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20 August 2009 Edition

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EMERGENCY: The urgent need for a 32-county fire service

Mark O'Shaughnessy and Brian Murray

Mark O'Shaughnessy and Brian Murray

Firefighters need the ‘fighting chance’

ON 26 SEPTEMBER 2007, two firefighters, 46-year-old Brian Murray and 26-year-old Mark O’Shaughnessy, lost their lives while fighting a fire in a derelict building in Bray, County Wicklow.
The story made national headlines not just because of the tragedy but also because of concerns about safety and resources at Bray Fire Station. When the news broke it quickly became apparent that Mark and Brian hadn’t a fighting chance of coming out alive. BARRY MURRAY, Brian’s son, talks to ELLA O’DWYER about those concerns and the ongoing demand for an independent inquiry into the events surrounding that dark day in 2007.

THERE is a lack of clarity around the incident that led to the deaths of the two firefighters which a proper inquiry could address. For instance, at the time of the incident, the media said the two men died as a result of the roof caving in but not so, according to Barry.
“We want a full inquiry into what happened that day. The media put it out that the men died as a result of the roof falling in. That’s nowhere near what happened because by the time the men were taken out of the building the roof was still intact.”
Bray is a ‘retained station’ with part-time workers. They only get paid when they get a call out and they get €21 an hour.
“The firefighters could be at home or in a shop when the alerter goes off and they have to get to the station and while that’s happening the fire is taking hold, getting bigger and more out of control, whereas if the fighters were in the station and went straight to the scene they’d have good chance of nipping it in the bud. By the time my father and his team were at the factory the fire was out of control.
“There were five firefighters at the scene and when they looked at what was in front of them they requested further assistance. They knew that they needed additional help.”
By the time the help came, it was too late.
Eventually, an  hydraulic platform was brought to the scene  but there were problems getting it operational; it was secondhand and due to be decommissioned.
If the fire had occurred a few miles away, the outcome would have been totally different, as Barry explains.
“If the fire had happened three miles out further, say in Dún Laoghaire which is a full-time station, there would have been four or five trucks with about five firefighters on each one.
“The lads there will be in the station the whole time doing their duties until a call comes in and then they’re straight down to the scene. But a fire happens just two or three miles down the road here in Bray and there’s only one engine sent to the factory the day when my father was killed.
“The Bray lads could be in bed, in the shops or anywhere at the time of the call-out. By the time they make their way to the station, get changed and get into fire engine there’s a big delay.”
Although the firefighters sent to the Bray incident were highly skilled and trained, they lacked numbers.
“They sent one engine containing five men. One of our campaign themes is to get a 32-county national fire authority so every fire station would be run the same – equipped the same with the same training and adequate numbers of staff.
“If you’ve an incident on the border, say in Clones, and a fire engine has to cross the border, the equipment won’t match up. If a firefighter gets injured on a job and they need to swap masks it could be deadly because the equipment won’t match up. We need a national fire authority where there are set standards throughout.
“Through Sinn Féin we’ve been working with a family – the McCloskeys in Derry – to push for a national authority. They had the same thing happen to them in 2003 when Joe died in tragic circumstances. He got up on a roof to have a look at it and he fell through the roof. It happened in Dungiven.”
Part-time firefighter Joe McCloskey (50) died in November 2003 after falling through the roof of a storeroom at the Gorteen House Hotel in Limavady.
A cross-border campaign calling for the radical reform of the Fire Service in Ireland was launched by Sinn Féin in April this year. Cllr Paddy Butcher on Limavady Borough Council and Cllr John Brady on Bray Town Council are demanding an independent inquiry to revisit the circumstances into the deaths of firefighters Joe McCloskey, Brian Murray and Mark O’Shaughnessy.
Brian Murray and his colleague, Mark O’Shaughnessy, had long been expressing concern about safety factors surrounding their work.
“My dad held a protest outside Bray Fire Station in 2005. Cllr John Brady was involved too. It was to highlight issues of concern, particularly the vetting process where someone is sent to look at and evaluate the fire scene before anyone is actually sent out.
“There were a couple of incidents when the lads were lucky to escape with their lives. The firefighters used to say they couldn’t be lucky forever.
“On the day my father and Mark died, a traffic warden from Bray Town Council was sent down to verify that there was a fire in the factory. I don’t know what training traffic wardens are given but, as far as I’m aware, it doesn’t involve fires. He had to walk down there and take a look before even a decision was made to send a team out. Fires grow very fast; in five minutes it’ll be blazing.”
“There have been three arrests and there are two inquiries going on, one by the gardaí and one by the council,” Barry says. A file is being sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
“We want an independent inquiry because the council, for instance, shouldn’t be involved in an inquiry that it’s part of.
“I think [the then] Environment Minister Dick Roche should shoulder a lot of the blame as well for what happened. He had a chance to fix the situation in Bray when he was Minister for the Environment and he did absolutely nothing.”
A father of 15 children, Brian Murray’s death left a big void in the family.
“We were devastated when my father died,” Barry says, the loss of his father still painful to deal with.
“The family hasn’t been the same since. There’s a huge gap there now that will never be filled. I’ve a little brother and every time he passes the fire station he’s convinced that Daddy is still in there. It should never have happened. It happened because the Government was wasting money on other things.”

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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