Tuesday 16 January 2018

Council pleads guilty to safety violations in fireman deaths

A photo of Firemen Mark O' Shaughnessy & Brian Murray at the scene during a memorial service
A photo of Firemen Mark O' Shaughnessy & Brian Murray at the scene during a memorial service

Wicklow County Council has pleaded guilty in the middle of its trial to criminal health and safety violations relating to the death of two fire-fighters in Bray six years ago.

Brian Murray (46) and Mark O’Shaughnessy (26) died fighting a blaze at a disused ink factory at Adelaide Villas in Bray on September 26, 2007.

The plea came on day nine of the trial which has now ended. The council will be sentenced on July 30 at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court when they face fines of up to €3 million.

Defence counsel Aileen Donnelly SC expressed “the sincere regret” of the council for the breaches.

Thanking the jury for their time, Judge Desmond Hogan called it a case “charged with emotion.”

“It was a harrowing case for the witnesses who had to relive that most fateful day where two of their colleagues lost their lives,” he said. “It was also a harrowing case for the relatives who sat here each day and had to relive the events as well.”

A council official pleaded guilty on its  behalf to three of the charges against them. They admitted failing to ensure there were enough fire engines available to fight such a fire and failing to have an adequate central command system to call up fire crews from other stations.

They also admitted not providing adequate training in a new compressed air foam system which was used at the blaze and to failing to review an outdated safety statement.

A fourth charge of failing to carry out a proper risk assessment was withdrawn by the prosecution following the pleas.

During often emotive evidence, several fire-fighters gave evidence of trying to rescue their colleagues in an environment that was described as “an incinerator” and a 747 plane crash.

The then Bray Station Chief, James Maguire, told prosecution counsel that he had only half the required crew for such an incident.

He said the driver for the second engine was on holiday so he was forced to go to the scene with one crew of six men. Soon after he arrived he requested a second engine from another station and then a third.

Mr Murray and Mr O’Shaughnessy were sent in with the new Compressed Air Foam System (CAFS) to fight the blaze and stop it spreading. When Mr Murray radioed to say they had reached a wall, they were ordered to retreat.

Mr Maguire said that this was the last he heard from them. He said at this stage the blaze was at its most intense and “you couldn’t see the hand in front of your face.”

Mr Maguire said he would normally be delegating tasks and directing operations at a scene but, because of the lack of fire-fighters, he had to operate a hose to keep his other men safe.

He said he then made “the hardest decision that anyone has made in their life”  and told two other firemen they had to go inside and rescue their colleagues.

Eddie McCann described how he and his colleague, Tony Horan, went into the building

He said he was trying to fight the fire using a technique called “pulsing”. This involves short quick bursts of water or foam to create a fine mist that changes the nature of the fire.

He said when he tried this with the new foam system they were using that day it didn't work the way he expected it to. He said: “I tried to pulse again. It was having no affect.”

He managed to find Mr Murray's hose, grabbed it and followed it along the ground.

He said: “The smoke had started to clear a bit. Visibility was better. I saw reflective bands on leggings and I knew it was one of the lads. There was a piece of wood over it.”

He said he grabbed the straps of the man's breathing apparatus and started to pull him back towards the door. He roared ‘I got him’.”

He said that when they all got to the door they took the man's mask off. Mr McCann told the court: “I knew it was Mark. I knew he was dead. I fell out of the doorway. I was wrecked. I fell out. I was fucking roasting.”

Mr Murray’s body was recovered shortly afterwards by fresh fire-fighters who had just arrived.

Mr McCann told counsel that he did not receive hot fire training using the CAFS.

Under cross examination he told Aileen Donnelly SC, defending, that during a talk on CAFS in advance of getting the new system, he was told that it was not possible to “pulse” using this foam system.

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