Scottish Fire Rescue Service Facing Criminal Charges Over LODD

The death of a Scottish firefighter four years ago has led to criminal charges being brought against his department. FF Ewan Williamson of the Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service was killed on July 12, 2009 in Edinburgh while fighting a fire in a bar. During the fire twenty people were rescue from apartments above the bar.

Williamson’s family filed a 700,000 pound sterling ($1 million) damage claim against the department last year, claiming watch commander Tim Foley failed to recognize the warning signs of a “backdraught”, and did not provide Williamson sufficient rehab time between entries. They also allege that ventilating windows in the bar contributed to Williamson’s death.

Williamson is believed to have made an initial entry with his crew into the building and come out to replenish his air supply. It was during his second entry that an evacuation order was given. While everyone else made it out safely, Williamson radioed Foley "I'll be there in a minute, boss, I think I'm stuck in a toilet." He followed that transmission by another reporting: "I'm stuck. I'm stuck." His body later was found in a bathroom.

According to pleadings submitted by Williamson’s family:

  • "On ascending the stairs for the second time, he was confused and suffering from heat exhaustion… he turned towards the toilets instead of towards the entrance of the bar"
  • "Ventilating the fire by smashing windows … made the task of those fighting the fire in the basement more dangerous"
  • "Mr Foley failed to exercise reasonable care for the safety of the deceased and by his failures caused the death of the deceased."

According to news reports Williamson’s family has offered to "freeze" their civil claim if the Crown Office agrees to prosecute “anyone” over his death.

Two formal charges were filed against the fire department on April 9, 2013, one for breaching Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the other for breaching Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, by failing to carrying out risk assessments.

The charges have been brought against the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, who took over the Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service on April 1, 2013.

More on the story, including video coverage.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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