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Firefighter’s ‘avoidable’ death blamed on bad management

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A HARD hitting report into the circumstances surrounding the death of firefighter Josh Gardener in 2019 has blamed systemic, organisational and procedural failings by the local fire service.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) criticised the senior management at Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue, specifically highlighting documentation and procedures for boat operations. Those were out of date, unclear and presented confusing safety messages to the reader.

Josh Gardener, tragically died aged just 35-years-old, during a training exercise conducted by Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service (MAWWFRS) in September 2019.

At about 1125 HRS on 17 September 2019, two fire and rescue service boats were in collision while undertaking boat training and familiarisation in the Milford Haven waterway, resulting in Josh Gardener sustaining fatal injuries.

The collision occurred because both boats were operating at speed and carrying out un-coordinated manoeuvres in the same stretch of the river. The manoeuvres resulted in the boats heading towards each other, and actions taken to avoid a collision were unsuccessful.

Josh joined the fire service in 2018 and was well-known in Milford and he was also a keen footballer.

In what has been described as a ‘totally avoidable death’, questions will now be raised as to whether lessons have been learned within the fire service.

The Herald has obtained evidence to show that Firefighters from Milford Haven station brought up their concerns about the large rib, which killed their colleague Josh Gardener, just a few weeks prior to his death.

The station report, dated August 7, 2019, shows firefighters stating they did not have the training or skills needed to operate the rib, and had asked for management to take action.

Within the report, they said: “Skill sets have eroded with regards to the large rib. Are we likely to be upskilled to be able to perform our duties within our risk area, at present we can’t? “

The concerns were not addressed.

The MAIB report showed a number of safety failing which lead to the avoidable death of Josh Gardener, including;

  • no-one was in overall charge of the training and familiarisation activities, so they were not properly managed, briefed or communicated between the crews of both boats
  • the operation of the boats did not adhere to the requirements of the local standard operating procedures or risk assessments
  • the standard operating procedures for all fire and rescue service boats in the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service were insufficient in content and contained incorrect information
  • the Fire and Rescue Services in the United Kingdom did not operate boats to a common standard or code of practice when not employed on flood rescue duties

The chief Inspector of Marine Accidents told The Pembrokeshire Herald in a statement: “This tragic accident could have been avoided had the training activities been properly planned and communicated to all the fire and rescue crew on the water that morning. It was unnecessary for the two boats to be operating in close proximity to each other in a wide stretch of the River Cleddau.

“Neither of the boat’s crew were aware of the other’s intended activities, nor were they keeping an effective lookout as they manoeuvred at speed.

“Our investigation found that elements of the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service documentation and procedures for boat operations were out of date, unclear and presented confusing safety messages to the reader. In addition, it was found that at a national level, fire and rescue service boats are not being operated consistently to a recognised standard when not on inland flood rescue duties.

“Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service has taken a number of actions following this investigation, but I have recommended that it also review the qualifications required of its boat crews and implement measures to maintain crew competency. I have further recommended that the National Fire Chief’s Council work with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to introduce a standard code for the operations of its water craft.”

The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) has welcomed the report.

Andy Dark, FBU assistant general secretary, said: “Josh’s death was an avoidable tragedy that occurred during a training event which should have been well-planned and well-controlled.  Our thoughts today are first and foremost with his family and the FBU will continue to provide as much support to them as possible.

“We have seen all too many fatal and near-fatal incidents involving firefighters undertaking water training, both inland and now, in this case, in tidal waters. The report’s recommendations appear to address both categories, which will be crucial to preventing further losses of life.

“The issues identified in this report must be addressed and individual firefighters must not be blamed for systemic, organisational, and procedural failings.

“We broadly support the recommendations of this report, which must be implemented swiftly and carefully, with full oversight of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch. Ministers should take serious note of the need for national standards in this area and develop a comprehensive set of statutory minimum standards for all fire and rescue services in the UK.”

Despite the report showing the safety failing coming from top-level organisational failings, The Herald understands that no senior officers have been held reprimanded or held accountable for the failing which tragically killed Josh.

However one source has told us that two firefighters had been sacked.

The Herald contacted Dyfed-Powys Police and HSE to see if they intended to prosecute anybody for the avoidable death of Josh Gardener following the MAIB report.

A  Dyfed-Powys Police spokesperson said: “Our investigation is ongoing.”

A HSE spokesperson said: “The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has had a specific role to identify cause of accident in this case and has subsequently published a report.  MAIB are not part of the criminal investigation.

“The criminal investigation is being conducted under the auspices of the Work Related Death Protocol led by Dyfed Powys Police who are being assisted by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Health and Safety Executive.  Those investigations are continuing and enforcement decisions will be made when they are complete.” 

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service have been asked to comment.

Josh Gardener’s funeral in Milford Haven was attended by hundreds. (Pic Herald)

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Pembrokeshire Leisure welcomes back school swimming

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PEMBROKESHIRE Leisure is welcoming back school swimming lessons around the county for the first time since March 2020.

Swimmers from over 20 schools will be attending in their class bubbles to enjoy learning vital water competency skills in Pembrokeshire Leisure’s six swimming pools.

In a county which is surrounded by beautiful beaches and coastline, being safe in and around water is a potentially life-saving skill.

