Essex firefighter honoured 71 years after tragedy
An Essex firefighter killed in the line of duty 71 years ago has been honoured with a memorial plaque in Boreham.
Hector Keeley, 42, died when he was trapped under a fire appliance at an incident in Boreham in July 1950.
A plaque, part of the Fire Brigades Union’s (FBU) Red Plaque Scheme, was unveiled on Thursday 29 July at The Grange pub in Boreham.
Hector’s daughter Daphne Leeder, left, was the guest of honour at the presentation, which was attended by Jo Turton, Chief Fire Officer / Chief Executive at Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS), Tam McFarlane, FBU National Officer, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service’s FBU Secretary Ricardo de la Torre and Chelmsford’s Deputy Mayor Councillor Linda Mascot. Firefighters past and present, including colleagues from the Urban Search and Rescue team at ECFRS, also attended.
The bell on the turntable ladder, from the Essex Fire Museum, was rung by Lee Newland, the youngest firefighter on Green Watch Chelmsford, to mark the start and end of a minute’s silence.
Adam Barrett, a former Chelmsford firefighter now based at the Urban Search and Rescue team in Lexden, arranged for the plaque to be installed.
He said: “It might have happened 71 years ago, but I just wanted to make sure Daphne got to see that her dad has been properly remembered and honoured. He will never be forgotten – the plaque is a foot in the door of history.”
Daphne, who unveiled the plaque, said: “I would like to thank my friends and family who are here today and everyone involved, especially Adam who I can’t thank enough. It is just wonderful.”
Hector’s story had been lost in the passages of time. It was widely believed that no Essex firefighter had lost their life in the line of duty until former Great Baddow Firefighter Ashley Drage spotted Hector’s headstone in a cemetery 11 years ago.
Ex-Chelmsford Firefighter Martin Ketley tracked down one of his daughters, Daphne, and a plaque was unveiled at Chelmsford Fire Station, on the 60th anniversary of his death, in 2010.
Adam, left, picked up the story. He said: “When I read about the Red Plaque Scheme I thought we should have one in Essex to honour Firefighter Keeley. He not only died in tragic circumstances, he had a distinguished career.
“He was fighting a field fire in Boreham when he was run over. Witnesses say the fire was spreading towards a building and the Officer in Charge jumped into a fire engine and drove off without giving the order. Hector was untangling a hose reel and got dragged under the appliance.
“The biggest tragedy was that his wife only got a £1 a week pension. Firefighters weren’t insured at the time so his colleagues used to take her care packages.
“During his career, he was part of the war effort, fighting fires in Coventry and London during the Blitz, and he later helped to set up fire stations in Essex.”
The plaque was due to be installed last year, to mark the 70th anniversary of Hector’s death, but it was delayed due to the COVID pandemic.
Page last updated 1 August, 2021