Wife of Edinburgh firefighter Barry Martin who died in Jenners fire speaks of day he was injured in blaze
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The widow of firefighter Barry Martin who died after battling a huge blaze at the Jenners building in Edinburgh said she retraced his steps through the former department store in order to understand her husband’s last moments.
Shelley, 37, said she wanted to know everything about what happened that day to be able to give her nine-year-old twin sons Oliver and Daniel answers about the moments leading up to his death. While an investigation is ongoing, Shelley has gone over every detail of January 23. She says no matter how hard it is she has to know everything.
"I wanted to retrace Barry’s steps so I could pass it on to the boys. I want them to see how much their dad meant to me and that I did everything I could to get them all the answers,” she told the Sunday Mail. “I got the police to take me into Jenners. For me to be able to deal with this, I need to know everything, no matter how painful it is.
"Barry went into that fire, so going into the building is the least I can do. We talk about Barry everyday and, although he is no longer physically here, he is always with us. We loved him so fiercely and he us.”
Every detail of that day is seared into Shelley’s memory. Barry, 38, left his Rosyth home at 6am for a 12-hour shift with Blue Watch at McDonald Road Community Fire Station. His unit got the call that the historic Jenners building was in flames a few hours later.
Recalling the day her world was torn apart, Shelley said: “I was working from home that day. I heard about the fire on Facebook. I knew Barry would be there as it was the closest station. I kept my eye on my phone all day and was content when no casualties were reported – not realising they were referring to civilians. I sent Barry a text saying, ‘I hope you are okay?’ – but he never read it.”
Shelley got a knock on the door from the Area Commander at 4pm to tell her Barry was in a critical condition. Shelley, a case manager for Social Security Scotland, was blue-lighted in a fire car to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary with her mum.
“It was the most terrifying journey I have ever made and I thought I was going to pass out,” she said. “Seeing Barry was hard. He was really badly injured. He was still my Barry but he never regained consciousness. The next four days passed in a blur.
“I got a call in the early hours of Friday, January 27, that there had been a deterioration and I was blue-lighted to the hospital. I knew in my gut he wasn’t going to make it. He died at 1pm that day.”
Shelley didn’t want the boys to remember Barry that way so they didn't see him in hospital. She said: “Barry was, and always will be, the centre of our world. He was the most remarkable man I ever met – a devoted father and my one true love. That afternoon I had to tell our boys their daddy had died.
“I sat them down and cuddled them and said, ‘I’m really sorry but daddy didn’t make it’. It was the worst moment of my life and theirs.”
The boys wanted to join the fire service like their dad, but now they are not sure. At the moment, their priority is doing everything to keep the memory of their dad alive. Oliver and Daniel both wrote letters to go in their dad's coffin, with Daniel having described him as ‘the nicest and the kindest person he has ever known’. Oliver told him ‘he missed him’ and that he was ‘his best friend’.
Shelley said: “The boys have one of his helmets each and we have a Barry Box where we keep his firefighter boots, polish and glasses and a few weeks ago both boys changed their names so they could have Barry as a middle name.”
In a moving interview in the Sunday Mail, Shelley said it’s being there for the boys that is keeping her going. She is also setting up a trauma charity in Barry’s name. “It’s the boys who give me the strength to get up every day and carry on,” she said.
Barry applied to join the fire service twice in his early 20s but didn’t get past the final interview. After he got accepted in 2019 he was over the moon. Heartbroken Shelley said she always encouraged Barry to follow his dreams to be a firefighter and wouldn’t change a thing.
Shelley, who first met Barry when they were teenagers, said: “If someone said to me I was only going to get 20 years with him and that he was going to become a firefighter and die, would I do it all again? Yes, I would. He would not have been happy doing anything else. Firefighting was in his blood and he wouldn’t have been him if he wasn’t doing that job.”
She added: “It’s really weird but the day before the fire we were talking about Ewan and the things that can happen when you are doing such a dangerous job. It makes you wonder if something set that path for us. We were very aware of the risks and talked a lot about what would happen if he died but I urged him to follow his dreams and I don’t regret encouraging and supporting him.”
The family celebrated what would have been Barry’s 39th birthday at Edinburgh Soo, one of his favourite places. Shelley said: “He’s very much still around us. I loved Barry from the moment I laid eyes on him aged 16 and I will love him until the day I die.”