Atherstone firefighter deaths 'could happen again'

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Media caption,

Atherstone warehouse fire: Fallen 'heroes' remembered

The deaths of four firefighters during a huge blaze is at risk of being repeated amid staffing cuts, the Fire Brigades Union has said.

Ian Reid, John Averis, Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley died after entering a burning warehouse in Atherstone-on-Stour, Warwickshire, in November 2007.

A report published in 2014 by the FBU found flaws in training and equipment.

Figures published in July showed a 19% cut to firefighter posts since 2010.

The fiancé of one victim, Ashley Stephens, said they would never know the "whole truth" of what happened.

None of the families have learned what happened to the men inside, or what prevented them escaping.

Image caption,
About 100 firefighters, from Warwickshire, Hereford and Worcester and the West Midlands attended the fire

Barry Downey, of the FBU said: "I believe it could easily happen again.

"Somewhere in the country there could easily be another tragedy like Atherstone, purely due to the reductions in the number of firefighters and fire safety inspectors which will leave buildings not inspected."

"Immediately following the tragedy there was a greater concentration on firefighter safety.

"But unfortunately the reduction in numbers due to austerity has undercut a lot of the good work."

Image caption,
Emma Crocker's 10-year-old son has questions about his father's death

Warwickshire County Council admitted a health and safety charge while two fire officers were cleared of manslaughter charges in 2012.

The region's chief fire officer Andy Hickmott said: "The attention we give to firefighter safety is extending and developing all the time.

"My role as fire chief is to keep my firefighters as safe as a I possibly can."

Ashley Stephens' son George was three months old when his father died, and his fiancé Emma Crocker says she does not have answers for him.

"I can't ever tell George exactly what happened because I don't know myself," he said.

"He knows as much as a 10-year-old could now. It's getting to him as he's getting older, he's got more questions. We're never going to have the whole truth."

Paul Stephens, Ashley's father, said the last 10 years had been "pretty horrific".

"It's been 10 years of not having my oldest son. It's had a massive impact on the family."

'Challenging job'

A Home Office spokesperson said: "The Atherstone-on-Stour fire remains a terrible tragedy and our thoughts continue to go out to the families and friends of those brave firefighters who tragically lost their lives.

"Firefighters do a challenging job, often dealing with some harrowing and traumatic incidents.

"It is the responsibility of individual fire and rescue services to have wellbeing services in place to meet the needs of their workforce.

"To support this, since 2014, the Government has provided £7m to the mental health charity Mind, to develop a package of targeted support and information for all emergency services personnel."

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