THE senior fire officer at the scene of a blaze that killed two of his colleagues had only half the required crew needed for such an incident.
Former Bray Station Officer James Maguire was giving evidence in the trial of Wicklow County Council.
Mr Maguire also detailed the moment he had to send two other firefighters to rescue their colleagues, describing it as the "hardest decision that anyone has made in their life".
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.
Wicklow County Council, which runs the fire service, has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to four charges relating to alleged criminal breaches under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act.
Mr Maguire told prosecuting counsel Alex Owens that, when the alert came, he could be guaranteed only six firefighters, including himself, so deployed with one fire engine.
He said that fires in a built-up area usually require two fire crews in two engines, but that he was "always having to improvise" and didn't have a driver for the second engine that day.
When they arrived at the scene, he immediately called for a second engine.
Mr Maguire said he would normally delegate tasks and direct operations at a scene but, because of the lack of fire-fighters, he had to operate a hose.
Mr Murray and Mr O'Shaughnessy had already entered the building to locate the fire while two other firemen tried to open a steel door.
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. The blaze was at its most intense and "you couldn't see the hand in front of your face".
He followed the men's path and tried to feel around for them, but had to retreat.
He approached the engine driver, Martin Lyons, but saw he was "utterly shell-shocked".
He then approached his remaining men, Tony Horan and Eddie McCann, and told them to follow their colleagues inside. He said it was the "hardest decision that anyone has made in their life" but that he saw that they "were more than able for it".
He saw no fear in Mr Horan's face and he knew Mr McCann would give it everything.
Defence counsel Aileen Donnelly put it to the witness that a minimum fire crew was five people and that all tasks on a fire engine can be carried out with four people.
Mr Maguire said he had never been told how many constituted a minimum crew, despite asking his superiors several times before the incident.
The trial continues.