‘Catalogue of failings’ blamed for firefighter deaths in Atherstone-on-Stour blaze

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The deaths of four firefighters in Atherstone-on-Stour in 2007 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 today (Tuesday), looked into the deaths of Ian Reid, John Averis, Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley, who attended a fire in a vegetable packing plant on Atherstone Industrial Estate on November 2 2007.

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.

“The fire killed more firefighters than any other since the 1970s.

“Over the last decade, twice as many firefighters lost their lives in fires as in the previous ten years, and it’s clear that fire and rescue services and government are not learning lessons from these deaths.

“It is appalling that firefighters are in some cases being killed in almost identical circumstances to those in which others have died. This is a terrible failing by those making key strategic decisions within the fire service and by central government.

“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.”

The FBU’s report highlights severe problems with:

- the assessment of risk and planning around it

- the quality of information available to the incident commander

- the use of breathing apparatus

- training, particularly for ‘retained’ or part-time firefighters.

The FBU also said it was working with health and safety specialists from the University of Stirling to review firefighter safety and fatal incidents. The review will report later this year.

Mr Wrack said: “Firefighters and bereaved families have been asking questions for a number of years about why firefighters are being killed at incidents which the service should have planned to deal with.

“We think this highlights deep and systemic failures across the UK fire and rescue service and we are determined to get to the bottom of what is going wrong.”

Around 100 firefighters were mobilised to fight the fire in Atherstone-on-Stour, which took place in a large vegetable packing plant 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.

A spokesman for Warwickshire Fire and Rescue said: “The loss of four of our Warwickshire Fire fighters was a tragedy that remains with us all.

“The events of 2007 have already been the subject of an exhaustive, independent, inquiry and lengthy criminal proceedings.

We have learned lessons from the tragedy and our focus over the past 6 years has been to ensure that Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service is an exemplar of best practice.

“We are pleased that the recent peer review, which closely scrutinised how the service is performing both operationally and strategically, confirmed Warwickshire to be ‘a very good performing service.’”

A copy of the report can be found at http://bit.ly/FBUwarwickshirereport