Tent blaze soldiers "could not be saved", inquest told

Tent blaze soldiers "could not be saved", inquest told

FIRE DEATH: Private Dean Hutchinson, from Spennymoor, County Durham

FIRE DEATH: Private Robert Wood

First published in News
Last updated

MILITARY firefighters were unable to save two sleeping soldiers whose tent at Camp Bastion had been engulfed by flames, an inquest heard today (Wednesday, May 14).

Privates Dean Hutchinson, 23, from Spennymoor, County Durham, and Rob Wood, 28, from Hampshire, were killed when intense flames swept through a logistical centre at the Helmand province HQ in the early hours of February 14, 2011.

The soldiers, who served with The Royal Logistic Corps, were sleeping in the tented Transport Troop office so they could respond more quickly when supplies arrived.

The inquest in Salisbury, Wiltshire, heard evidence from firefighter Michael Coulson, who was on duty that night.

Mr Coulson, who has since left the Royal Air Force, said: "In my notes I recorded arriving in five minutes and it certainly was not longer.

"We couldn't go particularly fast because all the roads are heavily potholed.."

Mr Coulson, a former corporal, told the inquest the fire was put out within three minutes, and said that the men's bodies were located towards the centre of the canvas tent.

The inquest has previously heard there were delays in alerting the fire brigade because soldiers at the scene did not know the emergency 222 number and struggled to find it.

Regimental Sergeant Major Colin Smith told the inquest he was the fire safety officer for the Royal Logistic Corps and he maintained the "fire diary" each "fire NCO" in the regiment kept.

He said the responsibility for checking weekly that the smoke detectors worked was with KBR, a private contractor employed at Camp Bastion to maintain the infrastructure, but the non-commissioned officer assigned as the fire NCO could also check.

"If the fire NCO was unsure it had been tested or not they should check it and there is a check sheet in the fire diary," he said.

Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner David Ridley said he was "trying to get to the bottom of" who was responsible for checking the battery-operated smoke detectors.

"Was the checking of the smoke detectors a problem, in your eyes?," he asked Sgt Major Smith.

"No," the soldier replied. "All the smoke detectors have a button and it is a two-second job. If in doubt ... it's a two-second test.

"I always asked for written proof."

Sgt Major Smith told the hearing he was not aware that soldiers were sleeping in the Transport Troop tent.

He said that since the fatal blaze changes have been made to fire safety, with the post of fire warden created and extra training provided.

Staff Sergeant Marcellus Archer, who was the troop Quartermaster, said that he carried out a fire risk assessment of the tent in early December 2010 and at that time did not know soldiers were sleeping in there.

He said he was unhappy about plans to extend the Transport Troop tent and vetoed it three times because of his concerns about the security of his tent and wanting to keep a fire break between the two.

Staff Sgt Archer said he was away from Camp Bastion for a few days in mid-January 2011 and when he returned the extension had been built.

"I was extremely angry that the tent had been built," he said.

The inquest will continue tomorrow (May 15).

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