‘Sudden catastrophic event’ led to deaths of Bray fire fighters

Inquest hears two men’s deaths would have have been almost immediate

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

Wed, Mar 5, 2014, 16:56

A sudden catastrophic event in which extreme heat created an environment incompatible with life led to the deaths of Bray fire fighters Brian Murray and Mark O’Shaughnessy, their inquest heard today.

Death would have been immediate or would have followed very rapidly after both men were rendered unconscious, Dr Michael Curtis, the deputy State Forensic Pathologist, told the Dublin Coroner’s Court.

Mr Murray (46) and Mr O’Shaughnessy (25) died on September 26th 2007 while fighting a fire in a disused factory in Bray, Co Wicklow.

At the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court last October, Wicklow County Council, their employer as the county’s fire authority, admitted a series of health and safety breaches and training omissions for which it was fined €355,000 and costs estimated at €96,000. It denies any responsibility for the men’s death, however.

Giving evidence to the inquest today, Dr Curtis said he carried out autopsies on the bodies of both men at Loughlinstown Hospital on the day they died. In both cases, he recorded the cause of death as “fire death”.

Toxicology tests showed that neither man had alcohol or drugs in their system at the time of their deaths and neither had sustained trauma injury. There was no soot in their airways but both men displayed evidence of thermal damage to their air intake passages. Neither man was otherwise ill in any way.

Dr Curtis said the protective clothing worn by both men showed evidence of having experienced extreme heat “that would provide an environment that didn’t support life”. Both bodies displayed evidence of having endured extreme heat and death, said Dr Curtis, would have been “immediate or very rapid”.

Dr Curtis was not able to say whether the catastrophic event that occurred was a fire flash-over, as claimed by an independent forensic fire investigator Dr Peter Mansi, or a fireball, as hypothesised by another expert witness, Christopher Large, giving evidence for Wicklow County Council.

In either instance, “that would provide an environment which would not support life. . . there might have been a very brief period of heat discomfort, depending on how rapid the event was, and then there would follow confusion, coma and death very rapidly”.

The protective clothing worn by both men showed signs of being exposed to extreme heat, he said. Pictures shown to the jury showed Mr Murray’s fire fighters protective clothing charred and badly disintegrated. Mr O’Shaughnessy’s protective gear was damaged less severely.

Asked by William Hamilton, counsel for the Murray family, whether it was possible to determine the time of death, Dr Curtis said no and added that “unconsciousness would have been extremely rapid and death would have followed”.

Before he left the witness stand, Dr Curtis expressed his condolences to both families.