Journalist, Cherry Park

Author Bio ▼

Cherry Park is an experienced freelance journalist and reporter who specializes in features, news, and news analysis, in print and online. She has written extensively in the areas of health and safety, fire safety, employment, HR, recruitment, rewards, pay and benefits, market research, environment, and metallurgy, and she also conducts research.
January 2, 2014


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Was Fire Service Right Not to Save Mineshaft Woman?

The news that neither the fire service nor anyone else will be prosecuted for failing to save a woman who died after falling down an Ayrshire mineshaft brings home the question of what is the remit of a fire service suffering from severe funding cuts.

Death in a mineshaft

Click here to view Figure 1.

Alison Hume, 44, lay for six hours at the bottom of the disused mineshaft at Goatfoot Colliery, Galston, after falling at around midnight on 25 July 2008 while taking a short cut home.

Her potential rescue by Strathclyde FRS was delayed by strict adherence to the service’s corporate health and safety policy. A police mountain rescue team freed Hume more than five hours after the arrival of the FRS. By that time, she was in critical condition from hypothermia, and she suffered a fatal cardiac arrest whilst being brought to the surface.

Fatal accident inquiry

A subsequent fatal accident inquiry (FAI) found that Hume’s death may have been avoided if a number of reasonable precautions had been taken. Sheriff Desmond Leslie found:

  • The emergency services should have acted sooner in assessing the shaft’s stability and the danger of a prolonged stay in cold and wet conditions.
  • Firefighters should have better understanding of and training in line rescue equipment.
  • Strathclyde FRS should have conducted a rigorous and thorough risk assessment “balancing the conditions of the terrain with the condition of the Deceased and the passage of time to have prevailed over restrictive Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service Corporate Policy.”

Strathclyde FRS (now the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service) was heavily criticised for failing to apologise to Hume’s family immediately after the FAI.

Chief inspector’s inquiry

An inquiry by Steven Torrie, the chief inspector of fire and rescue authorities, concluded that successful rescue would have been much more likely if it had been carried out reasonably quickly. Torrie wrote in his report:

There was an insufficient and inexplicable lack of focus on the need for a speedy recovery from fire and rescue operational commanders. It ought to have been clear to the decision makers that Alison Hume’s condition would deteriorate the longer she was down the shaft and that hypothermia would be a significant risk to her.

Since the incident

Strathclyde FRS have made a number of changes since the tragic incident, including introducing specialist line rescue teams and reviewing officer mobilisation so that they have less discretion about whether to attend a given incident.

Should the fire service be expected to be champions of specialist rescue as well as providing rescue services in the case of fires and vehicle accidents with its much reduced current resources?

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January 9, 2014 5:51 pm

What on earth has “fire service cuts” to do with this story?

January 10, 2014 6:03 am

There has been a recent change to include Recue as a part of the title for Fire Services in general. This reflects thei role in the amount of resue work they undertake each year. There is no statutory duty to fight fires or to carry out rescue work, indeed case law was established in England following a fire caused during the filming a TV episode that a FIRE AUTHORITY has to provide, equip. train etc. a Service but that there is no statutory duty on that Fire Authority or Service to put out a fire let alone carry out a rescue. If the Service… Read more »

January 29, 2014 1:57 pm

, you have very clearly elaborated the whole scenario which was not very clear in the article. Such background and statutory information was needed to understand the whole story. Anyone in that place would have done the same when he would understand that he can be sued for taking action but will remain immune from anything if he remains just a spectator.

January 29, 2014 1:57 pm

, I would rather say, “What on the earth can be done without appropriate amount of money”? It has everything to do with fire service cuts. As has explained that less money will mean less training and reduced willingness to take risks. While you are always tempted to adding to their responsibilities, there is no point in making cuts at the same time.