Stephen McGill was only nine years old when his firefighter dad died in the line of duty.
His father, Adrian McGill, was tackling a fire on Glasgow’s Maryhill Road. On 18 November 1972, crews were called out to a fire in a disused wallpaper shop. As the firefighters worked to save the flats above the shop, the fire spread through to a row of tenements on Great Western Road.
Firefighters rescued 15 people by ladders and over 200 people were led through smoke to safety or evacuated from adjacent premises.
Sub Officer McGill gave his breathing apparatus to a resident who was trapped in her top flat on Maryhill Road. Firefighters rescued the resident, who was called Alice Mulgrew, by ladder, but sadly she passed away soon after and Sub Officer McGill succumbed to the effects of smoke inhalation.
Adrian, who was 34, left behind a wife, Eileen, and their three children, Stephen, Shirley and Alan. They were aged, nine, eight and nine months.
Stephen said: ‘I remember it was a Saturday. He went to work and never came back. We heard on the teatime BBC news that there had been a big fire in Glasgow and a firefighter had died but we weren’t unduly concerned because he went to a lot of big fires. But at around 7pm two senior firefighters came to our door in full dress code – and as soon as we opened the door, we knew what news they were bringing.’
The McGill family, like most firefighters’ families at that time, lived in flats above fire stations. Stephen remembers the families living next to their home in Govan, filing up the stairs and coming to visit. He also remembers his father’s funeral where firefighters lined the streets to pay their respects standing with their axes and helmets.
On the 50th Anniversary of Adrian’s death, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) held a memorial service in Adrian’s honour presided over by the SFRS chaplains at a heritage plaque on the Maryhill Road site. SFRS Area Commander David Murdoch, Local Senior Officer for Glasgow, paid tribute to his bravery and Stephen also said a few words in his father’s honour. Members of the McGill family stood together, including Adrian’s sisters Patricia Campbell and Marion Quatrine.
Stephen, who is 59 and lives in Erskine, said: ‘It was a long time ago but it’s still fresh in my mind. My mum was only in her early 30s and with a young family.’
Sadly, mum Eileen has since passed away, sister Shirley still lives in Glasgow and younger brother Alan now lives in Australia.
When Adrian died in 1972, Glasgow City Council commemorated him with a bravery certificate. Stephen gifted a copy of the certificate to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service in recognition of the support his family have received throughout the years, both financial and emotional.
He said: ‘What happened was sad but we were lucky, we were never alone. We had financial and emotional support from the fire service, right through our teenage years.
‘If my mum was here, she would be thrilled he’s getting this day in his memory. My dad was a very gregarious and fun man. He loved life and he loved being a firefighter. This is a celebration of his life and what he did.’
Stephen also followed his dad’s career and served as a firefighter for around seven years with Glasgow Fire Brigade, based at the city’s Cowcaddens Fire Station. He was also seconded to the then North West Fire Station – now Maryhill Fire Station – it’s where his dad was stationed.
He said: ‘It was quite surreal to be walking around the rooms and the dorms where he had spent his last days and where he would have been stationed that day when the engine left.’
Area Commander David Murdoch is SFRS Local Senior Officer for Glasgow. He said: ‘It is an honour to be here today and to stand with the McGill family and friends as we remember firefighter Adrian McGill. This is a fitting tribute to a brave man who made the ultimate sacrifice to help save lives and protect communities. He will never be forgotten. His spirit lives on in each and every one of our firefighters today as they approach their role with that same commitment and selfless dedication.’
A Red Plaque was unveiled at Maryhill Fire Station (775 Maryhill Rd, Glasgow G20 7TL), on Friday, 18 November.
The Fire Brigades Union’s Red Plaque Scheme commemorates firefighters who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union General Secretary, said: ‘Firefighters will always do everything they can to save lives. Adrian McGill’s bravery extended to laying his life down in an attempt to save another. It is so important that what he did is never forgotten. Red Plaques help firefighters to feel connected to those who came before them and helps them to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the line of duty. The Fire Brigades Union is proud and privileged to play a role in making sure that Adrian McGill is remembered.’
Seona Hart, FBU Scotland Regional Treasurer, said: ‘Adrian McGill made a split-second decision out of care for someone else, a stranger who he had never met before, and a decision which he would have known came with huge risk. It is self-sacrifice on an almost indescribable scale. There’s a quote that states that there is no more stirring symbol of our humanity towards others than a fire engine. Adrian McGill and what he did personify that.
‘This plaque will ensure that the Glasgow community knows about the sacrifice that Adrian McGill made, and it will help Glasgow’s firefighters remember one of their own.’
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.