A plaque has been unveiled for two Northern Ireland firefighters who died in the line of duty. The plaque was unveiled close to the 51st anniversary of their deaths, on Sunday, 20 November 2022.
Leonard McCartney and Lexie Wylie were killed when the building they were fighting a fire in, the Meville Hotel on Foyle Street, Derry/Londonderry, collapsed onto them.
A message sent to the fire service control room shortly after said ‘no action for rescue is possible as all upper floors collapsed without warning’ and that ‘all five floors and attics severely damaged by fire… Leading Fireman McCartney and Leading Fireman Wylie were last seen in the ground floor corridor at the front of the building.’
It took 17 hours for the bodies to be located and removed from the rubble of Melville Hotel.
The plaque was unveiled at the location where the incident took place on 21 November 1971.
Leading Fireman Leonard McCartney was 42 years of age and lived in Violet Street. He had been a firefighter based in Northland Road Fire Station for 20 years and was survived by his wife Mary and three children Audrey, Robert and Alan.
Leading Fireman Lexie Wylie was 35 years old and had been in the fire service for 14 years, also serving at Northland Road Fire Station. He lived with his mother and sister at their family home in Galliagh.
Both have been described in the order of service for the unveiling as ‘popular and valued members of the team of firefighters who protected their local community day and night through those dark and dangerous times’.
The Fire Brigades Union’s Red Plaque Scheme commemorates all firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Jim Quinn, FBU executive council member for Northern Ireland, said: ‘Leonard McCartney and Lexie Wylie were firefighters who did everything they could do to serve their communities for years. They fought fires and carried out rescues during a very dangerous period in our country. They carried out their duties with real bravery and lost their lives in a huge and tragic incident. It is absolutely vital that we remember them and their contributions across their time in the fire and rescue service. This plaque will go a long way to ensuring that that happens.’
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: ‘The FBU’s Red Plaque Scheme places plaques for firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty as close to the place of the incident as possible. It is vital that history is remembered in the spaces it was lived. Doing that ensures that the community can really understand what happened. Mr McCartney and Mr Wylie were by all accounts extraordinarily brave firefighters who worked in a very difficult time for their communities. It is a privilege for the union to have a part in ensuring that they and what they did are remembered.’
The Red Plaque Scheme is fully funded by proceeds from the weekly Firefighters 100 Lottery which has been able to create several Plaques each year since it began in 2017. Over time, as supporters of the Lottery continues to grow, more Red Plaques can be placed at the heart of communities affected by firefighter fatalities.