Wicklow County Council fined over deaths of two Bray firefighters
Judge describes system at fire station watch room as ‘antiquated, inefficient and flawed’
Judge Desmond Hogan: “Two firefighters whose bravery has never being in question, whose competence has never been in doubt and who followed orders in a most difficult and dangerous scenario are now deceased.”
A court has fined Wicklow County Council €355,000 plus legal costs of nearly €96,000 for criminal health and safety violations relating to a warehouse fire in which two firefighters died.
Last July, in the middle of a trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, the council pleaded guilty to three charges of health and safety breaches.
These pleas were accepted by the State, which withdrew a charge alleging that one of these breaches had caused the deaths of the two men.
Judge Desmond Hogan described the system of control and co-ordination in place at Bray fire station’s watch room as “antiquated, inefficient and flawed” and said the training provided to firefighters was “peripheral and inadequate”.
The training referred to was specifically around the purchase of a fire engine that used a new foam system to put fires out and which was used on the day of the fatal fire.
He said this was the most serious breach because “this training related to a machine to be used in actual firefighting, a most dangerous and hazardous job for those involved.
“The results of that lack of training were evident on the day in question: the fire tender was not properly connected to the fire hydrant and that resulted in improper ratio of foam to water which resulted in impeding the firefighters using the system,” he said.
He imposed a fine of €300,000 in relation to this breach. A fine of €50,000 was imposed for the council’s failure to provide an effective system of central control and communications. The trial heard there were issues on the day of the fatal fire with marshalling support engines from neighbouring fire stations.
Two alert calls to Greystones fire station by Bray fire station requesting assistance to deal with a fatal fire were not received.
At one stage three Bray firefighters were waiting at the watch room in Bray to attend the fire but had no driver to take an engine out.
Judge Hogan said: “The watch-room procedures were old and out of date and not sufficient for the purposes they were required, that information was co-ordinated and that firefighters could be turned out efficiently.”
He said that that the least serious breach related to the council’s failure to review the safety statement.
“The council may have been lulled into a sense of false security under the umbrella of work being done by the Department of the Environment.”
The trial heard that the council was involved at the time with the department’s plan to roll out a universal safety statement for fire departments across the State.
“It appears to me that the firefighters had consistent and regular training,” Judge Hogan added, before imposing a €5,000 fine for this breach.
He offered his deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the late Mr Murray and Mr O’Shaughnessy.
“Two firefighters whose bravery has never been in question, whose competence has never been in doubt and who followed orders in a most difficult and dangerous scenario are now deceased.
“Nothing that I can say or do is going to restore those firefighters to their relatives and indeed to their friends and workmates.”
However, he said the court could not take these deaths into consideration in sentencing because the charges alleging that Wicklow County Council’s breaches of the health and safety laws had caused these deaths were not before the court, having been withdrawn by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Judge Hogan also granted costs against the council. Alex Owens SC, prosecuting, said these came to a total of €95,793.21.