Coroner told firefighters lacked training

Inquest into deaths of two Bray firemen heard multiple errors were made

Firefighters Mark O’Shaugnessy (left) and Brian Murray at the scene where they died in a fire at a disused building in Bray, Co Wicklow, in September 2007. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Firefighters Mark O’Shaugnessy (left) and Brian Murray at the scene where they died in a fire at a disused building in Bray, Co Wicklow, in September 2007. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Thu, Feb 27, 2014, 21:53

The inquest into the deaths in September 2007 of two Bray fire fighters, Brian Murray (46) and Mark O’Shaughnessy (25), heard yesterday that multiple errors were made is the use of Cafs (Compressed Air Foam System) and the fire tender pump that activated it.

But the expert witness who highlighted the errors, Mr Edward Clerkson, after sales manager at pump manufacturers Godiva and its sister company, Hale, said this was not the fault of the fire team fighting the blaze but was due to an absence of training.

The chain of events leading to the men’s deaths began in July 2007 when a new fire tender, built by Browns Coachworks of Lisburn, Northern Ireland, and equipped with Cafs, was delivered to Bray Fire Station. The lorry driver who drove the vehicle showed those present in the station on delivery where items were kept on the tender and the function carried out by the different knobs and levers on it.

In the event, what the men were told about operating the pump was incorrect, the inquest was told.

About a week after delivery at one of their usual weekly training sessions, fire fighters were shown the new tender by station officer Jim Maguire and were able to have a turn at operating the foam spraying system.

“That’s not proper training?” asked counsel for the Murray family, William Hamilton BL. “Whatever they had,” said Mr Clarkson, “it was not proper training.” He added: “If anything, it is dangerous.”

After his deposition was read, Mr Clarkson was questioned by the coroner, Dr Brian Farrell, who said to him: “One would have thought that training would have been provided [to the fire fighters] before use [of the new system in a real fire]?”

“That didn’t happen in this case,” said Mr Clarkson.

Asked if he knew of another instance where, following purchase of a new tender with the Cafs system, it was put into use without training, Mr Clarkeson replied: “At no other. . . I don’t think. . . We must have done 30 or 40 others in Ireland. I don’t think it was used before training.”

A photograph of the fire tender pump system in situ on the day of the fire was examined in detail by Mr Clarkson. He explained the complex set of inter-locking settings, relating to pressure, flow and the correct ratio of detergent to water, that were needed to operate Cafs successfully. This was not the situation when the men set about attacking the fire.

“They were going into a very dangerous situation with the [pump] gauge in the wrong position all because someone didn’t know the correct position,” said Mr Clarkson.

“I’m afraid that’s all down to training, [to] lack of knowledge.”

Mr Hamilton: “The inescapable conclusion is that a lack of training caused difficulties. Isn’t that correct?”

Mr Clarkson: “Correct.”

Later, Luán Ó Braonáin, SC, counsel for Wicklow County Council, the fire authority and the fire fighter’s employer, which has already been convicted of multiple breaches of health and safety at work legislation, questioned Mr Clarkson’s credentials.