London Fire Brigade

LFB 150: Stephen Maynard remembered 36 years after Limehouse ship blaze

25 January 2016

As we celebrate our 150th anniversary we're looking back at some of the most significant and some of the more unusual incidents that have taken place since we were formed in 1866.

Today firefighters past and present stood to remember Leading Fireman Stephen Maynard who died at a ship fire in Limehouse Basin 36 years ago.

Retired members and current firefighters hold minute silence

The Brigade placed a plaque in Steve's memory and every year on, or near, the anniversary retired members of Poplar Fire Station meet up with the current crew to hold a minutes silence.

Hackney Borough Commander Steve Dudeney tells the story: "On 17, January 1980, fire crews from the Green Watch at Poplar Fire Station, whose ground covered the Regents Canal Dock, had been called to a fire on the ship caused by workers using hot cutting equipment.

"The fire was quickly tacked by the crews and work on the boat continued throughout January until the fateful morning of the 25th.

"The Red Watch at Poplar reported for Duty at 1800 on Thursday, 24 January.

"Typically for Poplar at that time they had a very busy night with a number of calls in and around Poplar and one of the fire engines had spent a large part of the night fighting a large fire at Chelsea Flour Mills in West London.

Friday dawned a clear day

"Friday dawned a clear day, at around 0830 a number of the oncoming Green Watch had started to appear, having had a long night a few of the Watch had decided to take an exchange duty so a few members of the Green Watch were now riding for Red Watch personnel.

"At 0855 that morning, a call was received from workers on the ship.

"There was a fire in the hold; once again contractors had accidentally set alight to insulating material in the tank.

Erupted into flame and smoke

"Upon the arrival of the crews, a fire was seen to be in progress in the hold of the ship and a Breathing Apparatus crew, consisting of firefighters Steve Maynard and Steve Debenham from the Red Watch, with Fire Officer George Thomas and Firefighter Gary Jones from the Green Watch, were committed with a firefighting jet.

"When he reached the top of the ladder, Steve Debenham noticed that Steve Maynard was not behind him.

"He went back down the ladder and all of a sudden the hold of the ship erupted into flame and smoke.

"Steve Debenham was badly burned and Steve Maynard did not manage to escape, he tragically lost his life.

"The Brigade lost a good officer and his family and colleagues mourned his untimely death at the age of 26.

"Thirty six years on from that day, Limehouse Basin is now almost unrecognisable.

"Members of Steve's family, retired members who attended the fire, local senior officers and principal LFB officers lined up at the side of the dock to commemorate the anniversary of Steve's death."

Read more about our 150th anniversary