Strong criticism of Wicklow County Council was voiced tonight by the jury in the inquest into the 2007 deaths of two Bray fire fighters, Brian Murray (46) and Mark O'Shaughnessy (25).
In a unanimous decision after considering the evidence for three hours, the four man, three woman jury returned narrative verdicts. This option, the coroner, Dr Brian Farrell, had explained to them, allowed them enumerate risk factors they held contributed to the circumstances relating to the men's deaths.
In the case of both men, the jury found that Wicklow County Council had failed to maintain “the vital communications systems in Bray and Greystones fire stations”. They found there was an absense of “specific instructions” relating to PDAs – Pre-Determined Attendences – as to how fire fighters should respond to a series of given situations.
The jury found the Council, following the purchase of a new fire tender in 2007, had failed to follow up “with appropriate training for all fire fighting personnel” in the use of a Compressed Air Foam System (Cafs) which was on the new tender. In the case of the death of Mark O’Shaughnessy, the jury held specifically that he had received no Cafs training.
The just noted the shortage of qualified drivers available to Bray fire service on the day of the fire, September 26th, 2007.
The jury then made a series of recommendations and voiced critisism of Wickolow County Council. The jury forman said: “The absense of an internal investigation by Wicklow County Council into the tragic events of the day were of serious concern to the jury.”
He said the jury recommended there was a review of the “theory and practice of the use of the Cafs system”; the absense of note taking by gardai examining the fire scene was “of concern to the jury”, he said; and there was also concern about “the lack of clarity regarding the handover of the scene from the Fire Service to the gardaí”.
The jury also said that local authorities “should take action” when illegal dumping occured. The jury said it also wished to acknowledge “the improvements in the Fire Service in Wicklow” since the fire “and would encourage the constant nationwide review of this vital service”.
The foreman then expressed, on behalf of the jury, their condolences to the families of the two fire fighters, and sympathised with colleagues who tried in vain to rescue them, and those who retrieved their bodies.
The verdicts and recommendations came after 17 days of evidence.
Dr Farrell said he would write to the fire services, local authorities and the Department of the Environment informing them of the recommendations. Then, in unusually emotional language, he addressed relatives in the court – Mr Murray's widow, Mary Murray, and many of their 15 children; together with Mark O'Shaughnessy's partner, Hazel O'Brien, his brother Eamonn, and best friend Keith Gordon.
“Really, it is not easy to find the right words to express condolances at such a time,” he said. “I want you to know how much we all empathise with you in your grief. Brian and Mark were retained fire fighters and in those circumstances placed their safety and their lives at risk in the public interest. Brian and Mark have paid the ultimate price for their courage and devotion to duty and their altruism in relation to the whole community.”
Family and friends of the two fire fighters smiled, hugged, shook hands and expressed satisfaction at the verdict. Ms O’Brien said the positions of Tadhg O’Shea and Joanne O’Connor, two senior assistant chief fire officers, who occupy the same posts as they did at the time of the fire, were “entirely untenable”.
She continued: "We would like to ask the county manager Eddie Sheehy, the following questions: who does he believe had responsibility for the health and safety breaches experienced by Brian and Mark? Have those individuals ever been disciplined or removed from their roles?"
In a statement, the council said it “acknowledges the verdict” and that it had put in place “enhanced operating procedures and processes” since the fire.