The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has admitted health and safety breaches in connection with the death of an Edinburgh firefighter. Ewan Williamson died in July 2009 after becoming trapped while tackling a blaze at the Balmoral Bar. The fire service faced three charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act, including a failure to prioritise the 35-year-old’s rescue and failures of the fire service communication system.

During a narration of events on 12th July 2009, the court heard that Mr Williamson had become separated from a colleague after taking a wrong turn as they exited the smoke-filled bar. The firefighters had been attempting to locate the blaze in the basement, but had retreated due to a lack of visibility and heat. When it was discovered that Mr Williamson had not followed his colleague out, radio messages revealed that he had turned left instead of right, and had become stuck in the men’s toilets on the ground floor. Colleagues who tried to rescue him were faced with the bar floor collapsing and flames coming up from the basement where there was an intense glow “similar to flowing lava”.

At the High Court in Edinburgh, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service pled guilty to a single charge arising from the incident of breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 between July 13, 2008 and July 12, 2009. It admitted failing to provide firefighters, including Mr Williamson, with a system of work that was, so far as reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.

It also failed to have in place effective systems of radio communication and implementation of procedures for firefighters using breathing apparatus on the date of the incident.

It further admitted failing to adequately monitor and ensure attendance by firefighters at training courses and adequately training them to ensure that close personal contact was maintained during firefighting and search and rescue operations, in the year leading up to Mr Williamson’s death.

The court was told that, as a dedicated member of the team, “his loss was felt by all those who worked with him”, while his death had had a “devastating effect” on his family.

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