Head Of Training, The Healthy Work Company

March 2, 2015

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Fire service admits safety breaches following firefighter’s death

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) has admitted health and safety breaches following the death of 35 year-old Edinburgh firefighter, Ewan Williamson, who died while tackling a blaze at the Balmoral Bar on Dalry Road in Edinburgh in July 2009. He was the only firefighter in the history of the Lothian and Borders Fire Service to die tackling a blaze.

The court heard how Mr Williamson became trapped while working in conditions of zero visibility and extreme heat when he became separated from a colleague after taking a wrong turn as they exited the smoke-filled bar. Radio messages revealed that he had turned left instead of right, and had become stuck in the men’s toilets on the ground floor.

The firefighters had been attempting to locate the blaze in the basement, but had retreated due to lack of visibility and heat.

A ‘BA emergency’ – meaning firefighters wearing breathing apparatus are in trouble – was launched, and several unsuccessful attempts were made to locate Mr Williamson before the building was evacuated.

It was heard that SFRS failed to:

  • provide firefighters, including Mr Williamson, with a system of work that was, so far as reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health;
  • have in place effective systems of radio communication;
  • implement procedures for firefighters using breathing apparatus on the date of the incident;
  • adequately monitor and ensure attendance by firefighters at training courses; and
  • adequately train firefighters to ensure that close personal contact was maintained during firefighting and search and rescue operations in the year leading up to Mr Williamson’s death.

At the High Court in Edinburgh, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service pleaded guilty to a single charge arising from the incident.

The SFRS did not issue a statement in relation to the court case.

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