An ex-firefighter who suffered a career-ending injury while working at Ilkley Fire Station in West Yorkshire has secured a substantial damages settlement.

Michael Hollings was seriously injured during a training exercise in May 2011. He and two colleagues were taking part in a drill that involved working at height when the 13.5metre ladder they were using cracked, causing them to fall to the ground.

Michael was wearing an ‘improvised chest harness’ which held him to the ladder at the time of the accident. As it fell, the top of the ladder landed on a solid fence surrounding the training area, leaving Mr Hollings suspended six inches above the ground.

While Mr Hollings’ colleagues suffered minor injuries, the force of the recoil as the ladder impacted on the fence left him with a comminuted fracture, two dislocated elbows and forearms. His right foot was also fractured in the fall and he was left concussed.

Mr Hollings, a firefighter with eight years’ experience, had two operations on his arms which were then fixed in plaster and latterly a metal brace for several months. He was forced to medically retire from his role with the fire service and also from his other job as an HGV driver – a career he had enjoyed for over two decades.

Almost four years on, Michael continues to have twice-weekly physiotherapy to improve the range of motion in his elbows and his grip – which he’s told he won’t ever fully recover – and is due to see a specialist regarding having a spinal cord stimulator fitted to help alleviate his ongoing pain symptoms.

FBU member Mr Hollings said: “It was a case of learning to adapt and cope. My doctors tell me that I’ll never recover the full range of motion in my arms and I’ve had to put what I call my ‘manual’ life on hold.

“In the early days, that involved a lengthy rehabilitation process and saying goodbye to two jobs that I loved. Luckily, my FBU union representative came to talk to me after the accident and pointed me in the direction of Thompsons Solicitors.”

With instructions from the FBU, Thompsons began a case for compensation on Mr Hollings’ behalf. They were able to secure an interim payment for Michael, which paid for adaptions to his lifestyle – such as the purchase of an automatic car – and access to rehabilitation specialists. Thompsons went on to secure a substantial six figure sum.

“I felt that, between the huge support I received from my family and friends and the backing of my union the FBU and Thompsons, I was in safe hands,” continued Michael.

“It’s still not clear what caused the ladder to fail that day, but I’m hopeful that my local service, and others across the country, will take incidents like this seriously so that no other fire fighters suffer avoidable injuries during training.

“My experience has shown me the true value of being a union member. Not only did the FBU fund my case so I had access to free, legal expertise but I also had on-the-ground support from people like my local FBU representative John Rankin.”

Andy Dark, FBU assistant general secretary, said: “The FBU welcomes the successful outcome of this legal challenge and the compensation awarded to our member Michael Hollings.

“We have serious concerns that the causes of the equipment failure still have not been identified and rectified.”

Simon Wilson, national co-ordinator of serious injuries at Thompsons, said: “Michael suffered a life-changing injury during a planned training drill because a piece of vital kit failed. Had the ladder not – by sheer luck – hit the top of the fence and stopped Mr Hollings before he hit the ground, we would be talking about a very different situation.”