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‘Accountability and lessons need to be learnt from the deaths of Bray fire men’

The IFESA, local Wicklow councillors and family of the deceased firemen are asking for a full fire service to be rolled out.

Funeral of the two Bray fire men in 2007.
Funeral of the two Bray fire men in 2007.
Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall

FOLLOWING THE SENTENCING of Wicklow County Council yesterday, the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association (IFESA) said they want the Department of the Environment to learn from the case in which Bray firemen Brian Murray and Mark O’Shaughnessy died when the roof collapsed on them as they were fighting a blaze six years ago.

Yesterday, Wicklow County Council, who eventually pleaded guilty to a number of charges was fined €355,000 and were ordered to pay costs of €95,793.32. The maximum possible fine could have been up to €3 million.

Wicklow County Council was accused of not keeping its fire safety statement up to date, not ensuring a second fire engine was brought to the scene of the fatal blaze, and not ensuring that proper training was carried out for firefighters using new equipment.

Tortuous six years

The National  Chairman of the IFESA, John Kidd said they had been honoured to support the Murray and O’Shaughnessy  families throughout the last tortuous six years which they had to wait before Wicklow County Council went on trial.

‘We want other local authorities and indeed the Department of the Environment to learn from this case and never repeat the mistakes of Wicklow County Council,’ he said.

Following the deaths of the two fire officers, one a father of 15 and the other a young man in his 20s, fire officers, locals and their families took to the streets to complain about a variety of issues, including alleged ‘call-vetting,’ lack of funding and a perceived need for a fulltime fire service.

At every Bray Town Council meeting for the last decade, a protest has been held outside the town hall calling for a full-time fire service. But it is not until issues like these, the deaths of two men, do the issues get pushed to the fore.

Following the sentencing yesterday, Mr Kidd said the wider implications of the Wicklow tragedy were for the need for the establishment of a national fire and ambulance service.

Further loss of life

‘Delivering these services in the way that they are at present, with the duplication of administrators and bloated numbers of managers relative to the number of active firefighters is hugely wasteful of resources and will lead to further tragedy and loss of life,’ said Kidd.

In a statement following the sentencing yesterday, Wicklow County Council said it “accepted that there were breaches in a number of systems of work in the operation of its Fire Services between 2005 and 2007″ and said they had “since addressed all of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work issues raised by the case”.

Call vetting is another issue that the IFESA has highlighted. Back in 2011, they called for an end to call-vetting, which they said has been in operation in Wicklow for a number of years.

Local Sinn Fein Councillor, John Brady, who has been a long time campaigner for improved fire services in Wicklow said that call vetting is where each call goes through a centralised system and is put through a pre-determined attendance (PDA).

Response time

“If it is a house fire or a factory a crew will automatically be called out, but often times he explained Pearse Street would have to contact the rostered fire officer first, who will then determine the nature of the fire and whether a crew is needed,” he said. In this case Cllr Brady said “it was not immediate”.

“What has happened in the past is that the chief fire officer would go out to the fire incident first and determine if a crew call out is necessary, this is known as call vetting,” he said.

He said that officials say there is no call vetting but he firmly maintains there is, as does the IFESA.

Just last weekend, an incident was reported to the IFESA, about a fire in Bray. A fire in a wooded area at Ravenswell in Bray near St John of Gods House, a school where disabled children attend, was called in by a local man.

Fire incident

The man said he knew young children had made a den area in the woods and was unsure if there was anyone inside the structure. He was also wary of where the fire was and its close proximity to the school. Thankfully no one was inside.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, he said, that when he exited the woods he noticed a car pull up and a woman get out and look at the scene from the side of the car. He warned her of the dangers but she just got back into the car and drove off.

At least 20 minutes after the initial call, fire fighters from Bray arrived and extinguished what remained of the fire.

The man who had made the initial intervention said he was some what annoyed at the delay in the response to the fire. The fire fighters stated they responded as soon as alerted, he said.

The man said he then noticed the woman standing near the fire engine. He approached her and said he had seen her at the scene earlier. She was a member of the fire crew, who had come to take a look at the fire first, he said. He added that he had complained about the delay in their response, adding that especially as to where the fire was, there should have been a quicker response.

In a previous interview with TheJournal.ie, Mary Murray, wife of one of the Bray fire men who lost their lives in the fire said that “call vetting that is in place is a huge issue for both society at large and it is simply not fair to the firemen”.

Council response

Wicklow County Council said yesterday that “one of the most widely used mechanisms for mobilising fire services is what is termed a “Pre-determined Attendance”. Predetermined Attendances (PDAs) have a number of meanings, but are usually taken as the instructions given by a Chief Fire Officer to the relevant Communications Centre for an initial fire service response to a call for assistance. These include:

•          Incident specific PDAs (e.g. for Domestic Fires, Road Traffic Collisions etc.) setting the numbers and types of appliances to be mobilised to that category of incident.

•          Specific Risk Premises PDAs (such as Institutional buildings, Airports, Seveso sites, industrial premises etc) listing the number and sequence of appliances for initial dispatch to the specific building.

In September 2007, Wicklow County Council said they were one of a number of fire authorities who were in the process of doing the necessary preparatory work in terms of address validation and assigning formal written “Pre-determined Attendances” prior to joining the East Region Communications Centre.

Wicklow closed its Watch Room and joined the ERCC as scheduled in October 2007 adopting the ERCCs standardised format for PDAs.

Mr Kidd said the IFESA was calling on the Health and Safety Authority (HAS) to conduct a special report into the fire service nationally as provided for under mechanisms under the Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.

Read:Wicklow Council fined €355k over Bray firemen deaths>

Interview: ‘My husband died five years ago but nothing has changed’ >

Read: Court defers sentencing Wicklow County Council over firemen deaths >

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