Improvement notices served after firefighter deaths

IN the aftermath of the deaths of two firefighters at Harrow Court, Stevenage, two improvement notices have been served on Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. They come from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which has said there will be no prosecut

IN the aftermath of the deaths of two firefighters at Harrow Court, Stevenage, two improvement notices have been served on Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service.

They come from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which has said there will be no prosecution over the deaths, but did carry out a three-day inspection last month.

Firefighters Jeff Wornham and Michael Miller died trying unsuccessfully to save Natalie Close in the fire at Harrow Court in February 2005. Another member of the public was rescued and many others evacuated.

The Fire Brigades Union has welcomed the move by the HSE designed to improve the health and safety of firefighters across the county. It says some of the issues raised now needed to be addressed very urgently.

The union said today (Monday) that while the notices were served on Hertfordshire, they had national implications. Other fire brigades should also start to ensure they too could comply with the expectations set out by the HSE.

The HSE letter to Hertfordshire states: "The investigation into the Harrow Court incident identified a number of failures. Consequently, the focus of the inspection was the service's management of health and safety and specifically looking at training and competence."

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The HSE also made a number of observations which raised concerns including "no observation of the delivery" of some safety critical training at fire stations.

The HSE highlights the use of breathing apparatus by firefighters at emergency incidents as "a safety critical control measure used in hazardous operations". Safe use of breathing apparatus involves initial training and refresher training.

The HSE state that "the current standards of BA refresher training are not sufficient to cover all aspects". It has served an improvement notice requiring Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service "to design a BA refresher programme and draw up a plan for delivery to firefighters."

The improvement notice states "that refresher training on aspects of breathing apparatus (BA) has not been delivered to firefighters by a BA instructor within the last two year period and is not currently planned to be delivered in the near future, including BA emergency procedures and BA entry control procedure, which were identified as issues in the Harrow Court investigation".

The other improvement notice concerns the need to review the boat operator training for water rescue.

Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service has until June 26 to comply with the improvement notices.

Tony Smith, FBU Herts Brigade secretary said: "There are critical health and safety issues for firefighters which need to addressed as a matter of urgency. While the HSE is not proceeding with a prosecution, the improvement notices are very important and very significant.

"Two fellow firefighters died at Harrow Court, Stevenage, and it is very critical that the lessons learned from that tragedy are fully addressed. We welcome the intervention of the Health and Safety Executive, to ensure all lessons learned from that tragedy are acted upon.

"Firefighters work in very hazardous situations where health and safety is more important, not less important. Our job is to protect lives, property and the environment and we want to do that safely so we can return to our families at the end of our working day.

"In the last few years we have lost three firefighters from one watch at Stevenage in two separate incidents. The Fire Brigades Union looks forward to working with Hertfordshire fire service to help address the issues identified by the HSE.

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