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Heroic firefighters in line for City Hall monument honour

By Allan Preston

Firefighters could soon have a permanent monument at Belfast City Hall to honour a century of heroic service and sacrifice.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), the trade union which represents rank and file officers.

To mark the occasion, a council motion will call tomorrow for the recognition of "the huge contribution which the fire service has made to the life of the city and the safety of its citizens" and, if passed, will see a monument within the City Hall or at another suitable public space.

Jim Quinn, FBU leader in Northern Ireland, said it would be a proud moment for families.

"We've lost quite a number of firefighters over the years. I think it would be a fitting tribute to the families and the personnel we've lost and to give some recognition to the bravery and sacrifice over the last 100 years and more, we'd be very proud to see that happening," he said.

Among the most trying times for firefighters here was the 1941 Belfast Blitz which saw 1,200 people lose their lives and 56,000 buildings destroyed. Six firefighters from Northern Ireland died during World War Two.

"During the Blitz we had assistance from units in Drogheda, Dundalk and Dun Laoghaire. We also had fire engines coming from Glasgow, Leicester, Liverpool and Manchester. People don't realise how bad the Blitz was and how unprepared we were at the time," said Mr Quinn.

During the Troubles, the dangers fire crews faced intensified.

"It wasn't an easy job or particularly well paid, but some took it on as a vocation," the FBU leader said.

"Firefighters, particularly in Belfast during those days, were running into places everybody else was running away from. In fact, there were buildings where bombs and incendiaries were going off and they were working away. Things you would be horrified to hear of today.

"I was surprised a lot more people weren't injured or killed, given the amount of activity going on."

DUP councillor Lee Reynolds - who will propose the council motion tomorrow along with Sinn Fein's Jim McVeigh - said he was sure the fire service saved his own home in north Belfast.

"There was a fire set to a wooden-framed property behind mine and it's thanks to the fire service my own house didn't go up," he said.

"They were there within a few minutes and stopped it spreading to the houses around them.

"We often take what our emergency services do, because they do it every day, for granted."

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