The chief fire officer of Co Wicklow carried out no investigation following the death on duty of two of his firefighters, an inquest heard today. The inquest is investigating the deaths of Bray firefighters Brian Murray (46) and Mark O'Shaughnessy (26) on September 26th, 2007, when they were fighting a fire in a disused factory in the north Wicklow town.
Now retired, Jim Dunphy said he had conducted no investigation into their deaths, or how the services had operated on the day of the fire, because he feared he might be accused of "grooming" witnesses.
"Why would anybody take that inference?" asked Colm Condon SC, for the family of Mr O'Shaughnessy. "You would have been doing your job – chief fire ofand you are saying that you didn't want to do anything about it because you felt in some way hamstrung ficer. You had a situation where two of your firefighters died, on your watch, by what other people might think you were trying to do?"
Mr Dunphy said it was a “major issue” for him at the time, when the Garda and the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) were carrying out an investigation into what happened. “I didn’t want the HSA or anybody else to feel that we were interfering by, I suppose, talking to witnesses, that we might be seen to be grooming them or leading them.”
Mr Dunphy said that after the fire, it was difficult coping with the loss of colleagues. “There are no guidelines, I’m not sure there’s any training for it. The weeks immediately after, I am trying to convey, were for all of us, and nothing compares to what the families were going through, and the senior fire officers, a very trying time indeed,” he said. “We were trying to get the services back. We were trying to get Bray back in operation. We were trying to deal with all the issues arising from the tragedy.”
Mr Condon said: “But you weren’t dealing with the issues, because you weren’t addressing them. You have told me now that you didn’t carry out a review because you were prepared and happy to wait for the outcome of the health and safety investigation.
“The reality is that the systems that were in place at that time weren’t reviewed to ensure and to investigate internally whether there had been failures and whether there were things that were required to be put right . . . for the purposes of ensuring that a similar tragedy did not occur again.”
Mr Dunphy said there were no guidelines for him as chief fire officer in such circumstances. “Maybe I should have taken advice, maybe I should have spoken to people, I don’t know,” said Mr Dunphy, who remained in the position until 2012, “but there is very little experience to deal with this awful situation and unfortunately, I had to rely on my own instinct.”
Mr Condon said his instinct was to do nothing “because you were fearful of the inferences that people might draw if you did something, is that it? Because you don’t appear to have done anything.”
Mr Dunphy said that a lot of things were done on foot of investigations by the HSA and Garda. In further cross-examination, he said he had agreed the firefighters could use a compressed air foam system (Cafs) of fire extinguishing, delivered to Bray station in July 2007 and used on the day of the fire, outdoors, pending training in October or November 2007.
Mr Dunphy added that he was unaware then that Cafs was deemed not suitable for use indoors. Firefighters received familiarisation training when the Cafs system was delivered to the station but did not get full training until after the fire, even though the Cafs system had been deployed for use.
Luán Ó Braonáin SC, for Wicklow County Council, asked what was done after the fire and Mr Dunphy said that Michael Slattery Associates had been retained on the day of the fire to investigate it. He agreed also that Cafs training had been given to firefighters in November 2007.
A member of the jury asked Mr Dunphy about a dinner, on the night of September 27th, which was mentioned during evidence on Tuesday. The meal was attended by county manager Eddie Sheehy, two of the council's directors of services, Brian Doyle and Tom Murphy, and by Mr Dunphy and his two senior assistants, Joanne O'Connor and Tadhg O'Shea. Mr O'Shea had said in evidence that the fire had not been discussed at the meal, which he described as a meeting of "of no consequence". Mr Dunphy said the meal, which took place at Mr Sheehy's suggestion, discussed the funeral arrangements for the men and the needs of the families.
The inquest also heard today from Kevin Broderick, the HSA inspector who investigated the fire. Mr Condon read into the record the criminal charges to which Wicklow County Council pleaded guilty last year. They centred around the council's failures, under health and safety at work legislation, to have in place adequate plans to get back-up assistance to firefighters, to provide adequate training in Cafs and also to update their safety statement.
It was noted that a further charge, that these failures caused the men’s deaths, was withdrawn during the trial, as a result of which the council pleaded guilty to the amended indictment.
Mr Broderick agreed with Mr Ó Braonáin that a tin can which has been the subject of intense attention at the inquest was at the fire scene on September 26th and 27th and that it had been moved a number of times.
Mr Broderick said he deferred to the view of a HSA expert, Dr Peter Mansi, that the can, which the council maintains was responsible for a sudden acceleration of the blaze causing the men's deaths, was not relevant, despite his (Mr Broderick's) initial view that the can needed to be examined and tested.
The inquest continues.