Firefighter killed in pub blaze

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Ewan Williamson
Ewan Williamson

By ALEXANDER LAWRIE

A FIREFIGHTER has been killed and another injured as a ferocious blaze swept through an Edinburgh bar.

Ewan Williamson, 35, was killed as the floor of the Balmoral Bar in the Dalry area of the city collapsed.

His family have described Ewan as a “wonderful” man and say that the tragedy has come as a “horrific shock” to them.

Last night floral tributes had started to appear at the scene, with police officers placing them down beyond the cordon.

Residents in the flats above the pub were seen screaming for help from their windows as the inferno threatened to spread further.

“Absolutely devastated”

The alarm was raised just after 12am on Sunday morning and up to 20 residents had to be rescued from the tenements above the popular pub as the blaze ripped through the basement.

Fire chiefs have said they are “absolutely devastated” at the loss of their colleague.

As the blaze swept through the basement of the bar 16 appliances equipped with rescue ladders and breathing apparatus rushed to the scene.

It is thought over 70 fire fighters were involved in tackling the city centre fire.

The fire service arrived at the bar at 12.38am with the premises well alight.

“Horrific shock”

Ewan and a colleague entered the burning building using breathing apparatus but tragedy struck just moments later as the floor gave way plunging both heroes into the burning basement.

Despite the best efforts of the emergency services on the scene, he died of his injuries.

His family released a statement through the fire service, saying: “This has come as a horrific shock to the family. Ewan was a wonderful, kind, sporty and outgoing person who was loved by everyone.

“He loved the Fire Service. We would ask that the public remember members of the service who risk their lives every day.”

The other injured firefighter was rushed to the city’s Royal Infirmary for treatment. He was released from hospital early on Sunday morning.

“Screaming”

Eyewitness Angela Cunningham, 31, said: “I heard fire alarms going off at about 12.30am and then lots of fire engines arrived.

“People were screaming from their windows that they were trapped. I saw two young boys about 11 years old being taken out the top floor window they looked terrified.

“It was a chaotic scene but I must say I was very impressed with the firemen. They were so composed and went about their business so professionally.

“After about half an hour I saw one firemen being stretchered out the pub. I don’t know if it was the firemen that died but he looked in a bad way.”

Seven homeowners were taken to the ERI suffering from smoke inhalation and all were released after treatment.

The rest were taken to a nearby primary school and have now been given temporary accommodation supplied by the council.

“Chaos in the street”

Two residents who were rescued were Emily Davies, 28, and her boyfriend Andy Greenhalgh, 25, who were sleeping when the fire broke out.

Emily said: “Andy woke up because of all the noise with the fire engines. We looked outside and there was all this chaos in the street.

“We got up and when we went into the hall there was smoke coming under the door.

“That’s when we started to panic. We shut ourselves in the lounge and had to open the windows just to try to get some fresh air.

“We were just hanging out the windows basically. The room was starting to fill up with smoke. It was pretty scary.

“The fire brigade had to get a ladder up to us and take us out the window.”

Firefighters also rescued the couple’s 13-week-old puppy Alfie by taking him down the ladder too.

“Lots of action”

David Lithgow, who also lives in the doomed tenement, said that about 2.30am firefighters started breaking windows at front of the pub and taking hoses through the close into the garden.

He said: “They started to break down the back door of the pub – they went in with breathing apparatus – there was lots of action in the back garden.

“The firemen used angle grinders to cut off metal grilles on windows and paramedics came through with a stretcher – then they pulled a firefighter out from a back window.

“They weren’t treating him and covered him with a blanket, it was obvious it was a serious incident.”

British Gas and Scottish Power officials were also called out to the scene as a precautionary measure and the busy road Dalry Road was immediately sealed off and remains closed at the moment.

The Balmoral pub
The Balmoral pub

The fire service are now trying to dampen the remaining embers with foam as they start to piece together what happened leading up to the tragedy.

Chief Fire Officer Brian Allaway said: “At 0038 on Sunday 12 July crew from Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service responded to a fire in a public house in the Dalry area of Edinburgh.

“On arrival the crews were confronted by a very severe fire and whilst tackling that fire a breathing apparatus crew of two fire fighters were injured by the collapse of an internal floor.

“Tragically and despite the best efforts of all his colleagues Ewan Williamson lost his life.

Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service is a close-knit community and we are all absolutely devastated by this loss and concerned about our injured colleague.

“The thoughts of every single member of this Service are with the firefighter’s family and the families of our injured colleague, this is a tragic day for our Service.

“The service has launched a full investigation into the incident.”

“Deeply sadened”

Lothian and Borders Police said that the investigation into what started the fire is underway, and they are asking for anyone who was in the area at the time to come forward.

Superintendent Ivor Marshall, Deputy Divisional Commander, said: “We are deeply saddened by the death of the firefighter, and our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues at this difficult time.

“Inquiries to establish the cause of the fire are at a very early stage, and we would appeal for anyone who was in Dalry Road from around 11.30pm, and who may have any information relating to the blaze, to call police as a matter of urgency.”

As news of the tragedy travelled, tributes started to pour in from across the country for the tragic hero.

“Devastating”

Kenny Ross, the Scottish regional secretary for the Fire Brigades Union said that the news was “devastating”.

He said: “It is devastating news that we have lost a firefighter in the line of duty and that another is injured.

“Our thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues who have been stunned by these events.

“Deaths in the line of duty touch everyone who works in the fire service. The death of this firefighter will be felt very deeply by everyone in the service in Scotland and across the UK.

“FBU officials are already looking at all health and safety issues relating to this incident. They will be working with the Health and Safety Executive and local brigade managers.”

“Tragic”

And Annabel Goldie leader of the Scottish Conservative Party described the situation as “tragic”.

She said: “This is a very tragic situation. It is yet another poignant reminder of the grave risks that our fire service face on a daily basis.

“Obviously our thoughts are with the families of the fireman who lost his life and his colleague who has been so seriously injured.”

And Labour leader Iain Gray offered his condolences to the family of the killed hero.

“Danger it entails”

He said: “It is a tragedy for the firefighter’s family, colleagues and friends. We take for granted the great public service firefighters provide on a daily basis and all too often forget the danger it entails. 

“I know the Lothian and Borders fire service is a very close community and the impact this loss will have. Our condolences go out to the firefighter’s  family.”

Scotland’s worst peacetime fire service tragedy struck on March 28 1960 when the Arbuckle Smith whisky warehouse on Cheapside Street in Glasgow caught fire.

By the end of the night 19 firefighters died when a 60 ft wall collapsed whilst they were inside.

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