Over the past few years there have been a number of cases in the news where either fire-fighters have lost their lives whilst trying to rescue people or people have died when fire-fighters have held back from entering a building.
There is a case currently in progress where fire officers are being prosecuted for involuntary (gross negligence) manslaughter, after fire-fighters lost their lives during a fire. If they are found guilty they could be jailed for as much as 15 years – and even a suspended sentence will mean they will lose their job and their pension. Even if they are found not guilty, there’s a danger of stress related illness brought on by the prosecution.
Is this fair when they were only doing the job they signed up for and are paid to do?
The track record
Fire officers are responsible for making the decision about committing crews to an incident. However, when is it right to send fire fighters in and when should they be held back?
- Two fire-fighters died rescuing people from a tower block, in Stevenage, where no members of the public were hurt
- Six members of the public died in their homes (Lakanhal House), but no fire-fighters were injured
- In an incident in Portsmouth members of the public were rescued, but two fire-fighters died.
The current case is focused on the deaths of four fire fighters who died in a warehouse fire in Warwickshire – where no people had been reported missing.
What happens next?
The prosecution have talked about “what some people see as the irritating trivialities of health and safety red tape”, but fire-fighters are trained to go into situations that are unsafe for most people. Isn’t that the whole point of having a fire brigade? They’re there to rescue people when health and safety has come unravelled. They’ve signed up to walk into danger – in much the same way the Army do.
Of course, nobody wants fire fighters to die – and there is a requirement for dynamic risk assessment, which they have already discussed during the trial. However, whatever the outcome of this case, there will be a backlash on fire officers throughout the UK.
Every time they have to make a decision whether or not to commit crews – they are likely to hesitate. Not only will this mean that more innocent people will die – but that the fire service will no longer be effective in doing the job for which they are in existence.