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IFSJ Exclusive: Behind the Red Plaque Scheme

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Tam McFarlane, Fire Brigades Union National Officer talks about the project commemorating the lives of those lost in the line of duty

What is The Red Plaque Scheme?

The Red Plaque Scheme is a project designed to ensure that firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty are remembered through a permanent memorial. This is designed as a striking red plaque which bears the firefighters name. It is normally placed either at the scene of the fire, where the firefighter lost their life, or at the fire station from where they were based.

It was established as part of the Fire Brigades Union’s centenary, which took place in 2018. It is part of a Firefighters 100 Lottery project which was put in place to come up with memorials for fallen firefighters.

In 2017, in the lead up to the centenary, it struck a group of us, that there should be a similar scheme as the blue plaques they have in London, placed on houses where people of historical significance lived. But for real heroes – firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

We then engaged with different designers to come up with the design for the red plaque before putting it forward to the executive where it was agreed upon. It has been entirely funded by the Firefighters 100 Lottery, which was launched at the same time as the centenary. Since it began, the Scheme has really caught the imagination of firefighters and communities right across the country.

We have set up a website for the project. People are encouraged to make applications to have a red plaque put in place. To date we’ve got over 70 plaques that have been unveiled, that carry the names of over 180 firefighters – some plaques have more than one firefighter that lost their life in the line of duty. We’ve got a whole list of pending plaques that are under consideration at this time.

How has the FBU chosen which firefighters to recognise?

It is specific to firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty. We’ve got a team in place in the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and they consider all applications on their own merits. We assess the name against the firefighters’ memorial trust records, and if the name is registered then that is taken as appropriate. If it’s not there, we undertake an investigation to see if it’s viable.

Can you give details of some more notable examples?

Every firefighter that gets a plaque laid in their memory is notable. It would be wrong to pick out one name. Every plaque I’ve attended has been notable in its own way.

Recently there was a red plaque unveiled at Maryhill Fire Station, where a firefighter called Adrian McGill had lost his life in the line of duty on 18 November 1972. In many ways Adrian’s red plaque is typical of the courage and bravery shown by firefighters on a daily basis.  He was attempting to rescue a trapped woman in a fire at Maryhill Road in Glasgow, and it is thought that in an attempt to save her life he gave her his oxygen mask. Unfortunately, both died in the incident.

It is that sort of real courage that defines the service in many ways and is what we think is so important to remember. We hope when the public see the red plaque they’ll see the sacrifice that firefighters have made over the years in service to their communities.

This project has primarily been driven by serving firefighters: the Red Plaque Scheme has come to their attention and they know of instances within their own brigade where firefighters have lost their lives. It only takes one or two people at a station to research that person, make an application and drive forward the process.

The majority of these plaques are driven by firefighters, which I think shows a real connection between the service of firefighters today and their recognition and understanding of the sacrifice that colleagues who built the fire service have made in the past.

Firefighters know their history. We understand the legacy that has been left to us and its driven home to us whenever we are on duty. We understand the sacrifice of previous generations, whether that be in building the service, improving the service, and developing safe policies, procedures and practices. We understand our history and we know how important it is that it is recognised at a wider level across communities. That’s what the Red Plaque Scheme is all about.  

How can people support the Red Plaque Scheme?

I’d ask people who would like to participate in the project to go to the Red Plaque website ( where you can see a list of all the plaques that we’ve laid so far and make an application for a new plaque. Every single plaque is funded in its entirety by the proceeds of the Firefighters 100 Lottery. That’s only a pound a week to buy a lottery ticket, and a portion of the proceeds from each ticket goes to good causes, including the Red Plaque Scheme.

The project is going from strength to strength, but behind every plaque there is a personal tragedy. People are always surprised by the number of firefighters that have lost their lives in the line of duty – well over 2000 in the UK – and I think there’s a real desire to see these heroes recognised, which this project is designed to do. 

This article was originally published in the January edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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