Michael “Sonny” Liston

Michael “Sonny” Liston

Michael ‘Sonny’ Liston lost his life in the line of duty on the 3rd of September 1994, two days after attending a fire at a farm building. His Red Plaque was unveiled on the 1st of September 2019 to mark the 25th anniversary of his death.

Michael, a thirty-two-year-old Bodmin firefighter known to many as ‘Sonny’, was Leading Firefighter in the crew which attended a fire in a farm outbuilding where he suffered fatal inhalation of phosphene gas.

When Michael and his watchmates arrived at the fire on a farm in Cornwall, the flames were mild. They extinguished the fire without any apparent ill effects, but Michael had unknowingly inhaled phosgene gas at the scene. This poisonous substance, which caused over eighty per cent of chemical weapon fatalities in World War One, was released by smouldering chemicals stored in the building. Michael recovered sufficiently from the incident to play for the Liskeard-Looe Rugby Club two days later, but moments after scoring a try, delayed lung damage from his inhalation of the toxic fumes caused him to unexpectedly collapse on pitch. Fire service procedures for hazardous substances changed nationally because of this incident.

Michael is remembered with pride by his family, community, rugby teammates, and former colleagues. His Red Plaque is now on display and holds pride of place at his rugby club in Lux Park, Liskeard. His colleagues at Bodmin Community Fire Station remember Michael with affection as ‘a great firefighter, sportsman and the nicest person you could ever wish to meet’.

Below are memories added by those who knew Michael Liston or had a story that they wish to share with you. If you have a tribute for Michael Liston that you wish to add, please include your memory below.

Please help support our Firefighters with the Firefighters 100 Lottery, a weekly online lottery created to support firefighters, their bereaved families and to honour the bravery and sacrifice of firefighters killed in the line of duty. With your help we can have schemes such as the Red Plaque Project for memorials to those lives lost.

Learn about the history of the Red Plaque Project and discover other Firefighters that have also received Red Plaques.

Photo credits: Glen Rogers


  • Posted April 29, 2021 Reply moderated

    Tam McFarlane

    I attended the unveiling of the Red Plaque to Firefighter ‘Sonny’ Liston and found it to be a moving and powerful experience. All the people involved in organising the event deserve to be thanked, especially Mark Goldsmith and Guy Herrington - the FBU members who were central to the organising of the Red Plaque and the members and staff of Liskeard-Looe RFC, where Sonny played Rugby and where his plaque is placed. I never knew Sonny, but I was on duty in a different Brigade when the terrible news of his death came through in September 1994. It was a terrible shock and a tragic loss, which affected all firefighters. Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service and the Fire Brigades Union have made sure that he will be permanently remembered by this striking Red Plaque, they have done his memory proud and deserve our thanks for doing so.

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