Firefighter's Funeral in Southampton

The funeral's taken place of a "hero'' firefighter who died with a colleague while battling a blaze in a residential tower block in Southampton.

Hundreds of firefighters lined the streets in a show of respect and grief at the funeral of a "hero'' colleague who lost his life battling a blaze in a Southampton tower block.

Alan Bannon, 38, died tackling the fire at Shirley Towers in Southampton on April 6. His colleague James Shears, 35, from Poole, Dorset, also died at the same incident.

The funeral cortege left St Mary's Fire Station in Southampton and passed hundreds of mourners, including hundreds of off-duty firefighters and members of the public, as it headed to St Mary's Church.

The coffin, draped in the fire service standard with Mr Bannon's firefighting helmet on top, was carried on a turntable ladder fire appliance accompanied by the pallbearers.

In front of the appliance was the fire service's group manager Stewart Adamson. The appliance was followed by five limousines, with St Mary's station manager Dave Graham and members of Red Watch walking behind. The St Mary's fire engine followed with the rest of the crews from the station on foot behind.

Margaret Bannon, the mother of Mr Bannon, said the family had lost a caring father, a loving son and a dear friend who always wanted to be a firefighter.

His parents said in a statement: "There are sons and there are special sons. Alan was one of the special ones.''

Mr Bannon, from Southampton, was married to Charlotte and father to five-year-old Abigail. He lived near his parents and sister, Lin, and joined Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service in 2001.

Reports have said the firefighters were found unconscious by paramedics on the ninth floor of the block and one died at the scene and one in hospital.

A joint fire service and police investigation is continuing to find out what caused the fire in flat 72 and how the experienced men, from Red Watch based at St Mary's Fire Station in Southampton, died. Post mortems identified excessive heat as the cause.

The service was led by the chaplain of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, the Revd Dr Derek Overfield. It began with a traditional Scottish folk song Will Ye Go and a reading of A Time For Everything.

Other music chosen by the family included Moonlight Shadow by Mike Oldfield, Just Around The River Bend from the Walt Disney film Pocahontas and One Way by The Levellers.

The Oldfield song was chosen by his widow after she heard it on the radio shortly after hearing of her husband's death.

Dr Overfield said: "Charlotte has clung to the words 'See you in heaven one day'''

Chief officer John Bonney said that Mr Bannon and Mr Shears had made the "ultimate sacrifice'' on behalf of the residents of Southampton and their colleagues.

He said: "They didn't think of themselves but they knew absolutely that this fire had to be fought and beaten and ultimately their sacrifice saved the lives of others, that I am absolutely certain. As we share with Charlotte, Abi, Margaret and Pat tears of grief and sadness we also celebrate the memory of a life framed by humour, happiness, dedication and satisfaction in doing a job well.''

Mark Wood, a colleague from Red Watch, said that Mr Bannon, who had the nickname of Bert, had a special brother-like bond with the other members of the watch.

He fought back tears as he said: "He was a man who wasn't afraid to stand up and be counted. He watched our backs as we watched his and it hurts.

"But as a watch we have had a brother taken from us but we will always carry a piece of Bert with us in our hearts.

"He will always be Red Watch, Bertie, Bertie, Bertie, sleep well brother.''

A poem read on behalf of Mr Bannon's daughter Abigail said:

"Daddy you made me feel protected and sheltered by your care.'' It also said:

"Daddy you were the very best and I will miss you.''

The service, attended by family, friends and close colleagues, was followed by a private committal.

Spontaneous applause broke out amongst the firefighters lined up outside the church as the coffin was carried out, followed by Mr Bannon's widow and daughter.

Donations were asked to be made to The Fire Fighters Charity.

Mr Bannon joined Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service in October 1997 as a welder before he trained to fulfil his lifelong ambition to become a firefighter which he achieved in September 2001.