Firefighters in court battle after blaze injuries

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TWO firefighters are claiming damages for being injured by falling brickwork as they tackled a blaze in Bothwell.

Ross French (36), of Uddingston, and Brian Dempsie (29), of Blackwood, near Lesmahagow, blame a senior officer for the accident in Bothwell almost five years ago.

Strathclyde Fire Board is disputing the damages claims, insisting the officer carried out all his duties properly.

The Court of Session heard that a fire crew was called to a house in Bothwell in an early morning in February 2008, and found flames coming through the roof of a garage.

There was a car with a full tank of petrol inside and the watch commander, James Clark, decided it was necessary to open the front door of the garage to fight the blaze.

Mr French used a crowbar to try to prise it open.

Mr French told the court: “We had trouble getting the door open. It was not budging. The gable end from the lintel to the ridge collapsed on top of me and Brian Dempsie.”

Lawyers for the men claim there had been no need to force open the door to fight the fire and Mr Clark should have concluded that opening the door was an unnecessary risk to the firefighters.

They say the fire could have been fought through the side door and window.

The fire board denies negligence by Mr Clark. It said water had been hosed into the garage through a window but was ineffective, and using the side door would have meant firefighters entering the garage.

Mr Clark believed the advantage of opening the front door was that it provided a safe means by which to tackle the blaze from outside the garage.

The board added that the garage had been built without building control permission or certification, and a particular type of lintel had been used which caused the collapse of the brickwork.

Mr Dempsie was a footballer with Motherwell FC between 1999 and 2003, although he played only twice for the first team. He was the nephew of Motherwell captain Phil O’Donnell who died when he suffered heart failure during a game in December 2007.

The court heard that Mr Dempsie was unable to return to operational duties because of his injuries. He suffered two dislocated shoulders, a fractured kneecap and ankle, and burns.

Mr French, who sustained two broken legs, needed surgery and extensive skin grafting. His vision in one eye had been affected and he, too, had been unfit to return to full duties.

The men initially each claimed damages of up to £200,000. Undisclosed sums have been agreed if liability is established against the fire board.

The judge will give a ruling later.