Wicklow county manager to reject resignation call

Eddie Sheehy expected to claim lack of training not behind two firefighters’ deaths

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

Fri, Nov 1, 2013, 01:00

Wicklow county manager Eddie Sheehy is expected to reject calls for his resignation over the deaths of two Bray firefighters by arguing a report commissioned by the county council into the fire in which they died shows a lack of training did not cause the loss of life.

The report, written by Michael Slattery Associates (MSA), a UK and Dublin-based fire safety consultancy, asserts the incorrect use of a compressed air foam system (Cafs) by the firefighters who went to the blaze in Bray on September 26th, 2007, was not linked to the men’s deaths. The firefighters had not been trained in the new equipment which was used incorrectly on the day.


No link with Cafs
“It is not, in my opinion, possible to link these fire deaths to the use of Cafs by the two firefighters,” writes Mr Slattery in his report, dated June 29th, 2010.

As to the absence of training in Cafs, to which the council pleaded guilty under health and safety legislation and was last week fined €300,000 in a total fine of €355,000 for several health and safety breaches, the report refers to a PowerPoint presentation in 2006 by two Cafs trainers, Gavin Barnett and Edward Clarkson. In this, it was stated: “Cafs is a practical solution for a wide range of incidents and can be handled by all firefighters without need for specialist training.”

However, in an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Barnett, who at the time Wicklow purchased the Cafs system was the UK’s only certified expert in its use, says he never before dealt with a local authority who deployed the system without first training firefighters.

On Monday week, November 11th, Wicklow County Council is due to discuss the Bray fire deaths. At the meeting, a call is expected to be made by Sinn Féin Bray councillor John Brady for Mr Sheehy’s resignation. Mr Sheehy is expected to offer a robust defence.

In appendix six to the Slattery report, written by Dr Graeme Hansell of MSA, Mr Barnett is reported stating during a post-fire investigatory demonstration of the Cafs system that the two firefighters, Brian Murray and Mark O’Shaughnessy, would have perished irrespective of equipment used.

“Mr Barnett expressed the opinion on several occasions [during the demonstration] that the deaths of the two firemen would still have happened, irrespective of the method of firefighting used, whether it was water, Cafs or any other system due to the nature of the fire,” writes Dr Hansell.


‘Overwhelming event’
In appendix five, another expert, Dr Herodotos Phylaktou, a senior lecturer in the school of process, environmental and materials engineering at the University of Leeds, says the likely cause of the men’s deaths was an explosion of a half-full gallon can of highly flammable, acetone, butyl and ethanol-rich liquid. “The evidence . . . points to an abrupt overwhelming event,” he writes. “High levels of heat damage would suggest engulfment by the flame.”

His conclusions reject a flashover (the sudden burning of all available combustibles) or backdraft (a violent flame propagation) as being responsible for the deaths. He argues a Bleve (boiling liquid expanding vapour explosion) “provides a plausible alternative scenario that fits with the evidence of the case”.