A FATHER, who with his son, cheated death when they became trapped in their blazing home, spoke for the first time about the ordeal last night.

Rod Bell, from Darlington, County Durham, rescued his 11-year-old son, James, from a converted loft bedroom with seconds to spare, as they were engulfed by smoke in a fire last week.

He has now teamed up with North-East fire chiefs to issue a warning over hastily-built loft conversions, which have been branded "death traps".

Fire officials say that many lofts are being converted into bedrooms without adequate fire safety precautions and permission from councils under building regulations.

The conversion, built by Mr Bell, had no proper staircase or fire door and was above the bedroom where the blaze started. An aluminium ladder, which provided the only means of exit, melted in the heat of the fire.

Mr Bell, 35, of Longfield Road, said: "We feel very lucky to be alive and at one point, just for a second, I thought, 'this is it'.

"The firefighters told us that, had we stayed there a couple of seconds longer, we would have died."

Mr Bell and his son climbed through the loft window and, while James waited on the roof, his father leapt down on to a conservatory below, smashing through it.

Suffering from cuts and burns and a torn ankle ligament, he managed to grab a ladder in the back garden and led James, who received slight burns, to safety.

Assistant divisional officer Alan Wray, of County Durham Fire and Rescue, said: "The safety message is that if you are going to convert a loft, talk to building control at your local council, who will give you advice.

"If it is to be used for storage that's fine, but problems often occur when you want to put people in there, particularly to sleep in what is just a hole in the roof.

"This loft conversion was a death trap, and if the father and son had not got out sooner they would have been dead."