Former Fire Brigade Divisional Commander for Pembrokeshire, Mr Mike George, whose distinguished career was crowned by the award of the Queen’s Gallantry Medal in 1985, has died at the age of 74.

Regarded as the Victoria Cross of the emergency services, the award was made for his courageous action in the rescue of victims of three violent explosions aboard the 4,700-ton petrol tanker Pointsman at Milford Docks in June1984, when he and other firefighters sustained serious burns.

A charismatic and dedicated leader, Mike George was a member of the Institute of Petroleum and a Graduate of the Institute of Fire Engineers, and was an acknowledged world-wide authority on firefighting procedures, techniques and prevention. He went to Kuwait as UK Adviser on the huge oilfield fires which followed the Gulf War, and brought back a sample of sand from the scene of Operation Desert Storm, which his colleague, former firefighter and close friend, Joe Mayne of Milford Haven, keeps as a memento.

Mr Mayne was seriously burned in the Pointsman disaster and said this week that Mike George got burned rescuing him. “I was trying to crawl out of the hatch in thick black smoke, and my breathing apparatus got stuck. I felt Mike’s hand trying to pull me out. That’s when he got burned, but he stayed on the job until the very end.”

Mike also advised in Germany and Widdy Island, Bantry Bay in Ireland.

He had specialist training with Manchester Fire Brigade and at the Texas A&M University, the world-renowned training school for LNG incidents, where he also trained others. Wherever he went abroad he made contact with the local Brigades and, during many holidays with his wife Val in Orlando, Florida, he joined the local crew on emergency calls, earning Honorary membership of the Davenport Fire Department there. An enterprising officer, he founded the Pembrokeshire Division’s Diving Unit and introduced many innovative techniques. He confessed to learning little in school where he was an all-round sportsman playing soccer, rugby and learning judo, but joining the Fire Service motivated him to study every aspect of his new profession and colleagues said he knew the Firemanship Manual inside out.

A Hakin man, he attended Hubberston CP School and Milford Haven Grammar School, leaving at 15 to work briefly on the R & J.H.Rea tugs and at Gabriel Wade builders’ merchants. When he reached the qualifying age of 18, he applied for a job with the Pembrokeshire Fire Brigade and the Police in 1964, joining the Brigade because they were first to respond. His application was handed to the Fire Chief’s Secretary, Firewoman Val Hughes of Llangwm, and in 1966, the year of the Aberfan disaster, they married. Aberfan was one of his first experiences of a major incident.

He was also with a local crew sent to the Cornish coast in 1967 to help deal with the pollution caused by the sinking of the tanker Torrey Canyon off the Scillies.

The developing oil industry at Milford Haven provided further invaluable experience with many incidents and disasters. One was the Dona Marika stranding off St Ishmaels in December 1973 when the village was evacuated as the tanker, with its cargo of petrol, wallowed on rocks like a floating time bomb. Pembrokeshire firefighters developed special skills that others elsewhere did not possess and a lot of specialised equipment was developed at that time.

There were major explosions at Texaco and Amoco and incidents at Gulf and Esso, a massive fire which destroyed Haverfordwest Churnworks and a huge blaze when a laden road tanker overturned in Salutation Square, Haverfordwest. A gorse fire at The Plumstone Mountain also kept fire crews at full stretch for several days in tinder dry drought conditions.There was also the Cleddau Bridge disaster in 1970, and the blaze at Scoveston Manor in 1985 when Mike himself raised the alarm after seeing the flames from his home two miles away, and which led to the eventual cold-case conviction in 2010 and a life sentence for John Cooper for two double murders. There were many others, including serious fatal road accidents, many of which Mike attended as a hands-on leader.

Despite all the horrors and disasters he witnessed, Mike was a resilient man with a mischievous sense of humour, who often played pranks on friends and colleagues. His love for the Fire Service was such that his main hobby was collecting model fire engines.

As a boy Mike was a cadet with Milford Haven Air Training Corps and, a long interest in local affairs caused him to serve in retirement for a decade as a valuable Town Councillor. He also assisted in the Town Museum on the Docks.

The sudden death of this outstanding man is being mourned not only by his wife Val, extended family and many close friends, but there have also been numerous messages of sympathy from people in far corners of the world whom he met and impressed in the course of his remarkable career.