Systemic failings led to firefighters' deaths report finds

By Ian Dipple Tuesday 04 February 2014 Updated: 06/02 13:51

THE DEATHS of four firefighters, including two from Alcester, in a warehouse fire more than six years ago was caused by a 'catalogue of organisational systemic failings' by Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service, a report has found.

The Fire Brigades Union’s Fatal Accident Investigation report summary, released on Tuesday (February 4), examined the deaths of Ian Reid, John Averis, and Alcester's Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley, who attended a massive fire at a vegetable packing plant on Atherstone Industrial Estate in November 2007.

The report found severe problems with the assessment of risk and planning around the blaze prior to the incident which meant on the night those in charge did not have the information needed to ensure the safety of firefighters.

Communication was poor resulting in key information being lost. Incident commanders were not presented with any plans of the warehouse until 50 minutes after the fire started which would have given them knowledge of the alternative first floor fire exit, which would have allowed crews to be sent in 40 metres closer to the fire and by a less congested route.

It was also revealed firefighters inexperienced in wearing breathing apparatus were allowed into the building to tackle the flames, while the database providing information on water supplies - such as the location of hydrants, bore holes etc - was only available during office hours. A sustainable supply of water was not in place until almost 9pm, about three hours after the fire broke out. Issues were also identified with training, particularly for retained or part-time firefighters.

Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union, general secretary, said: "The deaths of these four brave men were caused by a catalogue of systemic failings at Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service.

"We need ministers in all four governments in the UK, as well as chief fire officers, fire authority members and other politicians, to take heed of what happened at Atherstone and work with firefighters to ensure such a tragedy is not repeated."

About 100 firefighters were mobilised to fight the fire in Atherstone, in what was suspected as an arson attack.

In January 2012 Warwickshire County Council entered a guilty plea at a hearing at Wolverhampton Crown Court for failing to ensure the health and safety of its employees, and was subsequently fined £30,000.

Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service have yet to comment on the damning report, which comes just a week after an independent review which said the service had made considerable progress in a number of areas since Atherstone.

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