Saturday 16 February 2019

Fireman recalls rescuing baby with 'no signs of life' from tragic Carrickmines blaze

Warning: Some readers may find the following content distressing

Pictured: Some of the victims of the deadly Carrickmines fire
Pictured: Some of the victims of the deadly Carrickmines fire
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

TRAGIC baby Mary Connors showed no signs of life when she was pulled from a blazing portacabin in the Carrickmines halting site fire.

The inquest at the Dublin City Coroner’s Court has been hearing from first responders to the scene.

Fireman Ray Martin of Kill Avenue Fire Station told the hearing that they had received a call to go to a domestic fire at around 4.20am and when they had got to Cornelscourt Hill, they received an update that possibly several people were involved.

They pulled up outside the halting site and he immediately began laying down the hose. A man in his 30s began to assist him with the hose, saying: “You have to help them, please help them.”

Mr Martin said the radiant heat from the fire was ‘extremely intense.’

He was informed that there could be a baby in one of the cabins that was on fire, with ‘flames from top to bottom’. They attacked the fire at the door and a woman told him: “She’s in there, she’s on the bed.”

They ‘knocked back the flames,’ said Mr Martin , adding that there was ‘a lot of thick smoke and heat.’

He couldn’t see any flames as they entered the bedroom and he saw the baby lying on the bed, at the foot of the bed with the duvet turned over her.

He took the baby off the bed and brought her to the door, handing her over to a colleague.

“There was no obvious signs of life,” said Mr Martin. However there were burn marks on her face and on both forearms.

Mr Martin said the two fire tenders had the capacity to deliver 8,000 litres of water to the fire and they had used around 475 litres a minutes. This would fight a fire for approximately eight to ten minutes but after that they would need a further source of water.

Asked by Dublin City Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane if it had been a ‘snatch rescue rather than a fire extinguishing operation,’ Mr Martin agreed.

He had needed to wear his breathing apparatus because the atmosphere in the portacabin was ‘unable to support life,’ he said.

He had seen fire gasses above his head but no visible flames in the bedroom where the baby was.

“When we went in, it was extreme heat,” he said.

He had seen the baby as soon as he went into the bedroom. His first impression when he picked her up was that there was no signs of obvious life,’ he said. “He eyes were closed and I saw no movement of her chest. I didn’t check for a pulse because my priority was to take her out of the atmosphere,” he said.

Garda Robert Whitty told the inquest that baby Mary was pronounced dead in Tallaght Hospital at 5:31am.

Paramedic Catriona Sheehan said when she arrived at the scene, she was directed to a child who had been placed in the seat of a fire truck just seconds before her arrival.

She said the child was struggling to breathe and she tried to open up the airways but his jaws were locked.

Ms Sheeran said she continued to work on the child in the ambulance with a defibrillator and ventilator.

The child was four year old Tom Connors, who survived the fire.

She said she had been met by the 15 year old youth who had  saved the boy from the fire. He was "hysterical" and saying that he had tried to lift a man out but he was too heavy.

Paramedic Rebecca Mooney told the hearing that a fireman had handed her a baby, whom she placed at the bottom on a stretcher along with her brother.

She had removed the baby’s clothes because they were wet though the child was ‘very hot’, and she noted that there was soot around her nose and mouth.

“The baby was in cardiac arrest,” she said.

She informed her control that they had two patients, one in cardiac arrest and one in respiratory arrest and they were taken to the A&E at Tallaght hospital.

In a deposition, Garda Barry Cormack of Cabinteely garda station informed the inquest that when he arrived at the scene, the residents were ‘understandably highly agitated’ and that Kathleen Connors was shouting that the baby was still in the cabin.

He and garda Tino O’Neill had spoken to Kathleen in an attempt to comfort her. She was in a state of shock, he said.

He witnessed the baby being removed from the blaze and spent the next few hours there with the survivors.

Family members leave courtoom

Later at the inquest, devastated family members left the coroner’s courtroom during distressing evidence.

