Hundreds remember ‘hero’ Sussex firefighter

Tributes have poured in for a ‘hero’ firefighter who was a driving school instructor for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS).

Mark Butler, 55, died from leukemia on May 1.

Mark's son, Adam leading the way at the funeral procession in Haywards Heath, proudly wearing his medals. Photo by Eddie Howland

Mark's son, Adam leading the way at the funeral procession in Haywards Heath, proudly wearing his medals. Photo by Eddie Howland

His funeral took place on Thursday (May 23), where a cortege was lead by friend and colleague Gavin Twinn, alongside Dave Oakley-Ves and a bagpipe player.

The route along South Road in Haywards Heath was lined by hundreds of fire service personnel and members of the public and a guard of honour fell silent for one minute at the halfway point.

His daughter, Megan Butler, said: “Words cannot explain how much you mean to me. You were always there to help others, they always got put first and you came second.

“You have helped so many people in your lifetime, you have been a hero to so many people.

We stood together to remember the legend of a man you were and still are. All I can say is the biggest thank you for making me the best person that I could possibly be. It is a true privilege to be your daughter.

Megan Butler

“Yesterday, we had to say our final goodbyes to you. You had Haywards Heath at a stand still, you had your family, station 62 family, friends, colleagues and even strangers stood in silence with their focus all on you.

“We stood together to remember the legend of a man you were and still are. All I can say is the biggest thank you for making me the best person that I could possibly be. It is a true privilege to be your daughter.”

Mark served 37 years as a firefighter, starting off at Hurstpierpoint for nine years, before moving to Haywards Heath and serving 28 years there.

His father and uncle both served for West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (WSFRS) and now his son Adam serves at Haywards Heath as a retained firefighter and a control operative. Between the three generations of Butlers they have served for more than 100 years.

Mark Butler. Photo by Eddie Howland

Mark Butler. Photo by Eddie Howland

Many friends and colleagues from both WSRS and East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) came out to line South Road for Mark’s funeral procession.

He was carried on an Aerial Ladder Platform with his pallbearers and close friends alongside.

The family car followed and behind Mark’s colleagues from Haywards Heath and his brother, sister, and other family members, were lead by his two watch managers, Matt Myerscough and Neal Martin.

Mark’s son, Adam was in the centre leading the way and was proudly wearing his dad’s medals, followed by two fire engines that Mark drove while serving for both East and West Sussex.

Mark Butler and his son Adam. Photo by Eddie Howland

Mark Butler and his son Adam. Photo by Eddie Howland

Paying tribute, Paul Dudman, friend and ex-firefighter, said: “It was a privilege to stand on parade as Mark took his final drive through the town.

“My place in the line was chosen purely at random standing with my old friends and colleagues, but I felt honoured when the cortege paused for the minutes silence with Mark directly in front of me allowing me to stand one last tie with him to reflect on his life.”

Neal Martin, colleague and friend, said: “I had the privilege of working for many years with Mark. He was a knowledgeable and experienced crew manager who was at the heart of the station. I was proud to call him a friend he will be deeply missed by myself and all those at Haywards Heath Fire Station.”

Norman Wood, friend and ex-firefighter, also said: “Markie as my boys would say. you were more than a friend and work colleague we had a special bond and a lot of history and stories between us. RIP mate you will be greatly missed by us all.”

As well as 37 years as a retained crew commander, Mark was a highly skilled driving instructor. He taught many students in the district with his driving school Trimark and was a highly regarded and respected driving instructor.

He was also a driving school instructor for ESFRS, teaching people how to drive HGVs, fire trucks on blue lights, 4x4’s and officers’ cars on blue lights.

The route along South Road in Haywards Heath was lined by hundreds of fire personnel and members of the public. Photo by Eddie Howland

The route along South Road in Haywards Heath was lined by hundreds of fire personnel and members of the public. Photo by Eddie Howland

Sarah Coughtrey, driving instructor colleague, said: “Mark was the founder of the Mid Sussex driving instructor association. He involved us in road safety training experiences and group building events both learning and social gatherings.

“He was lively, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, kind and popular. He lit up the room with his cheeky smile he was a colleague a friend and will be deeply missed.”

Bunty Simm, a Trimark driving school student, added: “Mark taught me to drive about ten years ago from the beginning he made me feel at ease and calm. We always used to have a giggle as he would always be telling me to slow down, he even nicknamed me lead foot. He was a lovely kind-hearted man who always had a smile on his face.”

Mark’s tragic leukemia diagnosis came in January, 2017. He fought hard and responded well to treatment, but sadly he relapsed in December, 2018.

His diagnosis did not stop him from working, his family said, and he would be often writing up policies for the fire service driving school from his hospital bed.

Mark was a charitable man, raising funds on many occasions for the firefighter’s charity, and could always be seen at the charity car washes and open days at the fire station, of which his crew will continue to do as part of his legacy.

He was the eldest brother to Steve and Karen and fantastic uncle to his nieces and nephews.

Mark was awarded a life-time achievement award the day before his death for his outstanding achievements in WSFRS.