THE WIDOWS of the two firefighters killed tackling a Southampton tower block blaze exactly one year ago have today spoken of the pain their deaths still cause – and their pride at the men’s service.

Alan Bannon and Jim Shears died when they were exposed to extreme heat inside flat 72 of Shirley Towers, after a pair of curtains had caught alight and sparked the fire.

Today, colleagues at St Mary’s fire station, where “Bert and Britney” had worked for eight and seven years respectively, and across the county, were due to fall silent in respect for their fallen “brothers”.

Twelve months after the blaze, investigations by the fire service, police and Health and Safety Executive are still ongoing.

    The firefighters’ deaths prompted a huge outpouring of grief and support from residents and colleagues across Southampton, Hampshire and the country as a whole, and both widows have expressed their “heartfelt thanks” for the support they have received.

    One of the most poignant moments in the aftermath of the tragic blaze came at Alan’s funeral, when his then fiveyear- old daughter Abi released a single pink helium balloon into the sky in memory of her dad.

    More than 1,000 firefighters and friends were joined by members of the public at St Mary’s Church to bid farewell to the 38-year-old, from Bitterne.

    Speaking ahead of today’s anniversary, his widow Charlotte said she was “immensely proud” of both men.

    She said: “It doesn’t seem possible that it has been a year since we last saw Alan’s smile, heard his laugh and Abi felt his arms around her in a hug.

    “Every time I look at her I am reminded of what a wonderful, devoted and loving father he was and am saddened to think he will miss seeing our brave little girl grow up.

    “I would like to send a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has sent cards, raised funds or made a donation.

    “The words of sympathy and condolence along with people’s kind generosity have been simply overwhelming.

    “I would especially like to thank all the firefighters at St Mary’s and other stations around Southampton – Alan’s ‘brothers’ – for the support and love they have given to Abi this past year.

    Words can not adequately describe my appreciation and respect for you all.”

    Carla Shears said the pain of losing father-of-two Jim, from Poole, Dorset, is “still raw” a year on, but said the “fantastic efforts to raise funds has brought me much warmth inside”.

    She said: “I miss his smile, his funny humour and his devotion to his friends and family.

    “I am not sure how we have managed to get through the past year. It has been incredibly hard. My friends and family have made it possible.

    “Jim and Alan are always in my thoughts and always will be. They are our heroes, never to be forgotten and I am incredibly proud of them both.”

    Chief fire officer John Bonney, who was due to join Red Watch at St Mary’s for today’s 11am two-minute silence, said he hoped the public would join the service in paying their respects today.

    Watch members said they have been proud to continue serving the public since the tragedy, which they believe is the best tribute they can pay to their lost friends.

    Mr Bonney said: “It’s an important milestone and anniversary, for the families first and foremost, to the watch, to Alan and James’ team, and the service as a whole. We look back with sadness, but we also look back with respect.

    “We want to reflect and remember our colleagues and the sacrifice that they made.”