Video: Coroner calls for ban chip pan sales following house fire

A coroner has called for a ban on the sale of old-style chip pans and urged people to dump them, after an inquest heard how two men died in a house fire caused by an unattended chip pan.

Video: Coroner calls for ban chip pan sales following house fire

The coroner for South Cork, Frank O’Connell, was speaking after returning verdicts of accidental death in relation to the deaths of Noel O’Mahony, in his sixties, and Kenny Relihan, in his twenties, following a house fire at 47 St Colman’s Park, Macroom, Co Cork, in the early hours of May 2, 2016.

Mr O’Connell said he was satisfied beyond doubt the fire had started in the kitchen when the chip pan caught fire after Mr Relihan fell asleep after a night out.

He said alcohol was a contributory factor in both deaths. However, he said it was the fourth fatal house fire case in five years in the south Cork area alone where people, who had consumed alcohol and used an old-style chip pan to cook food afterwards, had died in fires caused by the pans.

“These old-fashioned chip pans are beyond their sell-by date and people should dump them,” said Mr O’Connell.

“In the last five years, we’ve had four cases of fatalities all involving people that come home with a few drinks, and they put on those chip pans, fall asleep, and the chip pan catches fire.

“For such a small area, for four incidences of that, it’s just unacceptable and we need to sit up and do something about it.

“In my view, anybody who possesses one of these chip pans, before they go to bed tonight, I think they should put it in the bin.”

The coroner said he plans to raise his concerns with consumer agencies, in the hope they consider a ban on the sale of such pans, and pointed out that safe, electric, thermostat-controlled deep-fat fryers are readily available for under €25.

The inquest resumed yesterday after eight witnesses who failed to attend the opening of the inquest in November, including Mr Relihan’s mother Noirin McAuliffe — the sole survivor of the blaze — were requested to attend.

The inquest heard that Mr Relihan had been ejected from O’Riada’s nightclub around 1.30am on May 2 and was spotted walking home around 2.45am-3am.

In her statement, Ms McAuliffe said she kept a saucepan with oil on the cooker downstairs and that Mr Relihan liked to cook when he got home after a night out.

Neighbour Kelly O’Driscoll said Ms McAuliffe had told her, before that fire, that she had found Mr Relihan asleep on a couch while the oven was left turned on.

Noirín McAuliffe, mother of Kenny Relihan, at the hearing.
Noirín McAuliffe, mother of Kenny Relihan, at the hearing.

In her statement, Ms McAuliffe said Mr O’Mahony woke her in the early hours of the morning and the bedroom was full of smoke.

“Noel pushed and threw me out the window. I shouted at him to follow me out. He saved my life, God be good to him,” she said.

Ryan Manning and Tim Coleman kicked down the door and tried to save the two men at around 4am.

Mr Manning said he could hear Mr Relihan inside: “He sounded disorientated and in pain. I shouted at him to follow my voice. But the smoke was too much.”

Mr Coleman, who was treated in hospital for injuries received during the incident, said he felt a wall of “intense heat and smoke” and managed to get to the second step on the stairs before he was forced to retreat.

“I was choking from the smoke, and the heat was overwhelming,” he said.

Firefighters later recovered Mr Relihan’s body from the hall and Mr O’Mahony’s body from an upstairs bedroom. Both died from acute carbon monoxide poisoning due to smoke inhalation due to a house fire.

Mr Relihan had a blood alcohol level of 213mg/c; Mr O’Mahony’s was 247 mg/c.

Mr O’Connell and Inspector Brian Murphy praised Mr Manning and Mr Coleman for their heroic efforts, and the other neighbours who also tried to help.

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