Tributes paid to pillar of Hartlepool community and former Cleveland Fire Brigade chief
Tributes have been paid to a former fire chief who gave so much to Hartlepool during his life.
Hartlepool man Eric Priest rose to the rank of Chief Fire Officer for Cleveland Fire Brigade in a career marked with many achievements.
As well as being a devoted family man, Eric was President of the Hartlepool Sea Cadets, a local magistrate, a Rotarian, Freemason, and a prisoner advocate.
He died on August 27, aged 82 after an illness.
Eric was given a funeral with fire brigade honours including a guard of honour and his coffin draped in the Union Jack carried to St Luke’s Church on a fire tender.
His nephew Paul Chrystal said: “He was extraordinarily generous in every way.
“To me he was always a young person. He exuded youthful spirit, right up until he died.
“He was a strong man and had strong principles. He did more, or just as much, in retirement as he did in his working life which was significant.”
Born in 1936, as a boy Eric Joined St Luke’s Boys Brigade and represented them in London at the Queen’s Coronation.
In the 1950s, he did his National Service with the 33rd Parachute Regiment before returning to work at Richardson Westgarth engineering company as a pattern maker.
But in the early 1960s he decided on a change of career. His daughter Angela explained in Eric’s eulogy: “One day he knocked on the fire station door to ask if there were any jobs.
“There wasn’t so he got on a train to Portsmouth to join the Navy but on the way a fellow passenger said he had to sign up for seven years and as he had a baby he decided to go back and knock on the fire station door again and this time was successful.”
He joined the brigade in 1963 and worked up the ranks from Leading Fireman to Chief Fire Officer for Cleveland in 1991.
The following year he was awarded the Queen’s Fire Service Medal for distinguished service in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Eric received high praise while he was Station Commander at Hartlepool when the station was called to a house fire.
Eric smelled gas and in the dark found where it was coming from and held his hand over a hole in a pipe until his colleagues were safely out of the building.
After retiring from the fire brigade Eric served as a magistrate from 1994 to 2006.
He was also a Freemason, Rotarian and President of Hartlepool Sea Cadets, tirelessly gaining funds including when the unit was in danger of folding.
Eric was a devoted husband to June, dad to Angela and Helen and the late Julie. He also leaves six grandchildren and two great-grandsons.