Some emergency calls to Bray fire station ‘vetted’, inquest hears
Practice has long been bone of contention to firefighters
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
The practice has long been a bone of contention to fire fighters who argue that emergency responders should always be dispatched once the watch room recipient of the call is satisfied that the caller is genuine. A former watch room operator, Michael Baynes, gave evidence today and was asked first by the coroner, Dr Brian Farrell, whether call vetting existed.
“Yeah, that’s correct, yeah,” said Mr Baynes. “It was a system that was in place since I started there in September 1991 until 2007 when the fire happened. It was basically used when there was minor fires. A senior fire officer would check first if the fire needed a full crew.”
Equipment in the watch room for recording calls for analysis after events was not working on the 26th – neither the tape nor the back up hard drive. Mr Baynes said this was known; he had informed “assistant chief fire officer Tadhg O’Shea” about this.
On the day of the fire and after events had concluded, another senior assistant chief fire officer, Joanne O’Connor asked him to check the recording machine when he came on duty later.
Mr Baynes said: “When I went to the tapes, there was nothing, there was no in-coming calls, there was no radio alerts, there was bleepers, there was no radio conversations. . . I nearly died of a heart attack – Jesus, where is it?”
Christopher Large a former fire fighter in several English brigades and now an advocate for the use of the Compressed Air Foam System (Cafs) for dealing with fires. Mr Large had been hired by Wicklow County Council specifically to rebut the criminal case it was facing last year arising from the deaths.
Mr Large said he felt there were “inadequacies”, “inconsistencies”, and “inaccuracies” in the work of Dr Peter Mansi, a forensic fire investigator retained by the Health and Safety Authority which, along with the Garda, gathered evidence that led to the criminal case against the Council.
He disagreed with Dr Mansi’s theory that “a partial flashover” was the probable significant event in the fire that contributed to the men’s deaths. He on the other hand had come to the hypothesis that the two fire fighters, who had been ordered to remain just inside the building but moved forward, disturbing some flammable liquid which then engulfed them and killed them.
Colm Condon, SC for Mr O’Shaughnessy’s family, asked later on this point: “So, it was the fire fighters fault for going into the compartment, is that it?. . . So Wicklow County Council had no culpability whatsoever in relation to the incident, is that right? It’s the fire fighters fault and let’s not beat around the bush?”
Mr Large said no, “an unfortunate sequence of events” had led to a “tragic accident”.
Mr Large said that the attendance, as an observer on a training course, of Station Officer Jim Maguire, together with the “familiarisation” talk given to some fire fighters when the Cafs tender was delivered to Bray in July 2007, and testing of the tender the following week during a routine training evening was sufficient training in his view.
“That does not sound like very comprehensive training,” remarked the coroner, Dr Brian Farrell.
Mr Large was pressed on the use of Cafs inside buildings. It was pointed out, by counsel for the Murray family, William Hamilton, that Dublin Fire Brigade and Carlow Fire Brigade, following Cafs training issued instructions to fire fighters, what are called brigade orders, that the system was not to be used in roods. But Ms O’Connor issued no such order in Bray.
Mr Large was asked was it really the case that no specialist Cafs training was needed, as he contended.
He said: “It is not right, in my opinion, and not fair to judge what happened in 2007 with how the Irish fire service was, with standards in 2010 or 2013. You have to look at what they were put in with and what they purchased and what information they were given in 2007.”
Mr Hamilton: “That’s the whole point Mr Large. These firemen were given no information. That is the whole problem! The problem could easily have been solved by putting an embargo on the use of Cafs until such time as training was provided.”
Mr Large: “I understand the point you are making. But that I am trying to say that in 2007 they were being told, that the equipment was being bought centrally, they were being told as a small brigade that there was no need for specialist training and that the training by the manufacturer couldn’t be given until because there was a backlog.”
Mr Hamilton: “And isn’t it the job of an employer to . . . ensure that equipment should not be used until such time as full training has been provided?”
The inquest continues.