Chiefs ‘failed’ over rescue of firefighter
Ewan Williamson died while tackling a basement blaze at the Balmoral Bar in Edinburgh in July 2009.
Around 20 people including a baby were rescued from a three-storey tenement above the burning building in the city’s Dalry Road, but the 35-year-old lost his life after he became trapped during the incident on 12 July.
In a case called yesterday at the High Court in Glasgow, the fire service faced a total of three charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
It includes a claim that there was a failure to prioritise Mr Williamson’s rescue.
Mr Williamson was the only firefighter in the history of Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service to die fighting a fire. The new Scottish-wide service was formed in April this year.
The first allegation levelled against the fire and rescue service claims the necessary “instruction and supervision” was not provided to employees between April 2005 and July 2009.
This includes an accusation that there was a lack of appropriate training for firefighters in relation to tackling basement fires.
The second charge states the fire service failed to provide “a system of work” that was safe and without risks.
Prosecutors allege there was not an adequate response to Mr Williamson becoming trapped within a toilet on the ground floor at the bar.
The indictment goes on to say there was a failure to appropriately “prioritise his rescue” and utilise the relevant equipment to save him.
It is further claimed there was not a proper response to a breathing apparatus emergency situation.
The charge also alleges there was a failure to have in place an effective communication system between firefighters.
The final and third accusation claims there was not a “suitable and sufficient risk assessment”.
This includes an allegation of not identifying adequate control measures in conditions of “restricted visibility and extreme heat”.
Charges two and three relate to 12 July, 2009 – the day Mr Williamson lost his life in the fire.
Peter Gray QC, representing the fire service, yesterday said there would be a challenge to the “competency and relevancy” of the charges.
Judge Lord Turnbull set a date for a hearing on this issue for 6 December, at the High Court in Edinburgh.
Mr Williamson’s family issued a statement saying: “Ewan was a wonderful, kind, sporty and outgoing person, who was loved by everyone.”
More than 70 firefighters battled the blaze until it was finally put out 14 hours after the alarm was raised.
Mr Williamson was hailed a hero at the time by fire service colleagues, who said those rescued in the blaze owed him their lives.
Firefighters from every force in the UK turned out and lined the streets of Edinburgh prior to Mr Williamson’s funeral service at St Giles’ Cathedral on 22 July, 2009.
In April 2010, a plaque was unveiled in memory of Mr Williamson at Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service HQ.