A FIREFIGHTER fought back tears as he told an inquest of his desperate attempts to rescue two colleagues trapped in an inferno at a disused ink factory.
Eddie McCann told the inquest into the deaths of Bray firefighters Brian Murray (46) and Mark O'Shaughnessy (25) that the men who went into the building to rescue them were hit with a wall of "incredible heat".
"It was like someone hitting you with a brick," he said.
Mr Murray and Mr O'Shaughnessy died when they became trapped in the fire at the disused factory at Adelaide Villas in Bray on September 26, 2007. Last year, Wicklow County Council was fined €355,000 after pleading guilty to health and safety violations in relation to the incident.
On the fifth day of the inquest at Dublin Coroner's Court, Mr McCann said he first became aware his colleagues were in trouble when he was asked to put on breathing apparatus and search for them alongside Tony Horan. The two men went into the building on at least five occasions.
On their first attempt they brought a thermal imaging camera, however, the heat was so intense that it was unable to distinguish between temperatures. It was "pitch black" and they were driven back because they were burning, he said.
Mr Horan told the inquest they could not stay in the building long on each attempt because their clothes and equipment were catching fire.
"I kept having to pat Eddie to put out the flames on him. I thought at times I was going to die," he said.
At one stage a ventilation unit fell from the roof right in front of Mr McCann. The compressed air foam system (CAFS) hose that Mr Murray had been using burst and was spraying foam everywhere, he said. He found Mr O'Shaughnessy on his final attempt.
"I put my two hands in through his shoulder straps and let a roar that I had one," he said.
After dragging Mr O'Shaughnessy from the building, he was holding the dead man's head as his helmet and mask were removed. "I knew he was dead," he added.
Tragically, the inquest heard that Mr O'Shaughnessy was not supposed to be on-call that day but had swapped crews with a colleague.
Mr Murray's body was discovered seconds after Mr O'Shaughnessy's by Denys Horgan, who told the inquest that the dead man was lying face down in water and foam. He and firefighter Ronan O'Sullivan dragged Mr Murray from the building.
"It was extremely difficult. We had to pull him out of his clothes as they had melted onto the ground," he said.
Mr Horgan went back into the building to rescue another firefighter who had become entangled in wire. All the firefighters giving evidence said that more fire tenders should have been sent to the scene. Mr McCann was highly critical of Wicklow Fire Services claiming that it was "common knowledge" that control room staff were told not to send firefighters on certain calls.
"As Brian always said, 'they always under-react to everything and they always got away with it'," he told the court.
Mr McCann said firefighters had not been "properly trained" in the use and theory of CAFS adding that specialist training was required for its use in internal fires.
The inquest continues.