Wicklow council to pay firefighter €100,000 over fatal fire

Ronan O’Sullivan wins settlement over blaze in Bray that killed two of his colleagues

File photograph of the aftermath of a fire in Bray, Co Wicklow, in September 2007, in which two firefighters were killed. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

File photograph of the aftermath of a fire in Bray, Co Wicklow, in September 2007, in which two firefighters were killed. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Wicklow County Council has agreed to pay €100,000 to a firefighter who was on duty when two of his colleagues died in a fire in Bray in 2007.

It is the first settlement in the 30 civil legal actions taken against the council arising from the tragedy.

The scale of the settlement, which has been agreed between lawyers for the council and the firefighter, Ronan O’Sullivan, suggests the cost to public funds arising from the council’s failings before and after the fire could amount to €3 million.

The fire happened on September 26th, 2007, nine years ago next Monday.

The two firefighters who died, Brian Murray (46) and Mark O’Shaughnessy (25), were attached to Bray fire station.

They went with colleagues on the date in question to tackle a blaze in a disused factory at Adelaide Villas on the north side of the town.

The semi-derelict building was destroyed in the blaze, which was aided by accumulated rubbish and other debris, including discarded tins of paint and varnish.

Mr Murray and Mr O’Shaughnessy, who were both using breathing apparatus, died as the fire made rapid progress through the building.

Their bodies were recovered by their colleagues.

Mr O’Sullivan is one of several firefighters who sued the council over the incident, claiming post-traumatic stress and alleging the council failed in its duty of care to them.

Members of the families of the two dead firefighters have also sued.

Foam-based system

It is deployed differently to water and is not recommended for use in all fire circumstances.

It emerged after the Bray fire that Mr O’Shaughnessy had no training in using Cafs and Mr Murray’s training amounted to little more than being shown a demonstration of the equipment.

It was claimed that due to an absence of proper training, the Cafs equipment was used incorrectly at the fire.

During an investigation into the fire carried out by the Garda and the Health and Safety Authority, the surviving firefighters made multiple allegations against the council concerning the running of the fire service in the county, the running of Bray station in particular and the lack of proper training, despite repeated requests by them.

When investigating the blaze, the Garda raided the council’s offices in Wicklow town and arrested the county’s three most senior fire officers, as well as the then county manager, Eddie Sheehy. All were interviewed under caution.

Questions

One of the questions they refused to answer was, “Is anyone in Bray fire station responsible for health and safety?”

Mr Sheehy, who has since retired, was asked about his duties as county manager and whether he accepted he was responsible for the county’s fire service.

“That’s a legal question which I couldn’t comment on,” he replied, before telling gardaí he would not sign a transcript of his interviews.

In July 2013, the council was convicted of multiple breaches of health and safety laws, which were admitted eventually, in relation to the incident, and was fined €355,000 plus costs estimated at €95,000.

However, at a subsequent inquest, the council argued against what it admitted in court, suggesting the firefighters had been given Cafs training and the men were responsible for their own deaths.

The council engaged external solicitors and senior counsel to fight the case, represent it at the inquest and deflect questions from councillors and the media.

Asked about the settlement with Mr O’Sullivan, the council declined to comment, stating: “As there are a number of ongoing civil cases in relation to this matter, it would not be appropriate for the council to comment at this time.”