Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Fire and "Rescue" Service

Work and dark evenings are preventing getting out, but there is an accident enquiry currently underway about a fatal accident in Southern Scotland.  It's a bit 'off topic', but defies belief.  It's a story of bureacracy and 'procedure' over-ruling common sense, resulting in a what may have been a needless death.

The following is an account from "The Scotsman".  When reading, bear in mind that a senior Fire Service officer described the operation as a "success" !   

"Fire chief ruled out sending help to victim in mineshaft, inquiry is
A FIRE chief has revealed how he was desperate to send medical aid to a seriously injured woman trapped 60ft down a mineshaft but was forbidden to do so by a senior officer. Group Commander Freddie Howe wanted to use rope equipment to lower a paramedic down to tend to mother of two Alison Hume, who was pleading for help from the bottom of the pit.  But yesterday, he told an inquiry that his superior officer, Group Commander Paul Stewart, ordered him not to lower the paramedic down because of health and safety concerns.

A fatal accident inquiry into Mrs Hume's death earlier heard how health and safety regulations, issued four months before the July 2008 tragedy, meant firefighters could not use ropes to lift her out of the shaft.  Mrs Hume, 44, a lawyer, died shortly after being brought to the surface by Strathclyde Police's Mountain Rescue team, six hours after 18 firefighters arrived at the scene in Galston, Ayrshire.

Mr Howe said he received an instruction from Group Commander Stewart that a paramedic should not be lowered to help Mrs Hume.  He said: "We discussed with the paramedic and he was – at that point – more than happy to go down and help Mrs Hume."  Procurator-fiscal depute Nancy Beresford said: "He was stopped from going down. Why?"  Mr Howe replied: "My best recollection is that Mr Stewart did not want the paramedic to go down the hole.  "I have thought about this for a great deal of time. "My best recollection is that I received a message through the radio not to send him down the hole."  He added: "In the fire brigade, you never argue with a senior officer."

Mr Howe also told the inquiry yesterday of his frustration that "procedures" had stopped him from bringing Mrs Hume to the surface.  Mr Howe, 57, said: "We were striving to bring Mrs Hume up alive. But it is the first casualty I have ever brought out that has died. It was a shock for me. 

"We felt we were hampered by our procedures. We had the equipment, we had the training. We did not have the procedures."  He added: "To be honest, I wanted Mrs Hume out of there by any means we safely could.  "That is what I joined the fire service for."

The veteran firefighter also revealed that, almost two years on from Mrs Hume's death, there was still no system in place for dealing with a similar situation should it arise.

Mrs Hume, who worked for the Renfrewshire legal firm McCusker McElroy & Co, fell down the shaft after visiting relatives.  She was discovered by her daughter, Jane, then aged 17, who went to look for her and heard her cries from the pit in the early hours of the morning. Firefighters arrived within 30 minutes.

There was growing anger last night as new details emerged of health and safety rules being used to prevent firefighters rescuing members of the public. Independent MSP Margo MacDonald called for an independent inquiry to be launched into the wider issue of health and safety rules and how they affected the rescue services.  She said: "This is an incredible case. I can scarcely believe it. It is very hard to imagine firefighters, trained to save lives, who are prevented by regulations from carrying out that function."

1 comment:

Len watson said...

As a firefighter with 30 years experience I have strong feelings on this. The UK fire service has become sub-servient to unworkable H&S laws that are counter-productive to the 'esprit de corps' which is put into practice by inexperienced senior officers. The limited 'hands-on' experience of fire service management has been a serious failing for many years, where senior officers are promoted and given control over areas that they have no experience of. This has led to the unfortunate position the fire service now finds itself in working with unrealistic procedures and no specialist rapid intervention teams (RIT) for information on RIT - see