‘Act now or more firefighters will die’

“I WILL never have the words to explain to you how it feels to have the person you build your life around taken from you so needlessly.”

These were the words with which Hazel O’Brien, girlfriend of 25-year-old Mark O’Shaughnessy, one of the two firefighters killed battling a blaze in Bray in September, addressed the meeting of Wicklow County Council yesterday.

Ms O’Brien opened her speech to the council by asking: “Are people willing to risk human life in order to save money?” She said the people of north Wicklow were losing faith in the emergency service and that the local authority now had to “do something”.

She claimed that investigations into the deaths of Mark and his colleague Brian Murray were failing to tackle core issues.

“I will point out at the outset that there are no problems with the Bray firefighters. They do well under a system of bad management, lack of structure, and organisation. The dangerous job they do is made more risky by bad practices within the service.”

She claimed that in recent times Greystones Brigade had been called up as a second crew for Bray, leaving their own jurisdiction.

It was also her personal opinion that “a system of vetting calls was in place in Bray Fire Service” and that she had seen letters from Bray firefighters expressing concerns to management.

She said there was “little leadership within the service”, that cover had not been provided for certain positions and that she was “dubious” about the reliability of a feasibility study conducted by Bray’s fire chief Jim Dunphy into the possibility of a full-time service for the town. She also said she did not believe that the average turn-out time in Bray was seven minutes, as stated in the study.

“Drogheda and Dundalk who are both full time have in the region of 600-800 calls per year over the last five years. I believe that a system of call vetting has consistently kept Bray’s call attendance far lower than what they should be.”

The council also heard from Mary Murray, wife of Brian Murray, and county manager Eddie Sheehy, who defended the council’s position on the issue.

A friend of the two firemen who died also spoke, insisting that the chief fire officer should quit.

Darren Murphy claimed that a report on a local housing estate, which emerged last week, demanded that Mr Dunphy explain his position.

It was first revealed in the Irish Examiner last week that an audit into the Oldcourt housing estate in Bray, which has seen a number of fire-related fatalities over the years, found that every house needed to be re-examined for safety reasons.

Mr Murphy said Mr Dunphy had told a meeting of Bray Town Council in February 2006: “I have no reason to believe that these houses or any other council housing has lower standards of fire safety than privately built dwellings.”

Mr Dunphy also stressed at the same meeting that the now-completed audit with uncover the scale of any problem in Oldcourt, but yesterday Mr Murphy said: “Under the Fire Services Act 1981 the Fire Authority is obliged to assess the risks in their area and to have plans to deal with these risks.

“It is the job of the chief fire officer to be aware of risks such as those in Oldcourt and to address them. Ignorance is no defence.”

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