Fire chief's court victory in £50k fight

FIRE service leaders have settled a £50,000 lawsuit launched by a fire chief who injured his back during a safety exercise on a boat sailing on the River Clyde.

Senior commander Paul Tanzilli was thrown into the air from a seat on a pioneer rescue boat after it manoeuvred and was hit by a freak wave.

The officer and four colleagues from Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service had been assessing the boat's safety credentials. Similar incidents had already happened on the boat, his lawyers claimed.

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The 48-year-old commander sued bosses for negligence, claiming there was no consideration taken for "untrained personnel" on board.

But the action, at Court of Session in Edinburgh, was settled out of court in April. Members of Strathclyde Fire Board have said the claim could set a precedent for other firefighters to sue if injured in the line of duty.

Tanzilli was on the boat at around 3pm on 9 August, 2006, with four colleagues as it travelled from Yoker Ferry to Erskine Bridge and back as part of a "familiarisation" trip.

According to court papers, there had been health and safety concerns about the boat and the trip was to see how it performed following recent modifications.

On the way back from Erskine, a tug boat was spotted travelling down river. The fire service boat then manoeuvred to deal with the wash from the tug but was hit by a wave, which caused its bow to rise sharply. Tanzilli was thrown from his seat into the air and landed heavily on his lower back. Court papers from his legal team said: "There had been a number of similar incidents in relation to the use of pioneer boats. There was no consideration taken of the enhanced risk to untrained personnel such as the pursuer and the necessary control measures to be put in place."

Tanzilli, from Torrance, near Glasgow, suffered a fracture to the L1 vertebra at the base of his spine. It was claimed he was unable to carry out normal tasks at home and had to make special arrangements to travel.

His lawyers said the accident was a breach of the service's statutory duties in terms of equipment regulations.

However, South Ayrshire Councillor John Allan, a former firefighter with 30 years' experience, said: "This certainly could provide an example for others to sue the service. But in order to get a claim at all there has to be someone or something to blame. And they have to be able to prove it. So in this case, there must be someone or something to blame for any settlement to be made.

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"However, when I joined I knew I was putting myself at risk. You go to work every day and you don't know how that day will end. If you are going to have to save someone or a bit of property then you will always be putting yourself at risk, and you just have to accept that. I accepted that.

"But we live in a culture of litigation now, and I suppose the fire service isn't any different from any others in that sense."

Hanzala Malik, a Labour councillor for Hillhead in Glasgow and a fire board member, said: "I can't comment on individual cases. But what I will say, as someone who has been through the system in the Boys' Brigade, the Cadets and the Territorial Army, is that when you go away with these organisations there will always be a risk.

"I think every member of a service is aware of this.

"Imagine you went away with the BB and you came back covered in midge bites. Are you going to sue the BB for these things?

"These things happen in these services, and they happen in everyday life. It is about what is appropriate.

"If there was a freak wave, then there was a freak wave. I am fairly sure the fire service didn't create it."

The full details of the payout have not been disclosed. Lawyers acting for the fire service had claimed Tanzilli's claim was "excessive".

Tanzilli did not respond to requests for comment. Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service would not comment.

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However, Councillor Tommy Morrison, vice-convener of the Strathclyde fire board, said: "We are bound by health and safety [regulation], and that is the law."

Tanzilli is still working for the fire service. According to records he became area commander of North and South Ayrshire in July 2009 and later moved to Hamilton.

Last August, it was reported Tanzilli was one of ten Strathclyde fire bosses criticised for touring a distillery and brewery on Arran.

Fire chiefs said the visit was to "encourage" volunteer firefighters serving the island's part-time stations. The trip, which included a meal at a four-star hotel, was said to have cost at least 4,500.