Jack lost his life in the line of duty alongside his colleague Richard Stocking on the 23rd of January 1958. Their Red Plaque was presented on the 60th anniversary of their deaths, the 23rd of January 2018.
A Station Officer at Clerkenwell Fire Station, forty-seven-year-old Jack Fourt-Wells was among the crews who entered the maze of tunnels in the centuries-old Smithfield Market, following the outbreak of an underground fire. Thick smoke filled two and a half acres of cold storage compartments, obscuring Jack and his colleague Richard’s escape route. In heavy uniforms, cut off from communication and running out of oxygen, the two firefighters collapsed just metres away from the exit.
Their entirely avoidable deaths highlighted the dangers of woefully outdated firefighting equipment, uniforms and procedures, and kickstarted the FBU’s most significant safety campaign since World War Two. Much-needed changes were achieved in operational procedures, alarms and signalling, and by the 1970s, the union managed to persuade the government and FRS employers to modernise a breathing apparatus which had remained largely unchanged since it was introduced in 1914. The Smithfield Disaster was key to this battle to improve safety for firefighters.
Triggering improvements which saved countless lives, Jack and Richard’s sacrifice is remembered across the FBU and the fire service. Their memorial can be found at the reconstructed Smithfield Market.
Photo credits: Mark Thomas