he and a colleague found themselves in difficulty.
Both were pulled from the building and taken to hospital, but father-of-two Mr Hunt was declared dead on arrival.
The other firefighter is not critically injured.
Two 15-year-old girls were questioned on suspicion of manslaughter, but released on bail last night.
In a statement issued through Greater Manchester Police (GMP), Mr Hunt’s family said: “It is extremely hard to capture all of what Stephen means to our family.
“Stephen was an old- fashioned gentleman with manners that are rare in this day and age. With core values which included loving his family, being the best father that he could be, loving and affectionate to those that were close to him.
“Stephen lived to serve his country having served for seven years in the Royal Signals and then becoming a firefighter, which was a career that he was very proud of.
“The whole family will miss spending time with Stephen, none more so than his son, daughter and grandmother. We loved his sense of humour and are very proud of him and what he brought to our lives.”
Detective Superintendent Phil Owen said: “We are working with our colleagues from the fire service to establish how this fire, which has tragically claimed the life of a firefighter, started.
“We have already arrested two juveniles in connection with the fire and our inquiries are continuing.”
Investigations are under way to find out exactly what caused the fire at Paul’s Hair World in Oldham Street, Manchester, but it is thought that Mr Hunt was enveloped by some kind of “super heat” which took the officers inside the building by surprise and which may have been fuelled by chemicals stored at the business, a supplier of hair extensions and salon products.
County fire officer for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, Steve McGuirk, said: “We are devastated by the loss of one of our colleagues who has died in the line of duty.” He described Mr Hunt as a “consummate professional” and a “great firefighter”.
“Those expressions have been used a lot about Stephen. He was relatively young in service, he was only about five years in, but he was incredibly enthusiastic and was always passionate and keen to be a firefighter,” the chief fire officer said.
Mr McGuirk said it was “too early” to say what led to the firefighter’s death, adding: “It doesn’t look like a building collapse or that he fell through any floors. The early indications are an absolutely massive, ferocious and sudden build up of heat.
“But where that came from and what caused that we have got absolutely no idea at this stage.
“That’s really the purpose of the investigation that we are now engaged in.”
He said: “We never expect to lose a colleague in this way and it brings home the dangers that our firefighters put themselves in every day to keep the community safe.”