Plaque unveiled to honour fallen firefighter

A RED plaque has been unveiled on memory of a firefighter who died while tackling a blaze in Denton on his final night shift before his retirement almost 50 years ago.

Wilfred McLaughlan passed away when the roof of the factory at the Oldham Batteries site collapsed on April 25, 1972.

Now after a spell of research by a fellow firefighter, his memory has been truly honoured by the unveiling of the red plaque at Denton Wellness Centre, situated very close to where the incident took place.

William later died from his injuries which were sustained when he was buried for a second time after previously pulling himself free after being trapped up to his waist.

Wilfred McLaughlin

Very little was known about him but a moving ceremony on Friday, November 19 saw his memory honoured by Denton MP Andrew Gwynne, current firefighters at the Phillips Park station he served, several Tameside councillors and even two of his former colleagues.

Carlos Meakin, assistant chief fire officer at Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, was also on hand and heard testimony from Edward Burrows of the Fire Brigades Union.

He said: “He made ultimate sacrifice in line of duty. Firefighters across the world are one family, loss of one is a loss to us all.”

Edward eventually died of bronchial pneumonia after suffering 30 per cent burns to his arms, legs and face in the horrific incident.

At the inquest into his death in July 1972, Manchester Fire Brigade Chief Fire Officer Harry Lomas said: “He was a man who has always had my greatest support and my greatest respect. It seems a terrible tragedy to all his friends in the brigade.”

The red plaque was unveiled at Denton Wellness Centre

Coroner Donald Summerfield added: “This is a tragic story and I am told this brave man was only a few days off retirement.

“At every fire, firefighters take their lives into their hands but it does not deter them.”

Graham Bowker was told about the loss when he was posted to his former fire station five years after his passing.

And while there has been limited coverage or discussion about the death in the time since and he had no traceable family until a great niece was located recently, he never forgot about him.

When the Oldham Batteries site on Edward Street was developed, Graham started researching the story and making enquiries with a view to having a plaque established on the site.

Now one has been unveiled, Mr Bowker could not contain his pride.

He said: “As firefighters, we are always mindful of the debt we owe to our fellow firefighters who came before us.

“I first heard this story as a young firefighter and it has always stayed with me even though it’s been around 45 years since.

“When I saw the site was being built on I thought it was the right time to start trying to ensure that McLaughlan and his sacrifice were never forgotten. We owe it to him to ensure that that doesn’t happen.”

The plaque was unveiled as part of the Fire Brigade Union’s red plaque scheme, which seeks to memorialise firefighters who died in the line of duty with a plaque near to where the relevant incident happened.

Mr Burrows, Fire Brigades Union regional secretary for the North West, added: “As firefighters we want to ensure that our predecessors are not forgotten.

“They helped build and develop our profession through their dedication and service, something we all benefit from today.

“McLaughlan and many other firefighters have made sacrifices which we must remember, and the Fire Brigades Union is honoured to play a part in remembering Wilfred McLaughlan and his sacrifice.”

When unveiling the plaque, Tameside’s Deputy Mayor, Cllr Mike Glover, said: “I’m really honoured and privileged. We remember someone who really was a hero.

“It’s hard to think 50 years ago it was the scene of a blaze that claimed a man’s life.”

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