High Court rules in favour of deceased firefighters
The High Court’s judgement (30.07.13) on the deaths of two firefighters in the 2006 Marlie Farm fireworks blaze found that East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service were responsible for the health and safety of their employees and must pay compensation to the bereaved families.
Employers cannot merely renounce their duty of care
Commenting, Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union General Secretary, said: “Common sense and justice have prevailed today, and the judge’s ruling reflects the systemic and cultural failure of those responsible for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service.
“Although the ruling cannot undo Geoff or Brian’s tragic deaths, firefighters can be relieved that their employers cannot merely renounce their duty of care as had been argued.
“The events at Marlie Farm were a tragedy, with two lives needlessly lost even though firefighters did a fantastic job, and the FBU was proud to support them during the incident and investigation.
“The FBU has only received the judgment today and will need to reflect on it carefully, including checking that current arrangements in East Sussex reflect the ruling.
“But the failings of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service raised by the FBU were echoed in the criminal trial of the factory’s owners, and it’s clear that this case should not have been fought.
“We therefore appeal to East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service to avoid prolonging the agony of bereaved families as well as injured firefighters and police officers by accepting this judgment and paying the appropriate compensation as soon as possible.”
Failure to train staff on the risks of explosives
The ruling echoed concerns raised by the FBU in the aftermath of the tragedy, including:
- Failure to train staff on the risks of explosives and the correct manner in which to approach explosives incidents
- Failure to pre-plan (i.e. carry out standard inspections and build the findings into their emergency response plans) for an explosives incident at Marlie Farm, despite warnings about the site, evidence of poor water supplies and widespread, large-scale storage of fireworks in Sussex
- Failure by the fire and rescue service’s Mobilisation and Communications Centre to pass on information received in calls they received, for example, that a “huge explosion” or “large explosions” had taken place
- Failure to institute a safety cordon
- Failure to evacuate once the presence of large fireworks in the shipping container was strongly suspected
- Failure to execute the evacuation properly once it was belatedly ordered
Lessons from previous firefighter deaths are not being learned within the fire and rescue service
The FBU also said that issues raised during the case reflected wider concerns that lessons from previous firefighter deaths are not being learned within the fire and rescue service, an issue they have recently raised with ministers.
Gerard Stilliard of Thompsons Solicitors said: “It is now nearly seven years since this tragic event.
“The judgment is absolutely clear on the failures which sadly occurred that day.
“It is essential that East Sussex FRS now accepts its share of legal responsibility for the deaths and injuries and exhibits some of the dignity shown by its own employees and the bereaved throughout this lengthy process.”
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