Workers at hostel found man ‘engulfed in flames’, inquest hears
Martin McDonagh may have had a heart attack
Workers at a homeless hostel found a man engulfed in flames when they responded to a fire alarm in his room, an inquest has heard.
Martin McDonagh (55), a resident at Back Lane Hostel in Dublin 8, may have had a heart attack before his clothes caught fire on the afternoon of October 23, 2013. It is believed the fire started from a cigarette.
Dublin Coroner’s Court heard that Mr McDonagh, who was a heavy drinker with a history of burns, went into his room at the hostel at 1.50pm and twenty minutes later his personal panic alarm was set off.
Back Lane Hostel project worker Columba Nee said that when he checked the room, Mr McDonagh was in bed smoking. Residents at the hostel are not permitted to smoke in their rooms. He had also been drinking and was verbally abusive, Mr Nee said. The personal alarm was around his neck but he denied pressing it.
Another project worker Shane Lavelle gave evidence that they took the personal alarm from around his neck and placed it on the locker to prevent him choking.
Just over two hours later a fire alarm went off in Mr McDonagh’s room. Mr Lavelle and Mr Nee went to the room and found it full of smoke. While Mr Lavelle grabbed a fire extinguisher, Mr Nee went into the room.
“I could see Martin lying on the bed on fire. He was lying on his back and I could see his torso area, head and hair in flames,” said Mr Nee.
He called Mr McDonagh’s name but there was no response. The deceased was still holding a burnt out cigarette in his hand at this point. Mr Nee said he wrapped the duvet around him to try to quench the flames.
There were still some flames coming from Mr McDonagh's left shoulder and neck and Mr Lavelle said he used the fire extinguisher to put the rest of the fire out.
They then started CPR. However, when firefighter paramedics arrived on scene they found no signs of life and Mr McDonagh was subsequently pronounced dead.
Garda Alan Steedman said the fire was centred on the bed and confirmed there are no suspicious circumstances in the death.
At post-mortem pathologist Dr Muna Sabah found that Mr McDonagh suffered some burns and had signficant pre-existing heart disease. Coroner Dr Brian Farrell said there was a “high level” of alcohol in his blood at the time. There was evidence of smoke inhalation, however, the carbon monoxide levels in his blood were below 10 per cent.
This suggests that he died very quickly when the fire started, Dr Farrell said. Death may be due to burn injuries, he said, but it is “more probable” that Mr McDonagh developed a heart problem due to his heart disease and was subsequently burned. This would explain the low level of carbon monoxide in his system, he said.
He returned a narrative verdict outlining the facts.