Page last updated at 17:53 GMT, Friday, 25 January 2008

'My worst nightmare started to unfold'

By Nicola Pearson
BBC News, Coventry

Firefighters at memorial service
The fire brigade has traditionally seen itself as a family

Firefighters have gathered to remember four colleagues who died in a warehouse blaze - the fire service's worst loss of life in 30 years.

Pipers from the Devon and Somerset Fire Service played as more than 1,000 guests arrived at Coventry Cathedral to remember the four firefighters who died whilst tackling a fire at Atherstone on Stour in November 2007.

Passers-by stopped to stare at the spectacle of hundreds of firefighters in their formal black uniforms filing into the cathedral, walking between the two bright red fire engines that Ian Reid, 44, John Averis, 27, Darren Yates-Badley, 24 and 20-year-old Ashley Stephens would have travelled in to their last job.

After the men's families had been escorted to their seats, there was silence as the building's peace bell tolled.

The cathedral's aisles were lined with standard bearer's carrying the flags of every brigade in the country.

The fire brigade has traditionally seen itself as a family and every service in the country sent a representative to attend the memorial.

Clockwise from top left: Ashley Stephens, Darren Yates-Badley, John Averis and Ian Reid
As I stood looking at the burning building my worst nightmare started to unfold
Paul Stephens, father

The families chose the hymns Onward Christian Soldiers, The Lord's My Shepherd, Give Me Oil In My Lamp, and Lord Of All Hopefulness.

Framed photographs of the four men were positioned on the altar, and as the choir sang In Paradisum, youngsters from the Young Fire Fighters' Association lit candles perched in front of the pictures.

During the service Ian Reid's sister-in-law Lin Oldham described the 44-year-old former taxman as a "loving husband for 13 years and a doting father whose family was his life... Whatever he put his mind to he gave 100 per cent - the fire service was no exception".

Paul Stephens, Ashley Stephen's father, was also called to attend the fire on the evening his son died.

He told the congregation: "As I stood looking at the burning building my worst nightmare started to unfold."

He said that he had watched the men go into the warehouse and his last words to them were "be careful".

"I have lost three good friends and a son... four heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice doing what they enjoyed the most."

Last Post

William Brown, Warwickshire County fire officer, paid tribute to all four men.

He described John Averis, who was 27, as having a "hard working and conscientious nature" and said his "heart and soul were in the job".

Fitness instructor Darren Yates-Badley, 24, he said was a "loyal husband and father".

"He will be remembered as a larger than life character who loved to help others, who lived for his family and cared deeply for his community," Mr Brown told the congregation.

And he described the youngest of the men to die, Ashley Stephens, 20, as a "committed father" and said "it is an unfortunately rare quality these days for young people to show the level of dedication Ashley did".

At the end of the service The Last Post was sounded by a bugle player standing on a balcony at the back of the cathedral.

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