THE £700,000 legal action brought by the family of tragic firefighter Ewan Williamson raises “fundamental issues as to the approach to firefighting”, a court has heard.
Mr Williamson, 35, died as he battled a fire which broke out at the Balmoral Bar in Dalry Road three years ago.
His family’s case against Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Board was called at the Court of Session in Edinburgh yesterday when judge Lord Stewart was told that they were seeking to have the action heard before a civil jury.
However, the fire board, which denies any negligence claims, opposed the move, with its solicitor advocate, Alan Cowan, stating that the details may be too complex for jurors to understand as expert evidence will be included.
Lord Stewart pointed out that evidence from experts was routinely heard by jurors in criminal trials. He gave the board time to lodge further arguments for its position.
Mr Williamson’s mother, Linda, 69, and his sisters Rachel, 45, and Rebecca, are seeking compensation following his death in July 2009.
Part of the damages claim relates to the “distress and anxiety” they suffer recalling the way Mr Williamson died.
The family claims Mr Williamson’s watch commander, Tim Foley, failed to recognise a warning for a potentially dangerous “backdraught fire”.
They say in their action: “It ought to have been obvious that it was pointless to further risk the lives of firemen to fight the fire in the basement. An ordinarily competent fire officer exercising reasonable care would have recognised this and not recommitted the deceased.”
It is maintained that Mr Williamson did not have sufficient recovery time before he went in to tackle the blaze for a second time.
They also allege that ventilating the fire by smashing windows in order to clear smoke from the bar made fighting the fire in the pub basement more dangerous.
Mr Williamson had been in one of two breathing apparatus teams sent into the pub at 12.46am. They were unable to find the fire and returned outside.
They changed breathing canisters and went back in again, but Mr Williamson failed to return the second time.
His colleagues re-entered the burning pub to mount a rescue after he sent a radio message saying: “I’m stuck, I’m stuck”.
After the floor collapsed, the rescue team – which the family’s lawyers contend did not have firefighting equipment or breaking tools – was forced to retreat.His body was later found in a toilet having suffered burns and extreme heat.
The legal action states: “On ascending the stairs from the basement for the second time the deceased was confused and suffering from heat exhaustion. As a result of the said confusion and heat exhaustion, when the deceased got to the top of the stairs he turned towards the toilets, instead of towards the entrance of the bar.”
A fire service spokeswoman said: “It is important to say that it would be unfair to draw any conclusions from information in the public domain as it does not represent the full facts of the case and we are unable to comment on or rebut allegations contained within legal papers at this time.”