Dead firefighter’s colleagues blast fire service safety training

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By Rory Reynolds

COLLEAGUES of hero firefighter Ewan Williamson have blamed his death on the fire services’ lax safety procedures and training.

One fellow firefighter, speaking anonymously, said that his death was an accident waiting to happen, and the result of a “culture of complacency”.

He said that the hose that the firefighters were using to find their way in the thick smoke was left in a mess – leaving the escape route unclear.

The source also said that the 35-year-old suffocated after his breathing apparatus ran out of air not from a fall as the floor beneath him collapsed, as reports have stated.

The firefighter, who asked not to be named, said that previous reports have been inaccurate.

He said: “All the news reports indicate he died because the floor collapsed into the basement where the fire was which is not true.

“Ewan’s body was found on the ground floor, not the basement, where he would have been if the floor collapse had directly killed him.

“The floor did collapse but did not cause his death, which would have been asphyxiation as he actually ran out of the air in his breathing apparatus.”

However a spokesperson for Lothian and Borders Fire Service was keen to stress that a full police inquiry into the incident was already underway.

A spokesperson said: “There’s a lot of rumour and speculation, but the circumstances of Ewan’s death are up to the police to determine.

“We’ve lost a firefighter in the line of duty, and it’s important that the police investigation is allowed to take its proper course.”

David Young Head of Training at Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service added: “Our firefighters receive initial breathing apparatus training at the Scottish Fire Services College at Gullane, before returning to do a further three weeks training within the service.

“This aims to fully prepare them for their operational role.

“But it must be remembered that fire is an unpredictable thing and the environment firefighters work in when fighting fires is changing dynamically and sometimes in ways that are not predictable.

“However our training is designed to prepare firefighters to recognise changes in the environment, and adopt the appropriate fire fighting techniques to bring the situation under control.”

A spokesperson for the Fire Brigades Union said: “Investigations are ongoing but we do know that Ewan and his team leader were returning outside as they were running low on air.

“There was a mess of hose at the top of the stairs leading down to the basement. It was this hose that they should have been following to return to the outside safe area.”

Colleagues of Williamson have spoken of widespread concern that too much time is spent fitting smoke alarms in homes, and that as a result safety training is not being taken seriously enough.

Richard Baker, justice spokesman for Scottish Labour, said: “The Fire Brigades Union has been raising these issues about health and safety for some time even before this tragic incident.

Bob Virtue, director of fire service training for Scotland, said: “The training is far more thorough and detailed and quality assured than ever before”

Last Wednesday an estimated 15,000 people lined the streets of Edinburgh to honour hero Ewan, who died while tackling a blaze in Edinburgh earlier this month.

At his funeral at St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile, George Grubb, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, told mourners that Williamson had made the supreme sacrifice.

1 COMMENT

  1. Safety is a synergistic combination of several factors besides training. As a safety performance consultant who deals often with firefighters, one persistent problem I see underlying injuries or fatalities is lack of communication between administration and firefighters. An efficient two-way pipeline of communication enables formation of a shared mental model of safety between officers and firefighters. According to recent research, shared mental models between management and workers are highly predictive of safety performance. From what I have read in the posted article, communication is an issue that needs to be addressed in this particular department. Too bad the fix is in retrospect.

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