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Two injured firefighters in £445,000 damages win

A former footballer has won £332,500 in damages after he was seriously injured tackling a garage blaze in his new career as a firefighter.

HURT: Former Motherwell footballer Brian Dempsie was injured when a wall collapsed as he and fellow firefighters tackled a blaze.
HURT: Former Motherwell footballer Brian Dempsie was injured when a wall collapsed as he and fellow firefighters tackled a blaze.

Brian Dempsie and colleague Ross French were hurt when brickwork collapsed on them as efforts were made to prise open a door at the building.

Mr Dempsie, 29, a former Motherwell player, and Mr French, 36, sued Strathclyde Fire Board following the incident in South Deans Park Avenue, Bothwell, South Lanarkshire, in February in 2008.

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

A judge yesterday ruled both men were entitled to damages with the larger amount going to then trainee firefighter Mr Dempsie, of Blackwood, South Lanarkshire, and Mr French receiving £113,000.

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

The judge added: "There was a significant likelihood the wall would collapse and the consequences of such collapse would be very serious for firefighters underneath.

"I am further of the 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.

"In view of the inherently unstable state of the gable wall, I am of opinion it was eminently fore-seeable that such vibration might cause collapse."

The judge said 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 only about two feet remained next to the gable wall.

Lord Drummond Young said: "It was therefore likely 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."

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

The board contested the action, maintaining 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.

Mr Dempsie suffered dislocated shoulders, a fractured knee cap, injured ankle and burns. Mr French, of Uddingston, South Lanarkshire sustained serious leg injuries following the masonry collapse.

Mr French told an earlier hearing that when they arrived at the scene the garage was well alight. He said: "The flames were through the roof."

He and Mr Clark tried kicking panels on the locked door to gain access and the bottom section was released.

The court heard the officer in charge then decided that, in order to fight the fire, it was necessary to open the cantilevered door more fully.

Mr French was told to get the Halligan tool to help force access. He was using the tool, with Mr Dempsie directing a hose at flames.

Mr French said: "The gable end, from the lintel to the ridge, collapsed on top of myself and Brian Dempsie."

Mr Clark told the court he had carried out a proper dynamic risk assessment in accordance with instructions issued to British firefighters.

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

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

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