George Taylor, a retired fire officer who rescued five people from a fourth-floor ledge in the Henderson’s Department Store fire on 20 June 1960 was laid to rest on Monday in a service attended by the Chief Fire Officer, family, friends and with a guard of honour from Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service.
In 1960, 31-year-old George Taylor was stationed at Hatton Garden Fire Station at the rank of ‘leading fireman’ when the fire broke out in the department store on Church Street, Liverpool.
The store was full of hundreds of staff and customers at the time and was spreading rapidly throughout the building.
George ascended a 100 ft. turntable ladder to rescue people stranded on an exterior ledge of the fourth floor in their effort to escape the raging flames and smoke within. Tragically, as George ascended, one of the people fell to their death from the ledge, but his quick and decisive actions saved five remaining people who were brought down the ladder to safety.
In one of the most serious fires of the time, 11 people were tragically killed, however without the heroic actions of George on that day, the death toll would have been higher.
Famously, George was not given a medal for his heroic actions at the time, but was instead given a dressing down by the Chief Fire Officer as in his haste to ascend the ladder and rescue those in peril, he had forgotten to put on his helmet.
In a poignant turn of events, the very same helmet rested on his coffin during his funeral service, where the current Chief Fire Officer, Phil Garrigan posthumously awarded him with a certificate for Meritorious Action for his heroics on that day. This recognition brought many of the attendees to tears as he had finally been recognised for his bravery.
At a ceremony in Liverpool Town Hall in March, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service was awarded the great honour of the Freedom of Liverpool by the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Mary Rasmussen. George was able to attend and when his presence was announced, he received a spontaneous, rapturous round of applause. It was very fitting for his heroic actions to finally be recognised after 62 years by former and serving Fire & Rescue Service officers and assembled dignitaries.
George passed away in April at the age of 94. His life was celebrated at a service at Ainsdale Methodist Church, at which the current Chief Fire Officer spoke of his brave actions and his contribution to the long and proud history of the Service:
“As Chief Fire Officer I would have nominated George for a bravery award for what he did that summer’s day. The rescue of five people from a fourth floor ledge whilst smoke and flames are around you was without doubt a brave act.”
In a heartfelt address to those assembled, he later went on to add, “George acted instinctively – saving the lives of five people that day – who knows what life would be like for those families today if it had not been for his actions.”
After the service, the funeral cortege paused at Southport Fire Station where the firefighters on duty had assembled to pay their respects, before the onward journey to Southport crematorium, where standard-bearers from the Royal British Legion and the Royal Marines association were in attendance to honour George’s National Service with the Marines.
Stephen Bousfield, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service Historian and Archivist said of George, “He was a modest man who gave 30 years exemplary service to the people of Merseyside and rose to become a station officer. It was a privilege to have known George and to hear his stories about his time in the fire service.”
Image: George Taylor with CFO Phil Garrigan – Liverpool Freedom of the City, 11 March 2022