Harrow Court: Union claims poor training contributed to fire deaths

PUBLISHED: 11:16 08 March 2007 | UPDATED: 11:40 06 May 2010

Matt Wrack – general secretary of the FBU

Matt Wrack – general secretary of the FBU

THE Fire Brigades Union has been severely critical of the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service saying the deaths of Jeff Wornham and Michael Miller could have been prevented. The union report makes 73 recommendations which it says had they been identifie

THE Fire Brigades Union has been severely critical of the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service saying the deaths of Jeff Wornham and Michael Miller could have been prevented.

The union report makes 73 recommendations which it says had they been identified prior to the incident, the FBU believes would have significantly reduced the risks faced by the two firefighters and may have saved their lives.

The executive summary identified many organisational weaknesses in the development, monitoring and review of standard operating procedures.

"In particular," says the report, "the high-rise incident procedures were wholly inadequate and failed to take account of recommendations following the HSE improvement notice awarded to Strathclyde Fire Board.

"The breathing apparatus procedures failed to satisfy the provisions of national guidance issued by HM Inspectorate, the incident command procedures were inadequate and omitted many provisions contained in the national guidance issued by HM Inspectorate.

"The FBU considers the standard operating procedures produced by Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service were inadequately drafted, monitored and reviewed and as a result, were not fit for purpose at the time of the Harrow Court incident.

"It is apparent that the firefighters and supervisory officers in the initial attendance at Harrow Court had received insufficient incident command training, crew command training, dynamic risk assessment training, breathing apparatus, with both heat and smoke, refresher training and separately dedicated, practical and theoretical compartment behaviour training to deal safely and effectively with the situation they were confronted with."

The report adds that the firefighters were unfamiliar with the premises and the likely risk they would encounter in an emergency as they no longer carried out inspections in these types of premises.

"The deficiencies in training exposed by the Harrow Court incident seem to betray an apparent and endemic organisational weakness in the provision of training in many other operational areas of firefighting," says the report.

"Predominantly, this seems due to the lack of strategic emphasis, planning, monitoring and review by senior managers of actual training undertaken and in sufficient resource allocation.

"Would the fatalities of firefighters Miller and Wornham have been prevented had the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service (HFRS) ensured adequate procedures, training and resources? Almost certainly.

"Would the life threatening risks faced by firefighters at the Harrow Court incident have been significantly reduced had HFRS ensured adequate procedures, training and resources were systematically in place? Without doubt."

In conclusion the union's health and safety investigation says the FBU believes the conduct of the HFRS significantly contributed to the deaths of firefighters Wornham and Miller in that they failed to comply satisfactorily with the Fire Services Act 2004 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The HFRS also, says the union, failed to comply with the national guidance issued by Her Majesty's Inspectorate and failed to act adequately upon relevant HSE improvement notice recommendations available to them

Also criticised was Stevenage Borough Council where the report says: "Nobody reported hearing the smoke alarm in flat 85 sounding at any time. Since it may not have activated and had it done so the occupants may have made their own way to safety, the FBU's health and safety investigation concludes that SBC may have contributed to the deaths of firefighters Miller and Wornham in that they failed to undertake a review of the smoke alarm installations in the individual flats at Harrow Court to assess their appropriateness.

"The investigation also concluded SBC may have contributed to firefighter Wornham's death in that they have failed to ensure their contractor complied with BS 5839-1, 2002, clause 26.2(f) in respect of precluding the use of plastic trunking for securing cabling in their common area fire alarm system."

Following the two-week inquest, Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU said: "The FBU investigation concluded the HFRS failed to put in proper procedures, did not have adequate training and did not send enough firefighters in the initial response to tackle this fire safely.

"But this tragic loss of life could have happened in any number of fire authorities across the UK, it was only by misfortune it happened in Stevenage.

"There are three families whose lives will never be the same because of what happened at Stevenage on that night. Mike and Jeff's colleagues will also live with what happened all their lives.

"The entire fire service and government need to learn lessons from what happened in Stevenage. There must be an end to the constant pressure to cut frontline crews and cut corners with training and other safety critical activities.

"In organising their response to potentially very dangerous incidents, fire authorities cannot be allowed to cut corners.

"Cuts cost lives and we do not intend to lose any more people in this way. We look forward to reviewing the coroner's Rule 42 report on the incident which he has promised to send to the relevant bodies in the fire service and Government.


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