Briefing: Firefighter Fatalities at fires in the UK: 2004-2013: voices from the fireground

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Report by Andrew Watterson
Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group, University of Stirling, Scotland

In the last ten years, the UK has witnessed a horrific series of 14 firefighter/fire technician fatalities at fires in what is a relatively small national workforce – Bethnal Green in London 2004 (2); Harrow Court in Hertfordshire 2005 (2); Marlie Farm in East Sussex 2006 (2); Atherstone in Warwickshire 2007 (4); Dalry Rd in Edinburgh 2009 (1); Shirley Towers in Hampshire 2010 (2); Oldham St. in Manchester (1) 2013.

In England alone between 1993/94 and 2003/04, there were 6 firefighter deaths at fires but in the next ten years 2004/05 to 2013/14 this more than doubled in the UK with 13 firefighter deaths and one fire technician death. One firefighter in Wales was killed in 2004 in an explosion due to a criminal act. Often these fatalities occurred in similar settings and similar circumstances.

In the same period there has also been a series of serious injuries to firefighters at fires and other major incidents and an unknown number of near misses. Whilst the risks of firefighting are obvious, the scale of death and injury is unacceptable. Many risks can be avoided if appropriate management and systems, inspection and regulation, training and other related matters are in place. Good practice that exists has periodically been ignored so the problem is compounded by lessons slowly learnt, communication of information stifled, by lengthy legal wrangles creating a justice deficit and by organisational denials of accountability.

The research for this report was funded by the Fire Brigades Union.

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