The inquest heard how DNA was the chief means by which the bodies of the deceased had been identified – though dental records had to be used to distinguish Connors brothers James (5) and Christy (3) from each other. Their six-month-old sister Mary Connors was identified visually.

Garda Shane Curran told the inquest that he had inspected one of the fire extinguishers that had been attempted to be utilised in the course of fighting the fire.

A fire extinguisher had been retrieved from the ground near to the burnt cabins. The activation handle was missing and the safety pin had been removed.

There had been evidence that the council had reviewed cylinders at the site on a six monthly basis and had last serviced these at May 2015.

Garda Curran said that ordinarily there would be a pin attached which keeps the two levers separated - but in this case the pin is missing along with the top lever.

Coroner Myra Cullinane put it to him that they had heard that something was used to break the windows during the fire and asked if it was possible the cylinder had been damaged in the course of the rescue.

Garda Curran replied that there was no definite proof of that.

He told the inquest he had assisted in the removal of the nine bodies from the two burned out portocabins. They were later identified using INTERPOL body recovery identification protocols.

He concluded that the seat of the fire had been in the kitchen/living room.

Samples had been taken from each of the rooms for accelerants but had tested negative.

The bedroom furthest from the kitchen suffered the least overall burning, he said. The complete destruction of the corridor suggested the door had been closed.

The second bedroom, closer to the kitchen held bunk beds and the fire had progressed into this room not away from it and, again, it was clear the door was closed.

In the kitchen, he said the right rear hotplate of the cooker held the remnants of a chip pan which was on the point of being practically unidentifiable. The controls of the cooker had melted away and the spout of the teapot had fallen off as it had been welded with a metal which melted at a lower heat than the steel of the body.

Near the cooker were burned electrical cables, indicating power to the modular unit at the time of the fire that had probably started at the cooker area. Garda Curran said there had been ‘arcing’ of electricity from these cables after they had melted. This was evidence of intense fire in this area, he said.

He described the remains of the chip pan as a ‘molten lump of aluminium’ with a netted steel basket on top.

Aluminium melts at 650C, explained Garda Curran, adding that this suggested the fire had started around that location.

He conceded the ‘spindles’ or what lies behind the melted knobs of the cooker may have been turned on by spraying water during the fire fighting process.

“The way we found it, it was in an on position,” he added.

Garda Curran said there was no other obvious ignition sources except for the chip pan.

In a typical chip pan fire, frying oil can start to flame by itself without a naked flame being touched to it when it reaches a temperature of 400C, he explained.

A splash of oil down the back of the cooker can start a ‘very, very quick fire’ which can spread rapidly, he said.

He said fire had spread to the second nearby cabin, through the bedroom window of the first cabin.

Asked by the corner the likely speed at which these matters would have developed, Garda Curran said that was “not a slow, smouldering fire” and there may have been whole involvement in “possibly ten or 15 minutes.”

He said the flames would initially have been more prominent but as the oxygen starts to deplete, thick black smoke and carbon monoxide would develop.

“Over 80pc of people who die in domestic fires normally die from smoke inhalation and poisonous gas,” he said. These act like an anaesthetic so it is more than likely victims are unconscious before any burning takes place, he said.

When the coroner said that the family could understand that all their loved ones were ‘almost certainly unconscious before conflagration reached them’, Garda Curran replied that it was highly likely.

All the victims were on the floor and protection marks indicated they probably died before the fire reached them, he said.

Garda David O’Leary told the inquest that once the fire had been put out, the bodies of nine people were located and later pronounced dead.

The condition of the bodies precluded visual identification.

The bodies were transported to the mortuary at Tallaght hospital, while the body of baby Mary was already at Tallaght hospital.

On October 12 2015 forensic dentist Dr Mary Clarke carried out examinations. DNA samples from the ten victims were delivered to Forensic Science Ireland and compared with DNA from nearest available family members.

In two cases, personal effects were used to assist in the identification of the bodies, as well as location and proximity to other family members.

James and Christy Connors were aged using dental records because DNA was not able to go further than that they were both the male children of their parents.

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