Reunited! Baby rescued from burning building is reunited with his hero 57 years later
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019
Nearly sixty years ago, he was pulled out of a burning building by a stranger.
Now, for the first time, Phil Stracchino has paid a heartfelt thank you to the railwayman who rescued him from a harrowing ordeal when he was just nineteen months old.
It comes following an appeal by this paper to find the baby referred to by Alan Baker in his book, A Life on the Rails.
A volunteer at Whitwell and Reepham Station, the 89-year-old describes the moment he risked his own life to pull Mr Stracchino from a building fire in Earlham, near Norwich.
And despite his heroics, which made front page news in March 1962, the pair were never reunited.
That is until now.
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Mr Stracchino, who has been successfully tracked down, moved to America after his parents returned there in 1980 - 18 years after the fire.
The married father-of-three lives in New Hampshire in the United States and works as a principal architect for an enterprise database application.
The 59-year-old still has burn marks from the fire and had to spend eight months in the hospital after.
'I really have no memories of it myself,' he said.
'I recall my parents telling me years ago that the fire service took away the remaining parts of the kerosene heater after the fire, and were unable to determine what had caused it to explode.
'They also told me my crib had solid plywood ends that protected me from most of the blast and fragments.'
Aged eight, he underwent skin graft surgery to reduce scarring on the backs of his hands. While successful, it did not reduce the scarring. He also suffered smoke inhalation damage which has left him susceptible to respiratory infections.
'I had burns on my hands, knees, and forehead, and I still have visible burn scars in those places.
'My wife says the scars that remain give me character.
'It sounds as though I owe Mr Baker a sincere thank you,' he added.
His older sister Peri, who was aged two at the time, was uninjured in the blaze. She added: 'What an amazingly brave and selfless thing [Mr Baker] did.'
Mr Baker said he was happy that Mr Stracchino had been found and said he would be happy to meet him in the future.
The search for baby Stracchino
Within days of the article being published, dozens of readers had already made contact with the paper offering help.
Phone calls, emails, and messages via social media were sent with leads and suggestions of who and where the family of baby Stracchino may have be.
But it was Rachel Hardingham from Surlingham, near Norwich, who managed to track him down after spotting the link to the original article on Facebook.
She said: 'I did a search using ancestry.co.uk for birth records of babies born in Norwich around 1960 with the correct surname.
'Then I looked for his parents and found what I suspected to be their marriage record, although it wasn't a local marriage so I wasn't 100 per cent sure.
'A bit of Googling online lead me to a US ancestry site which essentially confirmed the names I had were indeed related and living in New Hampshire, USA. [Soon] I had an email address. The rest, as they say, is history.'
Mrs Hardingham was able to put Mr Stracchino in contact with the paper.
'Not a pleasant day to recall' - A mother's story
Gina Stracchino recalls the day the fire happened in an email to her son:
'I remember filling buckets of water at the kitchen sink, while one of the men whisked them upstairs. Dad and the other men were upstairs, trying to get to your cot.
'Suddenly one of those men was rushing downstairs to thrust you into my arms.
'I was horrified to see how burned your little face was.
'I had the most terrifying journey of my life [to the hospital], holding you tight as you went in and out of consciousness, one time I even thought I had lost you.
'I handed you into the care of the nurses. Only then did I realise that I didn't even have any shoes on.
'Later, when we visited, you were bandaged up like a mummy.
'You couldn't even give me a hug because your little arms were stretched out on splints.
'When I at last picked you up from the hospital to come to your new home, you were so pale and thin that I almost would not have recognised you.
'You never went back again to that house where you were born.'