Jeff Naylor lost his life in the line of duty after being fatally injured at a house fire on the 27th of April 1983. His Red Plaque was unveiled on the 7th of July 2019.
On 10 July 1983, thirty-five-year-old firefighter Jeff died as a result of the severe burns he sustained ten weeks earlier at a domestic blaze in Keighley. Five children trapped in their home were rescued by firefighters including Jeff, although two later died of their injuries. Their mother called Jeff:
“the bravest man I have ever seen … The fire engine didn’t even have time to stop before he was in through the door. He just went straight in regardless of the flames lashing out of the front room.”
In his statement to West Yorkshire Police, from his hospital bed, firefighter Jeff Naylor recalled the following details:
“I picked up the child and suddenly there was a flashover and all went red. I was knocked over and fell downstairs because of the blast. I picked the child up again but there was another blast and I lost hold of her. I staggered downstairs and must have gone into the room where the fire was because I felt myself burning.”
Following a flashover caused by the intense heat in the house fire, Jeff was found collapsed in the hallway holding one of the young children, with his uniform in flames.
Jeff had form in saving lives. He previously received the Chief Fire Officer’s Commendation for helping in the rescue of four young children from a house fire in Dalton Lane, Keighley. As one of his colleagues from white watch, Malcolm Pullen, said of him:
“He was a real worker and was always first in there. You could rely on him.”
Jeff fought for his life in the burns unit at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, buoyed by the hundreds of get well cards and other tokens of appreciation sent from well-wishers. He sadly succumbed to his injuries 10 weeks later in July.
Jeff’s death revealed the shortcomings in firefighters’ uniform, which had remained largely unchanged since the Second World War. Writing in Firefighter magazine at the time, Dave Matthews, FBU officer for health and safety, raised concerns that firefighters were responding to calls in nylon shorts, tracksuit bottoms and even in some cases nothing but underwear under their leggings. Moreover, anyone suffering burns to their legs while wearing nylon under-trousers would face having the nylon melting into the wounds. The union had campaigned since the 1950s for safer working conditions, most famously with its ‘Give me a uniform of which I can be PROUD!’ campaign. All this underlined the need for vital improvements to safety procedures, clothing and equipment, which were introduced to protect firefighters from flashovers and other intense heat risks. He was the last serving firefighter in West Yorkshire to die on active duty and is still remembered as a hero in West Yorkshire, with the town’s fire engine named in his honour.
A thousand firefighters from across the country attended Jeff’s funeral, bringing Keighley to a halt. The town has named a fire engine in his honour, and Jeff’s Red Plaque can be found by the Malsis Road entrance to Lund Park, Keighley, a short walk from the scene of the fire. Both reflect a lasting tribute to Jeff, who is remembered fondly by all who knew him. Newspapers were full of tributes to this ‘shy hero’. Jeff’s divisional commander described him as a “quiet person with a quiet determination”, who was proud to serve his home town of Keighley for over eight years. His divisional union secretary, Steven Lofthouse, noted that the town came to a halt for his funeral, paying their quiet respects to “one of their firemen”, such is the bond between a firefighter and the community he protects. His bravery was recognised posthumously with a commendation from the Queen, which his son collected.
Today, Joseph is fondly remembered by his family, former colleagues, and brothers and sisters in the FBU.
Below are memories added by those who knew Jeff Naylor or had a story that they wish to share with you. If you have a tribute for Jeff Naylor that you wish to add, please include your memory below.
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Photo credits: Neil Terry