The programme of school swimming lessons helps to achieve the Welsh national priority that every child is a swimmer by the time they leave primary school.

The National Curriculum requirement which has been designed in line with this is that every key stage 2 child should be able to:

  • Swim 25 metres with clothes on (shorts and t-shirt), then tread water for 30 seconds and demonstrate an action for getting help and move into the Heat Escape Lessening Position (H.E.L.P)
  • Demonstrate a shout and signal action to attract attention.

The first school to return was Ysgol Glannau Gwaun at Fishguard Leisure Centre and there are now 20 primary schools which will be attending swimming lessons around Pembrokeshire.

On Monday 14 th June, Coastlands County Primary School attended and their Head Teacher Sonja Groves said: “We are delighted to finally get back to swimming after such a long time away. The children were so happy to be back in the water learning and enjoying. Swimming is a vital life skill which helps to keep the children of Pembrokeshire safe in and around all types of water.”

Leisure Services Manager Gary Nicholas said: “It is fantastic to be able to safely welcome back school swimming to our facilities. Primary school aged children have missed over a years’ worth of swimming lessons and Pembrokeshire Leisure are committed to supporting the aim of every child a swimmer by age 11.

“We will continue to do this by delivering quality school swimming lessons following the Swim Wales Nofio Ysgol programme, using the Free Swimming Initiative to provide targeted sessions for the most deprived swimmers and by continuing to provide swimming lessons at all sites in our Learn to Swim programme.”

For more information about how you can book your child swimming lessons and support their journey to becoming a competent swimmer, contact your local leisure centre.

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Landmarc flies the flag at local training camp to celebrate Armed Forces Week

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TO CELEBRATE Armed Forces Week 2021 and the contribution made by local military personnel, Landmarc Support Services (Landmarc) has raised the Armed Forces Day flag at Castlemartin Training Area in Pembrokeshire.

Following an unprecedented year for the UK’s troops as they responded to the challenges raised by the pandemic, Landmarc, which manages the UK Defence Training Estate in partnership with Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), wanted to extend an extra special thank you, by flying the official Armed Forces Day flag at military training estates across the UK, including local camp, Castlemartin.

Landmarc employees were joined by Armed Forces personnel and staff from DIO to witness the raising of the flag, where it will fly proudly until Armed Forces Week comes to a close on the 28th of June.

This Armed Forces Week, Landmarc has pledged its support and sponsorship of Team Emotive in its mission to complete one of the world’s most difficult ocean rowing challenges – the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – all in the name of raising money for mental health charity, Veterans at Ease.

Made up of four Armed Forces veterans, including one Landmarc employee, Team Emotive is preparing to travel 3,000 miles from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua. Rowing two hours on, two hours off for forty days, this challenge will push the team to its limits both physically and mentally. 23 rd June 2021

In addition, Landmarc has also announced its official partnership with the Armed Forces charity, SSAFA, working together to support veterans as they transition into civilian life.

Mark Neill, Managing Director at Landmarc, comments: “Each year, every one of us at Landmarc gives thanks to our troops during this special week. As part of the 25 per cent of veterans and reservists that make up Landmarc’s workforce, I know first- hand how important this event is for morale within the Forces community.

“It’s always fantastic to see so many people and organisations come together each year for Armed Forces Week, but the events of the last fifteen months have heightened our gratitude. The efforts from our servicemen and women have been immense and impossible to ignore in the nation’s fight against COVID-19; with our own staff working alongside the military to support the demands of the training estate as it hosts troops from across the country.”

For more information on Landmarc Support Services, please visit www.landmarcsolutions.com.

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Endurance runner tackles Pembrokeshire Coast

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ENDURANCE runner Sean Conway has successfully completed his epic series of marathons in the UK’s National Parks.

On Thursday, June 17, Sean tackled the Pembrokeshire coast, running from Newport to Dinas Head and back, fuelled by sports nutrition brand ‘Grenade’.

Sean, who is from North Wales, has ran the length of Britain before but says this was the longest stretch of days where he has had to constantly do a marathon every day.

Speaking of his run in Newport, Sean said: “It was so hilly. Honestly, the weather was amazing. It wasn’t too hot and there were some nice views along the way. At Dinas Head, it was amazing looking down at the lagoons and there are some amazing rock formations.”

He took six hours to complete his marathon but there was little time for recovery as he moved on to his final run in Snowdonia the day after.

“This was my second-last marathon so my body was feeling pretty battered and I’ve had to do it fully self-supported so I was doing one run out then back to the car and then out again”, Sean added.

“With covid we’ve all been staying at home more so I wanted to show off how amazing the National Parks are.

“There will be more of us visiting as restrictions are eased but we don’t want to ruin it by being silly.”

Sean was provided with his nutrition for the runs by Grenade and he said he ‘would not have been able to survive without them’.

In the morning he would have an energy drink which contained vitamins and electrolites and he would also mix this in with his water for some of his runs.

Sean would also have protein bars to give him an extra boost as he tried to keep on top of his protein intake.

“Pembrokeshire was so scenic. When I announced the runs this was the run that stood out online and I was really looking forward to doing it. We’ll definitely be coming back soon” Sean concluded.

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