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Hero primary school teacher Marco Hilgers breaks into burning house to save neighbour in Downswood area of Maidstone

By Claire McWethy

A primary school teacher has been hailed a hero after he kicked down a door to rescue an elderly neighbour trapped in her burning home.

Marco Hilgers was in his garden in the Downswood area of Maidstone when he heard an alarm sound.

The blaze started in a kitchen when paper left near a toaster burst into flames and quickly spread, trapping a woman in her 80s.

Marco Hilgers in front of the house where he saved his elderly neighbour from a fire

Mr Hilgers, who spent 17 years as a firefighter in his native Holland, drew on his professional skills as he broke in through the back door to get her out safely.

He said: "I thought someone might be having a barbecue because of the nice weather, but soon after I noticed it smelt of plastic and realised it must be a fire."

The 52-year-old - who had only moved in the week before - raised the alarm with his neighbours, who called the fire brigade while he went to investigate.

He said: "I walked round into the garden and the lady who lives there was trying to get out, but had locked herself in and couldn't escape.

"All I did was break the door down and get her out. She probably would have died of suffocation otherwise.

"I'm not sure it was the best way for me to introduce myself to my neighbours...!" - hero primary school teacher Marco Hilgers

"The house was completely filled with smoke, which is often deadlier than the fire itself.

"I'm not sure it was the best way for me to introduce myself to my neighbours!"

Firefighters in breathing apparatus spent 20 minutes extinguishing the flames.

The woman was taken to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation, but is said to be recovering well.

Neighbour Mervyn Westley praised Mr Hilgers, saying: "If he hadn't got her out she would not be alive today.

"He saved her life. It is nice to have someone as kind and considerate as him living nearby."

But Mr Hilgers was keen to play down his actions.

"People call you a hero but that is not right," he said. "When someone is in need it is your duty to help them."

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