Tragic firefighters paid the 'ultimate price', inquest told
TWO firefighters who died fighting a blaze in a disused factory paid the "ultimate price for their courage and devotion to duty", an inquest was told.
Dublin Coroner Dr Brian O'Farrell paid tribute to firefighters Brian Murray (46) and Mark O'Shaughnessy (26) at the conclusion of one of the longest inquests in the history of the State.
The two firefighters died more than six years ago – fighting a blaze at the premises in Adelaide Villas, Bray, on September 26, 2007.
The jury returned narrative verdicts in the case of both firefighters and outlined risk factors in relation to their deaths.
Last October, Wicklow County Council was fined €355,000 after pleading guilty to health and safety violations in relation to the incident.
Hazel O'Brien, the girlfriend of deceased firefighter Mark O'Shaughnessy, said she was deeply unhappy with how the two men had been asked to face "the unacceptable risks" in the course of their duties.
Brian Murray's son Darren welcomed the jury's verdict.
"It's been a difficult journey. The jury have made their recommendations so it's for the relevant authorities to act on them now," he said.
"It's taken six and a half years for our family to find out the full facts about the day.
"On behalf of the Murray family I'd like to thank the coroner and the staff for the diligence shown throughout the inquest.
"We would also like to thank An Garda Siochana, the Health and Safety Authority for their comprehensive and thorough investigation which resulted in the first instance a criminal trial in which Wicklow County Council eventually pleaded guilty to certain charges, and in the second instance today's jury verdict which established the failures on the part of Wicklow County Council."
The risk factors highlighted by the jury included the failure to maintain vital communications systems in the station watchrooms at Bray and Greystones fire stations, the absence of specific instructions for fire fighters in emergency situations, inappropriate training of firefighters in the use of CAFS (compressed air foam systems), and a shortage of drivers on the day in question.
The jury noted a complete absence of training in CAFS in the case of Mark O'Shaughnessy.
The jury voiced concern at the absence of note-taking by gardai, and the lack of clarity at the handover of the scene of the fire to Health and Safety Authority investigators.
The jury further noted that local authorities should take action where illegal dumping becomes a hazard irrespective of the location.
In a statement, Wicklow County Council outlined changes to its procedures implemented since 2007, including specifically setting out the numbers and types of appliances to respond to specific incidents. It noted that a one-day CAFS training course is provided for firefighters by certified CAFS instructors.
Extending its sympathy to the families, the council described the two as "dedicated and brave firefighters who tragically lost their lives in the incident while serving their community".