Jacksonville’s first fallen firefighter honored — 130 years later

Published on April 25, 2023 at 2:17 pm

When Henry J. Bradley became the first Jacksonville firefighter to perish in the line of duty in 1885, his remains were laid to rest in what is now known as the Old City Cemetery at East Union and Cemetery streets.

But the location of Bradley’s burial site wasn’t known exactly, and no headstone was erected there to remember him or his contribution to what is now known as the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department — until now.

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Based on work done by retired fire Capt. Nick Tison, current Capt. Chris McKeown and others, a granite headstone memorializing Bradley was unveiled Tuesday at the site of where he is believed to be buried at the old cemetery.

“A special thank you goes out for their work on this project,” the city tweeted Tuesday as images of the headstone were unveiled. “They made it their personal mission, working for months to locate Firefighter Bradley’s grave and coordinate the new headstone.”

Bradley was killed Dec. 16, 1885, when a blazing wall collapsed on him as he fought a fire engulfing businesses, warehouses and wharves along Bay Street, according to a city list of firefighters killed in the line of duty.

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Jacksonville insurance companies that suffered losses in that fire began pushing for creation of a paid fire department after Bradley’s death. Almost exactly seven months later, the City Council created the Jacksonville Fire Department.

These days, Bradley’s name is the first on the Fallen Firefighter Memorial at Fire Station 1 at 600 N. Liberty St. The memorial was dedicated June 29, 1987, a 3,000-pound brass bell embedded in its brick structure once topping an early 20th century City Hall. There are 25 names on it now, starting with Bradley and ending with three added in 2022.

One is 36-year-old Fire Engineer Michael J. Freeland, who died Nov. 11, 2021, while trying to rescue a woman whose truck had hit a power pole just blocks from Fire Station 73 where he worked. Also added was Capt. Thomas Barber, 51, who died June 14 after coming home from a shift at Station 25 from a heart attack, his family said. Then on Aug. 17, the COVID-19 virus claimed 17-year-veteran Lt. Mario Moya, also 51.

Bradley’s new headstone was paid for with private donations raised through the efforts of Tison, McKeown and others.

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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