The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is calling for lessons to be learnt after a jury at the Civil Justice Centre in Manchester concluded that Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) firefighter and FBU member Stephen Hunt, 38, from Bury died as a result of unlawful killing.
Tragically, safety measures that should have been in place during the handover from the day shift to the night shift, when Stephen and his partner Jeremy Jones took over fighting the fire at Paul’s Hair World in Manchester in July 2013, were sadly absent due to failures in communication and procedures.
At about 2.45pm on 13 July 2013, the hottest day of the year, two girls whose identities cannot be disclosed for legal reasons started a fire at the rear fire doors of Paul’s Hair World in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.
At 3pm GMFRS attended the incident, and after five hours of continuous work by many firefighters, Stephen and his breathing apparatus (BA) partner Jeremy Jones were sent into the building to fight the fire.
Safety measures, supervised by a specialist safety officer, to ensure firefighters did not go any further than the top of six stairs and to limit them to 20 minutes under air, had been in place for most of the afternoon due to the intense heat and changing conditions inside the building.
Opportunities to get Stephen and Jeremy out of the building were missed and they both became overwhelmed by the heat and collapsed. Jeremy, close to death, was rescued near to a decommissioned fire door at 8.35pm but it was too late for Stephen who was brought out of the same door six minutes later and died of his injuries.
Susan Veevers, Stephen’s mother, said: “Stephen was much loved and is greatly missed by all his family. We want the true lessons of Stephen’s death to be learned by the fire and rescue service here in Manchester and elsewhere.”
The FBU has undertaken a comprehensive review of the processes that should have prevented Stephen’s death.
Les Skarratts, FBU regional secretary in the North West, said: “Stephen was a dedicated, conscientious and skilled firefighter. His premature death is a devastating reminder of the real dangers firefighters face. There have been too many firefighter fatalities, 14 in all, from 2004 to 2013, more than double than the previous decade. We have conducted a thorough review of what went wrong in the run-up to Stephen’s death and we welcome that the fire service has committed to working with the FBU to ensure that this does not happen again.
“We remain however, deeply concerned that fire and rescue authorities and the government have not yet fully implemented recommendations from previous firefighter fatalities. A culture change is required at the highest levels of national and local government to ensure that our concerns are addressed. In particular, sufficient resources have to be made available to allow firefighters to put into practice the required safety control measures at every incident.
"The FBU is committed to working through the Health and Safety committees, both in Manchester and across the UK, to ensure the training, procedural and operational lessons arising from this incident are learned and not forgotten.
“The courage and bravery of the firefighters involved in the rescue attempt is honoured by the FBU, particularly Michael Lord, Nathan Rowlands, Anthony Garrott and Graham Burbidge and we will recommend they be considered for bravery awards.”
Thompsons Solicitors is representing Stephen’s family in a civil case for damages. Philip Liptrot, fatal accident specialist, said: “Stephen’s family has lost a loving son and father. He was a firefighter dedicated to his job whose life was cut short and that’s something which cannot be ignored by the authorities who must take steps to ensure this never happens again.
“We are proud to provide support for Stephen’s family and the FBU during this time and we’ll continue to work alongside them to ensure that Stephen did not die in vain.”