Monday 20 November 2017

Council claims fire fighters who died in Bray blaze disobeyed orders, inquest hears

A photo of Firemen Mark O' Shaughnessy & Brian Murray at the scene during a memorial service to mark the first anniversary of the tragedy
A photo of Firemen Mark O' Shaughnessy & Brian Murray at the scene during a memorial service to mark the first anniversary of the tragedy

Two firemen who died fighting an inferno at a disused ink factory in Bray disobeyed orders by moving further inside the building, Wicklow County Council has argued at Dublin Coroner’s Court.

The court had previously heard that Brian Murray (46) and Mark O'Shaughnessy (25) had been told by station officer Jim Maguire to tackle the fire from just inside an inner doorway but their bodies were found much further into the building.

Cross-examining an expert witness, barrister for the council Luán Ó Braonáin SC said that the two men "clearly" went further inside against Mr Maguire's instructions.

The firefighters died as they fought the blaze at a disused ink factory at Adelaide Villas in Bray on September 26, 2007.

Last October the council was fined €355,000 after pleading guilty to health and safety violations relating to the incident.

Mr Ó Braonáin made the comments while questioning John Williamson, managing director of UK Fire Skills Ltd who carried out a review at the request of the Health and Safety Authority following the fatalities.

Mr Williamson’s report was highly critical of Wicklow Fire Services and the approach to the fire highlighting understaffing in the fire control room and a shortage of firefighters at Bray Fire Station; flawed rostering and driver shortages.

He said that the burning building was “disused” and there was no need to risk firefighters’ lives by entering it.

Water should have been used to tackle the blaze, he said, instead of a recently purchased foam system.  

Two fire tenders should have been sent to the scene when it was first reported, he said.

Mr Maguire, who was in charge, was unable to stand back and analyse the situation because he was forced to carry out firefighting duties, he told the court. 

“In my view, the officer in charge of the fire should be able to look at the risk strategically with the whole issue of safety in mind and how he is going to tackle the fire,” he said.

Mr Ó Braonáin said that Mr Maguire had told the court he would have positioned the two men inside the doorway even if more resources were at the scene.

He went on to say that the two men had been given an instruction to stay in a particular place.

“They didn’t. They absolutely clearly didn’t stay where they were told to stay. They went into the compartment and they went substantially into the compartment… That is simply not what they were instructed to do,” he said.

The instruction was given clearly by Mr Maguire, said Mr Ó Braonáin.

“If they had complied with it they would have been at the door at the time of the fatal event, he said, adding that they would then have been in a "position to exit immediately".

Asked by coroner Dr Brian Farrell if he accepted that this was the case, Mr Williamson said that he could not deny it.

Earlier fire investigator Dr Peter Mansi took the jury through a timeline of the fire’s development using pictures taken by bystanders. He said the dynamics of the fire changed at 11.08am, 14 minutes after the firefighters arrived at the scene, and a computer simulation showed that within four minutes the area where the two firefighters were found would have heated up to 800 degrees Celsius.

The inquest continues on Monday.

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