Regulation urged after death of boy, 5, in fireplace collapse

The father of a five-year-old boy who died when a fireplace collapsed on top of him in his home called yesterday for the introduction of regulations governing the installation of such fixtures.

Cormac Dawson backed recommendations for greater guidelines following the inquest into the death of his son Fionn, who suffered fatal head injuries due to blunt force trauma after the accident in his home in Glanmire, Co Cork, on April 30, 2013.

Speaking outside Cork Coroner’s Court, Mr Dawson echoed the inquest jury’s call for greater regulations following a verdict of accidental death. “I think it’s a good recommendation,”he said.

“I think we do need to have regulations for such large building items like fireplaces.

“I think that is something that is a good outcome from today,” he said.

“Nothing is going to bring Fionn back for us but if it can prevent it happening again in the future, then that is something that should be done — regulations should be there,” he said.

By a tragic coincidence, the UK’s Health and Safety Executive had issued a safety alert on the same day as Fionn’s accident in which it warned of the need to provide adequate fixtures for fireplaces. Its warning was prompted by the deaths of two children in similar, separate, incidents.

“We will never come to terms with what has happened and we ask that everyone continues to respect our privacy as we grieve our son,” Mr Dawson said.

He told Dr Myra Cullinane he and his wife Anita had decided to change their fireplace in late 2012. They had consulted Conor McNamara of Absolute Homes Ltd about the work. They decided to install a double-sided hearth and retain the existing marble mantelpiece and supports.

He said a small gap between the mantle and the wall grew slightly over time, and recalled how a letter had slipped in behind the mantle in early 2013.

He said, in April 2013, he felt the fireplace move as he put his hand on it for support and called Mr McNamara about the problem.

“To us it felt stable but, at the same time, you could feel that there was a bit of give,” he said.

Regulation urged after death of boy, 5, in fireplace collapse

Mr Dawson and an employee of Mr McNamara’s attempted to arrange a time to fix the fireplace in the days preceding the accident, but had missed each others’ calls.

Mr Dawson, however, learned of Fionn’s accident while in Kildare on business.

The court heard from Fionn’s aunt, Breda Conroy, who recalled how she was looking after Fionn on the day. Having picked him up from playschool, Ms Conroy brought him home and was in the kitchen when she heard a bang in the living room shortly after 1pm.

She came into the room to find Fionn on the floor under the fireplace, with the detached mantle behind his head. She called for help, and the fireplace was lifted off Fionn. CPR was performed until the emergency services arrived. Fionn was pronounced dead on arrival at Cork University Hospital.

The works had been carried out by Mr McNamara’s employees, John Connaughton and Shane O’Brien, and all three gave evidence to the court.

The inquest heard, during the 2012 works, the fixture was removed by prising off the 67kg mantle before removing the 90kg legs and transverse by unscrewing four bracket points that fixed the legs to the wall.

The jury was told the legs were reattached by switching the original bracket screws with longer replacements, and sitting the mantelpiece on top.

Mr Connaughton said that Tec7 adhesive was put on the top of the marble legs and at three points along where the mantelpiece meets the wall.

In a statement to gardaí, which was read to the court, he said he was “totally amazed” that the fireplace had collapsed.

Kieran Spitere, a forensic engineer, said he believed that the mantle moving caused the fireplace to fall, but that he could not say if it was caused by a sudden or gradual force.

He was surprised there are no standards in Ireland or the UK for fitting fireplaces and said, in his opinion, all points of a fireplace — including the mantle — should be mechanically fixed to the wall.

The inquest jury recorded a verdict of accidental death. It called on the Health and Safety Authority to issue a safety alert about the danger of stone fireplaces and asked the minister for environment to consider introducing specific regulations for the fixing of fireplaces.


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