Apr 6 2012 by Colin Rutherford, Kilmarnock Standard
FIRE service bosses have been slammed again for delays in reaching Galston woman Alison Hume, who died after plunging down a disused mineshaft.
A report by Steven Torrie, HM Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services, finds there was an “inexplicable lack of focus” during the rescue in July 2008.
The 44-year-old solicitor fell 40ft down the disused shaft as she took a shortcut home.
The mum-of-two lay for six hours after senior fire officers vetoed a rescue bid by firefighters and insisted on waiting for the arrival of a police mountain rescue team.
Ms Hume suffered a cardiac arrest while being brought to the surface and died later in Crosshouse Hospital.
Mr Torrie’s report states that the incident was “complex and dangerous and beyond the experience of any of the emergency services personnel who attended”.
It adds: “Alison Hume’s successful rescue was never guaranteed. However, the very long time she spent before being removed from the shaft greatly decreased her chances of survival.
“There was an inexplicable lack of focus on Alison’s medical condition, the risk she faced of hypothermia and the consequent time pressure for a rescue.”
He also notes that Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue had a specialist rope team who could have been on the scene 75 minutes after being alerted.
Mr Torrie’s report follows a long-running fatal accident inquiry into the incident.
Sheriff Desmond Leslie found that Ms Hume might have lived if emergency services had brought her to the surface sooner.
Firefighters told the FAI they believed they could have carried out the rescue, had it not been for a health and safety memo on the use of “safe working at height” equipment.
Mr Torrie’s report states that Strathclyde Fire and Rescue did not properly consider the impact of the decision to cease improvised rescues using lines.
He also finds that “a growing framework of law, regulation and guidance” was causing increasing cautiousness within the service.
The report states: “The growing sense of caution within the fire and rescue service, the change to improvised line rescue policy within Strathclyde Fire and Rescue and, potentially, unrealistic expectations implied by that policy, all contributed to the decision that fire and rescue operations should be suspended at the Galston mine incident and that the rescue should be handed over to Strathclyde police mountain rescue.
“Fire and rescue service commanders became locked into their decision and were not able to review and alter their strategy as time went on.”
Mr Torrie said that firefighters who were on the scene “advised me that they believed that they had the skills and equipment to effect a rescue and are angry that they were ordered to stop work”.
The report recommends that the new single fire and rescue service planned for Scotland should act “as a champion and co-ordinator of specialist rescue”.
And Mr Torrie calls for a legal definition of duty to enable the fire and rescue service to organise its reponse to specific incidents and “to ensure commanders are well prepared to deal with unusual and difficult-to-define circumstances”.
Responding, Ms Hume’s stepfather Hugh Cowan called on Strathclyde fire chief Brian Sweeney to resign and said it was “unthinkable” that he should be considered to command the new all-Scotland service.
Mr Sweeney, however, welcomed the “fair and balanced” report. He said: “The only consolation we can take is that lives will undoubtedly be saved in the future as a result of the lessons learned from these tragic events.”