Richard lost his life in the line of duty alongside his colleague Jack Fourt-Wells on the 23rd of January 1958. Their Red Plaque was presented on the 60th anniversary of their deaths, the 23rd of January 2018.
Based at Clerkenwell Fire Station, 31-year-old Richard Stocking was among the crew which 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 Richard and his colleague Jack’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Their entirely avoidable deaths highlighted the dangers of woefully outdated firefighting equipment, uniforms and procedures, and kickstarted profound changes to the service. The FBU’s most significant safety campaign since World War Two brought about much-needed changes to 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 have saved countless lives, Richard and Jack’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