Fire service admits safety flaws led to death of firefighter

Ewan with his mother Linda
Ewan with his mother Linda

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) has admitted a series of health and safety failures over the death of a firefighter from Kinross.

Ewan Williamson (35) died on July 12, 2009, when he became trapped in a toilet while battling a blaze at the Balmoral Bar in Dalry Road, Edinburgh.

Colleagues desperately tried to rescue him from the smoke-logged building as the floor began to give way on to the blazing basement, where the careless disposal of a cigarette in an office is believed to have sparked the fire.

His death has had a “devastating effect” on his mother, Linda, and older sisters Rebecca and Rachel, with whom he had a close relationship, as well as partner Lynsey Baird, with whom he shared a home in Barnton.

Mr Williamson – the first firefighter in the history of the Lothian and Borders Fire Service to die in the line of duty – was described as a ‘dedicated and reliable member of the team’ whose loss has been felt keenly by all of his colleagues.

In a heartbreaking twist, Mr Williamson was on annual leave at the time but had offered to do overtime to make up for a shortage of staff.

His family was in court on Monday to hear the result of a five-year battle for justice for the brave firefighter, who had been a member of the Green Watch at Tollcross fire station since 2003.

At the Court of Session in Edinburgh, the SFRS admitted breaches under the Health and Safety at Work Act, including failing to train firefighters to maintain close personal contact.

SFRS also admitted it failed to have in place effective systems of radio communication and implementation of procedures for firefighters using breathing apparatus at the time.

Lord Uist, presiding, deferred sentence until March 20 so that he could give full consideration to the matter.

The guilty plea was welcomed by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), which has supported Mr Williamson’s family in its pursuit of justice.

Denise Christie, of the FBU in Edinburgh, said: “Ewan was a brilliant firefighter, a great friend to all at Tollcross Green Watch and throughout the fire service and beyond. He will never be forgotten and will always be in our thoughts.”

And Stephen Thomson, Scottish FBU Secretary, said he hoped the decision would help those closest to Ewan to get on with their lives.