Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Fireman faces punishment for risking his life in rescue

A fireman is facing disciplinary action after plunging into a river to rescue a drowning woman.

Tam Brown, 42, is the subject of an internal investigation by Tayside Fire and Rescue because he breached safety rules during the rescue in the River Tay in Perth.

He spent eight minutes in the cold water and at one stage feared that he would be swept to his death. But after dragging the 20-year-old woman to safety he was told by his employer that he had acted improperly by risking his life.

Mr Brown said: “We had seconds to act. The girl was losing consciousness. We had one harness, so I put that on and went down 20ft on a safety line, grabbed her and held her out of the water. My colleagues tried to pull us towards steps, but the current was so bad and the rope was pulled so hard it snapped.

The brigade’s rules state: “Personnel should not enter the water.” The fire crew should instead have tried to haul the woman out using poles and ropes.

Stephen Hunter, chief fire officer of Tayside Fire and Rescue, admitted that fire engines in Perth were not equipped with the correct poles and ropes, but insisted that Mr Brown had broken the rules.

He said: “Firefighter safety is of paramount importance to us. Although our duties include rescues from flooding, there is no statutory obligation to carry out rescues from moving water.

“We know they broke procedure because we know he went into the water. We are investigating exactly what happened, and once that is concluded we will consider what action is necessary. That could include disciplinary action.”

Steve Hill, chairman of the Perth branch of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “Not one senior officer has congratulated Tam or the other officers who attended that night. They should be elated they saved a life but are traumatised that they face disiplinary action instead.”

He added: “Contradicting an order can lead to dismissal. If Tam hadn’t gone in, the public might have tried to save her and we could have ended up with several dead.”

Thank heavens there is somebody who can see sense and not stick to what the rule books say. In my opinion Stephen Hunter is the person who should be disciplined, especially since he did not ensure that fire engines were equipped with the correct poles and ropes. Here we have someone who did not do his job properly and is trying to shift blame on to someone else.