First Engineer Ernest Hayles of Newport Fire Brigade passed away as the result of an accident on 2 September 1906 aged 57.
Ernest was born in Crocker Street, Newport on 1 July 1845, the son of George (a brewer) and Louisa who later relocated to 45 Sea Street. He married Mary Abberley in Beddington-and-Wallington, Surrey on 3 October 1867 and for a time served as a fireman with the Brighton Fire Brigade.
By the time of the 1871 census they had moved to the Island and were publicans of the Partlands Hotel, Swanmore Road, Ryde. Ten years later they were back in Newport at 4 Holyrood Street where Ernest earned a living as a clerk. Ten years later they were still in Newport and by now running their own shop.
In 1893, following the debacle that ensured Newport's firemen effectively sacked themselves by having their bluff called over a pay claim, the entire brigade was remodelled and hastily recruited on voluntary lines. Having previous experience in Brighton Ernest was among those recruited and appointed to the role of voluntary Second Engineer. Additionally he was employed as fire station caretaker responsible for general cleanliness of the facilities, engines and equipment for £25 per annum. Within the first twelve months it wasn't uncommon for Ernest to take charge in drills, suggesting the superiority of his fire service knowledge in comparison to the hastily appointed Captain Percy Shepard.
By April 1894 he was elevated to First Engineer. His understudy as Second Engineer was one Joseph James Billows who around a decade later was to become Chief Officer of Cowes Fire Brigade. In June 1895 a drill competition was held in Brighton and Ernest jumped at the chance to show off his new service to his former colleagues. It was reported that whilst they won no prizes they ran their mainland rivals close.
Although Ernest maintained a high level of capability he was unfortunate to never have been on a winning team within an IWFBF drill competition. He was however a fearless fireman and was soon back on duty despite a sudden pressure in the hose sweeping him off the roof of the Methodist Church, cracking several ribs during a fire in November 1895.
Increasingly towards the end of the late Victorian period Press reports of derring-do at fires and the excitement created at drill competitions, elevated many notable members of Island fire brigades to local celebrity status and Ernest's approach to his duties put him at the forefront of attention in the Newport brigade.
However before the end of the century he was hauled before Hampshire County Court on a charge of not having paid for goods supplied to his shop. His defence being that his wife conducted the shop business while he was busily employed by the fire brigade won little sympathy with His Honour who ordered him to make the payments by instalment.
By 1901 the Press were reporting another man, Norris, as Newport's engineer although Ernest continued to attend fires and remained responsible as caretaker of the station. On one occasion in January 1902 he was so quick to attend a fire that he had the matter in hand on his own account before the remainder of the brigade arrived.
In April 1904 more controversy surrounded Ernest when he was accused of not properly cleaning the appliances after fires. He was also asked to explain his protracted absence from the town on multiple recent occasions. In June of 1906 Ernest was again, as caretaker, in the thick of the action when the Malt and Hops took fire.
Three months later came the mysterious occurrence of his premature death. Reports allude to some sort of accident while on brigade duties but no details have been unearthed.
In the aftermath the County Press merely reported that; the funeral took place at Newport Cemetery on Wednesday afternoon. At the request of the deceased's relatives the Fire Brigade did not attend.
For a man who had given much voluntary service to the town, often with little regard for his own safety, the family's request poses many unanswered questions.
Rest in peace First Engineer Hayles.