My anguish, by dad of fireman Nial Hamilton who died after tackling car fire
Published 12/02/2014 | 12:00
The father of a firefighter who died on duty in Lurgan says he is finding it very hard to cope with losing his only son.
Enniskillen pensioner Eric Hamilton (70) was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night after the devastating loss of his 44-year-old son Nial.
Eric said Nial said no father should see his son die before him.
Nial had helped extinguish a blaze in a car in the Kilwilkie area of Lurgan on Monday at around 10pm when he collapsed.
Mr Hamilton's crew had been called to deal with a car on fire around 9.30pm at Deeny Drive.
The blaze was brought under control, but Mr Hamilton collapsed shortly afterwards.
He was treated at the scene before being brought to Craigavon Hospital, but was later pronounced dead.
The father-of-two was based at Lurgan station and had worked for the Fire Service for 24 years.
He was a past pupil of Portora Royal School in Enniskillen and had been married to A&E nurse Ruth for over seven years.
The couple have two young sons, Alex (6) and Rory (4).
Nial's young family live close to his parent's house.
On Monday evening the Fire Service was not able to reach them on the phone and officers had to travel to Co Fermanagh to speak to the family.
Mr Hamilton spoke with sadness as he recalled the events of Monday evening, and how his daughter-in-law was in hysterics as they were told at around 11.30pm that Nial was in Craigavon Hospital.
"We hadn't been told it was fatal at that stage," he said.
" The fire officer then got us into the car and drove to Craigavon.
"As we got nearer the hospital he turned to me and said 'Eric, this is very serious'.
"I knew myself at that stage it was lights out.
"When we went in the commander for the area met us and just shook his head."
Eric said Nial lived for the job and from his school days had never wanted to do anything else. He said he and his wife were more worried about the dangers of his driving rather than about his job.
"We had more worries about him travelling up and down to Lurgan," he said.
"He only started there on Sunday, it was only his second term of duty when this happened."
Nial had been part-time in the Fire Service for two years, joining at 18, then went full-time at the age of 20.
He had been due to retire in seven years.
"It's sad. I'm his father and I'm 70. To see your own son go before you is hard to take," he said.
A post mortem was carried out yesterday. Eric said the results were found to be inconclusive.
His body was due to be returned to his family last night.
Eric said that he and Nial's wife had asked for a full Fire Service funeral.
The funeral will take place tomorrow.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service is investigating the incident. The PSNI and the Health and Safety Executive have also been informed.
The last firefighter to die in Northern Ireland was Fermanagh man Paul O'Brien (36). Mr O'Brien died in a car accident on his way home from duty on February 19, 2009 leaving a widow and three children. Before that firefighter Joe McCloskey (50) from Dungiven died on Halloween night in 2003 after falling through a roof tackling a blaze at a hotel in Limavady.