THE loved ones and colleagues of two firefighters who died after their engine crashed gathered as a lasting memorial to them was unveiled.
The 30th anniversary of the tragedy which claimed the lives of Anthony Hall, 24, of Horden, and John Donley, 26, of Chester-le-Street, was marked with a ceremony held at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
Meanwhile, a wreath was also tied to a tree near the scene of the accident, on the A182 near Pesspool Bridge, by members of County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, who also asked stations to hold a two minute silence if they were not dealing with an incident.
The start and end of the memorial service was signalled by four flicks of a chief officer’s bell, as was the tradition to mark the beginning and close of a shift, with two rings made to mark a two minutes’ silence during the ceremony.
The force’s flag and the Union Jack was lowered as people took time to remember the pair.
Gillian Storey is the widow of Anthony, who was known as Tony, and was four months pregnant with their son Adam, when the incident happened.
John’s wife Sue Saunders had given birth to their daughter Claire four months before the accident, and has since remarried.
Gillian, 54, who is also mum to Rebecca Storey, 16, and married to Ernie, usually makes a pilgrimage to Sunderland Crematorium to lay flowers for Tony, with that tribute carried on her behalf by her family while she was Staffordshire.
She said on behalf of the families: “The service could couldn’t have been done any better than it did, and it was good to go down and continue to remember them and see then honoured in a national park.
“We don’t really believe that time heals, you just learn to cope.
“We are just proud of them all, and we wanted to think about them and also about the safety about those who followed on from them.”
The men’s mothers, Rita Hall and Mary Donley also attended the service, where the force’s flag was lowered during the silence and wreaths laid.
Stones bearing their names were also unveiled.
It was led by the service’s chaplain, Reverend Robert Lawrence and the men’s colleague Ian Ferguson, who was 27 at the time, gave a reading.
Ian, who retired from the service four years ago after 34 years in the job, was based at Seaham’s station on the night of the accident and his crew was sent to cover the Peterlee appliance which had been sent to the scene.
They were then diverted there too, only discovering it was their colleagues they had been called to help when they arrived.
Ian said of the service: “It was just fantastic, it was done in a perfect way.
“For me, it’s poignant because their names are now side by side.
“It’s a reminder at the national memorial where people can pay their respects.
“It could have been any of the lads on the stations on that machine, that’s the big lottery of life.”
The three other men on the appliance were badly injured but survived in the crash, which happened as they were on their way to a chimney fire in South Hetton.
Donations flooded in to the families of those involved in the aftermath of the tragedy, with fire chiefs ensuring appliances with extra safety measures such as reinforced cabs were brought in on future engines.
Tony and John’s names are already listed on the firefighters’ memorial outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London.