A second inquiry into the death of a woman, whose prolonged rescue from a disused mineshaft in Scotland led to severe criticism of the fire and rescue service in charge, has highlighted several weaknesses in the arrangements for integrated emergency response.
Alison Hume, 44, died on the morning of 26 July 2008, having fallen down the mineshaft several hours earlier. By the time she was brought to the surface she was profoundly hypothermic and had suffered a pneumothorax, broken ribs and a broken sternum.
The inquiry and report into the 2008 Galston Mine incident by Steven Torrie, HM Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Authorities, was ordered by Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, following the publication last year of the findings of a fatal accident inquiry (FAI).
In his report, published yesterday (29 March), Chief Inspector Torrie said the Service did not properly consider, prior to the incident, the impact of its decision to cease improvised rescues involving lines. He also identified a significant weakness in the working arrangements and communication between the blue-light services at the Galston Mine incident, with mobilisation of officers dependent on individual judgement rather than a planned policy.
Setting out what lessons can be learned from the incident, the report recommends that the Scottish Government’s current reform of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service explicitly recognises the need for adaptation and improvisation in unusual circumstances, as part of the community-risk planning that fire and rescue services undertake.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service should also carry out an audit of operational command training, examining, in particular, risk-critical decision-making in unusual and ‘hard-to-define’ situations.
In addition, the report calls on Scottish ministers to set out expectations that the Service acts both as a champion and coordinator of specialist rescue, and to adopt policies and practices that support organisational learning.
Commenting on the report, Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service’s chief officer, Brian Sweeney, apologised again to Alison Hume’s family.
He added: “Mr Torrie highlights a number of improvements [Strathclyde] has already delivered. We now have full rope-rescue capability and a well-equipped team of 46 highly-trained fire-fighters, providing 24/7 cover throughout our area. We have also substantially changed our command officer mobilisation and have undertaken training with police mountain-rescue teams.
“These steps are important in themselves but must be part of a Scotland-wide drive for continual improvement, ensuring all fire-fighters learn the lessons from dealing with other challenging incidents in the future.”
The Scottish Government said it would take time to consider the report’s recommendations in detail. Minister for community safety and legal affairs Roseanna Cunningham commented: “We are already embarking on a process of reform of Scotland’s fire and rescue services to not just protect but, crucially, to improve local services. A single fire and rescue service will be able to provide more equitable access to specialist resources and improve consistency in training and application of guidance across the whole of Scotland.
“Our fire and rescue services continue to do an excellent job in often difficult circumstances. However, it is vital that lessons are learned from this process to ensure future capability in the face of challenging situations is strengthened, and public safety improved.”
The Torrie report is available at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2012/03/3230
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