Glasgow & West Scotland

Injured Strathclyde firefighters win £445,000 damages

Ross French and Brian Dempsie
Image caption Ross French and Brian Dempsie sued Strathclyde Fire Board

Two firefighters have been awarded damages totalling more than £445,000 after being injured while tackling a garage blaze in South Lanarkshire.

Former Motherwell FC player Brian Dempsie, 29, who was a trainee at the time, was awarded £332,500.

His colleague, Ross French, 36, was awarded £113,000 over the incident in Bothwell in February 2008.

A judge ruled Strathclyde Fire Board was liable after they were ordered into an "inherently hazardous" situation.

Lawyers for all parties had agreed the amount of damages to be paid if liability was established in the action at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

Serious injuries

Judge Lord Drummond Young heard that Mr Dempsie and Mr French were hurt while tackling a blaze at a brick-built garage, near to a house in South Deans Park Avenue, in February 2008.

Both men were hit by brickwork which collapsed on them as efforts were made to prise open a door at the building.

Mr Dempsie, from Blackwood, South Lanarkshire, suffered dislocated shoulders, a fractured knee cap, injured ankle and burns in the incident.

Mr French, from Uddingston, South Lanarkshire, sustained serious leg injuries following the masonry collapse.

Following the hearing, Lord Drummond Young ruled that both men were entitled to damages.

He said the officer in charge of the operation, Watch Commander James Clark, ought to have realised that ordering firefighters into the area next to the front door of the garage, immediately under a gable wall, was "inherently hazardous".

"There was a significant likelihood that the wall would collapse and the consequences of such collapse would be very serious for the firefighters underneath it," said the judge.

"I am further of opinion that the use of a Halligan tool, essentially a very sturdy crowbar, to force entry through the door was likely to cause vibrations in the structure, at least if the door did not open easily."

He added: "In view of the inherently unstable state of the gable wall, I am of opinion that it was eminently foreseeable that such vibration might cause collapse."

The judge said that when fire crews arrived at the scene and Mr Clark was required to assess the situation there was "a plainly foreseeable risk" from the gable wall of the garage because of the state the building was in.

The roof had burned away to the extent that only about 2ft remained next to the gable wall.

Duty of care

Lord Drummond Young said: "It was therefore likely that the wall would be left for practical purposes wholly unsupported. That ought to have been apparent to a skilled firefighter in charge of the operation."

"An unsupported brick wall is known to be unstable, and that is a fact which in my opinion ought to have been known to an officer in the position of Watch Commander Clark," he said.

The injured men sued the board claiming that the watch commander and it, as his employer, owed them a duty of reasonable care.

The board contested the action maintaining that the type of injury suffered by the men was not foreseeable to the officer in charge and that his actions met the standards of a skilled firefighter exercising reasonable care.

An expert witness for the firefighters said that there was no need to open the front door to fight the fire safely and successfully.

He concluded that the accident could have been avoided and the incident commander had placed the two firefighters in a dangerous position.

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