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Fire Brigades Union General Secretary highlights 2007 as the worst year for firefighter deaths

The trend in firefighter deaths had been downwards until 2002, but there has been an alarming upturn in recent years
The report highlights severe problems with use of breathing apparatus and inadequate training

Clifford Cox, 53, collapsed on Saturday at his fire station in Staines, Surrey, from which hundreds of people have been evacuated by the fire service after the recent floods.

Colleagues tried in vain to resuscitate Mr Cox, who had served in Surrey Fire & Rescue Service (FRS) for 25 years. Detectives from North Surrey CID were called to Staines Fire Station following his sudden death, but the cause is, as yet, unclear.

Mr Cox had been involved with the flood rescue efforts in the area, although his death is not thought to be directly linked to the floods.

In Northern Ireland, Nial Hamilton, 44, collapsed after helping colleagues tackle a blazing car in Lurgan, County Armagh on 10 February. He was pronounced dead at hospital after colleagues attempted to give him first aid at the scene.

Mr Hamilton, who had served as a firefighter for more than 20 years, had gone to check and store breathing apparatus used in the operation but was later found lying next to his fire engine.

“Organisational systemic failings”

The Fire Brigades Union’s (FBU) fatal accident investigation report summary has attributed the deaths of four firefighters in Warwickshire in 2007 to a “catalogue of organisational systemic failings” by Warwickshire Fire & Rescue Service (FRS).

The report investigated the deaths of Ian Reid, John Averis, Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley, who attended a fire in a vegetable packing plant in November 2007 in Atherstone-on-Stour along with around 100 other firefighters.

The report highlighted severe problems with:

  • Fire-risk assessment and planning
  • A deficiency in the quality of information available to the incident commander
  • The use of breathing apparatus
  • And inadequate training, particularly for retained or part-time firefighters

In January 2012 Warwickshire County Council pleaded guilty at Wolverhampton Crown Court to failing to ensure the health and safety of its employees and was fined £30,000.

FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack said 2007 was the worst year since 1985 for firefighter deaths – despite year-on-year falls in fires across the decade – with eight dying on duty. Since then, firefighters have died at operational incidents in Central Scotland in 2008, Lothian and Borders in 2009, Hampshire in 2010 and Greater Manchester in 2013.

The trend in firefighter deaths had been downwards until 2002, but there has been an alarming upturn in recent years. “This suggests that lessons are still not being learned by fire and rescue services and government,” Matt Wrack said.

US firefighter deaths

The death toll among their US counterparts has been high recently too, with 81 US firefighters dying on duty in 2012 and 101 in 2013. Sixteen have died so far this year.

Of the 81 who died in 2012, 45 died in activities related to emergencies, 22 at the scene of a fire, 17 while responding to or returning from emergency incidents, 18 as a result of vehicle crashes and eight while training. Heart attacks were the most frequent cause of death, accounting for 39 cases.

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