No investigation carried out after deaths of Bray firefighters
Former chief fire officer tells inquest he feared accusations of ‘grooming’ witnesses
The fire-damaged disused ink factory at Adelaide Villas in Bray, Co Wicklow, where firefighters Brian Murray and Mark O’Shaugnessy died in 2007. Photograph: Kate Geraghty/The Irish Times
The chief fire officer of Co Wicklow carried out no investigation following the death on duty of two of his firefighters, an inquest heard today. The inquest is investigating the deaths of Bray firefighters Brian Murray (46) and Mark O’Shaughnessy (26) on September 26th, 2007, when they were fighting a fire in a disused factory in the north Wicklow town.
Now retired, Jim Dunphy said he had conducted no investigation into their deaths, or how the services had operated on the day of the fire, because he feared he might be accused of “grooming” witnesses.
“Why would anybody take that inference?” asked Colm Condon SC, for the family of Mr O’Shaughnessy. “You would have been doing your job – chief fire ofand you are saying that you didn’t want to do anything about it because you felt in some way hamstrung ficer. You had a situation where two of your firefighters died, on your watch, by what other people might think you were trying to do?”
Mr Dunphy said it was a “major issue” for him at the time, when the Garda and the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) were carrying out an investigation into what happened. “I didn’t want the HSA or anybody else to feel that we were interfering by, I suppose, talking to witnesses, that we might be seen to be grooming them or leading them.”
Mr Dunphy said that after the fire, it was difficult coping with the loss of colleagues. “There are no guidelines, I’m not sure there’s any training for it. The weeks immediately after, I am trying to convey, were for all of us, and nothing compares to what the families were going through, and the senior fire officers, a very trying time indeed,” he said. “We were trying to get the services back. We were trying to get Bray back in operation. We were trying to deal with all the issues arising from the tragedy.”
Mr Condon said: “But you weren’t dealing with the issues, because you weren’t addressing them. You have told me now that you didn’t carry out a review because you were prepared and happy to wait for the outcome of the health and safety investigation.
“The reality is that the systems that were in place at that time weren’t reviewed to ensure and to investigate internally whether there had been failures and whether there were things that were required to be put right . . . for the purposes of ensuring that a similar tragedy did not occur again.”
Mr Dunphy said there were no guidelines for him as chief fire officer in such circumstances. “Maybe I should have taken advice, maybe I should have spoken to people, I don’t know,” said Mr Dunphy, who remained in the position until 2012, “but there is very little experience to deal with this awful situation and unfortunately, I had to rely on my own instinct.”
Mr Condon said his instinct was to do nothing “because you were fearful of the inferences that people might draw if you did something, is that it? Because you don’t appear to have done anything.”