Blaze tragedy Devastated man fought to save tragic schoolgirl Brooke McMaster from house fire
Family tribute to heroic man who tried to rescue girl
The family of a 12-year-old schoolgirl who lost her life in a Co Antrim housefire have paid tribute to the man she “idolised” who desperately tried to save her.
Philip Rouke risked his own life after attempting to tear down the door of little Brooke Reid McMaster’s Ballymena bedroom on Wednesday evening after a blaze trapped her inside.
The 34-year-old, who is the partner of Brooke’s mum Martha, had battled smoke and fumes to save the Dunclug College pupil, but was unable to reach her.
She tragically died inside her Ballykeel estate home after frantically trying to escape from an upstairs window as helpless neighbours looked on.
Philip, who had been in the house when the freak fire broke out, was treated for smoke inhalation after his brave attempts to bring the little girl to safety.
On Friday, her family praised his efforts, telling the Sunday World he has been left “inconsolable” over her death.
In a heartbreaking interview, Brooke’s devastated grandmother Patricia McMaster and her daughter Christine revealed how only for neighbours stopping Philip entering the blazing family home again, he too would have perished.
“He did all he could and he could not have done any more,” Patricia told the Sunday World.
“He’s blaming himself because he couldn’t get her out of the room.
“Martha and Philip have been together for two years and Brooke just idolised him, and he idolised her.
“He would have done anything for her, he loved her and she loved him. They had a real close bond and he is just devastated.
“But there was more than just Philip who tried, quite a few of the fellas from the estate did.
“And one of them actually said to us, what sort of person am I? He was best friends with that fella [Jason] Martin who was killed a few months ago and he had tried to save him.
“He said, I couldn’t save my best friend and I couldn’t save a wee girl, what sort of man am I? And he’s beating himself up about it too.”
Christine added: “Philip has not got the recognition he deserved, he tried so hard to save Brooke, as did many others in the community.
“He tried three or four times to save her, but the fumes and the smoke pushed him back.
“If people hadn’t stopped him he would have went in again. And if he had of went in one more time, I have no doubt in my mind that would have been another life lost too.
“It’s hard enough to come to terms with without two families being in turmoil.”
The blaze is believed to have broken out inside Brooke’s bedroom at about 5.45pm on Wednesday.
It’s reported that the schoolgirl had tried to escape through an upstairs window but was prevented from getting out due to a child lock mechanism on the double glazed pane.
Brooke’s mum, Martha McMaster, who has three older children, had been visiting her sister Christine in Ahoghill village, several miles away, at the time of the blaze.
Investigations are continuing into the cause of the fire, with her family saying an electrical fault is being probed.
Said Patricia: “The only thing we can think of is it’s been a phone charger or a faulty plug. Apparently they finished last night in the house so we should find out soon what happened.”
Paying tribute to her “beautiful” Brooke, Patricia, who has 17 grandchildren, said: “There hasn’t been one person who I have talked to or have heard from who has a bad word to say about Brooke.
“She was so pleasant; she was so polite and that all boils down to her mother because her mother brought her up on her own and Martha needs respect for the way she brought that wee girl up.
“She was a lovely wee girl, she was so well-mannered, everybody just loved her. She’s like every other child, they have their moments, we called her a wee skitter.
“But at the end of the day we can call her that because she was ours.
“She wanted to be a teacher. She loved doing her TikTok dances and she loved reading. She went through wee phases for a while, at one stage she was knitting. And then she loved drawing, colouring in.
“She loved being with her cousins.”
Christine, a mum of four herself, said that in the hours before Brooke died, she had been in touch with her cousin planning a sleepover.
“I wasn’t aware of this, and Martha wasn’t aware of this, but the night all this happened, my wee girl who is 11, she was spamming Brooke’s phone with messages, trying to ring her to get through to her because they had planned a secret sleepover.
“Brooke was going to come out to our house to stay and they were going to do wee facials and face masks.
“It’s crazy, I can’t get my head around it. It feels like I am in a dream still.
“Martha is my big sister and has had to bury a child before, a wee boy, Brooklyn, 13 years ago. That’s how Brooke got her name.
“When Martha gave birth to a little girl she said she’s getting called after her big brother.
“We have a special bond and our family are very close, I myself lost a wee boy and so we have always been there for each other in the most difficult times and we all be here for Martha.”
Paying tribute to the Ballykeel community who have rallied around their family since the tragedy, Patricia said: “We cannot thank the people of Ballykeel enough who have been there for us over the last few days, and we know the hardest day is yet to come.
“These past few years this estate has had so much to cope with. People run Ballykeel down but Ballykeel is one of the best estates to live in as far as I am concerned.”
Yesterday, tributes continued to flood social media for the popular 12-year-old.
Neighbour William McKean said: “The community is still in shock, it’s an awful tragedy.
“I would have seen Brooke come and go all the time, she was a very quiet wee girl and did a lot of reading – books were never out of her hand.”
Brooke will be laid to rest today following a service at her grandparents Billy and Patricia’s Inchkeith Road home in the Ballykeel estate at 1.30pm, followed by burial at Ballee cemetery.
Two guards of honour will be formed by the 12 year-old’s school friends from Dunclug College and Ballymena football team Harryville Homers, where Brooke’s dad Geoff acts as a committee member.