Severe criticism of fire service at inquest

Inquiry into deaths of two firefighters in Bray hears of flaws in service management

 Firemen at the scene of the fire  in Bray where two members of Bray fire service died. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Firemen at the scene of the fire in Bray where two members of Bray fire service died. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


The inquest into the death of two Bray, Co Wicklow, fire fighters yesterday heard a

severe assessment of the management of the Bray fire service.

John Williamson, a former firefighter and now a forensic fire investigator based in Lancashire, England, was retained by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

In his report on the service and the events of September 26th, 2007, when the two men, Brian Murray (46) and Mark O’Shaughnessy (25), died, Mr Williamson referred to “fundamental error”, “lax approach”, “obvious inadequacy”, and a “seriously flawed” rostering system.

Mr Williamson said two fire tenders should have been dispatched immediately to the fire. “I don’t have any doubts,” he told senior counsel Colm Condon for the O’Shaughnessy family at the inquest in Dublin.

He said the compressed air foam system used on the day of the fire had been with Bray for 68 days, but had never before been used inside a building.

The firefighters had been not been trained in the use of the system “for internal fires or even external fires”, he said.

His report added that he had never come across a station control room manned by just one untrained person.

Earlier, the inquest heard how the temperature inside the disused factory in which the men died would have reached between 200 and 800 degrees within about four minutes of a rapid development within the fire.

This was the assessment of Dr Peter Mansi, who has a doctorate in forensic fire investigation and 30 years’ experience as a fire officer in England, and who was also retained by the HSA to investigate the probable cause of the fire, its development and factors that contributed to its progress.

In doing so, he was “very fortunate”, he said, to have available a large number of pictures taken on the day of the fire by photographers and a resident in the Adelaide Terrace area of Bray where the blaze occurred.

By identifying the precise time that one of the pictures had been taken, Dr Mansi was able to establish when each of the other photos had been shot and thereby create a visual timeline of events.

Looking at the photos, and examining the scene of the fire three weeks later on October 10th, Dr Mansi agreed with others that welding at a steel gate probably caused rubbish behind the gate to ignite.

The fire progressed through a yard behind the gate, through an adjoining archway and outer office, and from there into the main room of the building.

Mr Murray and Mr O’Shaughnessy had entered the burning building through a blue corner door at the other end and were attempting to fight the blaze with foam.

Dr Mansi concluded that at 11.08 on the morning of the fire, there was a “partial flashover”, an event in which heat, radiated from the building’s roof down into dense smoke, caused the smoke to ignite. While such an event begins suddenly, it progresses slowly over several minutes, he explained.

“Your conclusion is that the conditions inside [the building] were conducive to a partial flashover?” asked the coroner, Dr Brian Farrell.

“Yes,” said Dr Mansi.

He rejected a proposition by senior counsel for Wicklow County Council Luán Ó Braonáin that a five-litre can of Granyte industrial varnish caused the sudden acceleration of the fire.

Dr Mansi said the tin, which had some scorch marks on it and its cap on the ground beside it, showed no evidence of having exploded. The inquest continues on Monday.