Firefighter paralysed after huge rock hits head in catastrophic exercise

A Stoke-on-Trent man has been left paralysed from the chest down after a rock hit his head during firefighter training causing catastrophic injuries.

Vincent Hogan had been practicing rope rescues with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service at the Harpur Hill Quarry, near Buxton, when the ill-fated incident occurred on September 29, 2019.

Mr Hogan was rescuing a colleague when a boulder fell seven metres and struck him, while a smaller rock had hit the other firefighter, StokeOnTrentLive reports.

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In a victim impact statement at North Staffordshire Justice Centre, Mr Hogan said he feared becoming a 'burden' as a result of the incident, which has left him needing a wheelchair to get around.

"My wife discovered she was pregnant with our fourth child and she was having to care for me," he said. "Not being able to look after your own baby puts a strain on your mental wellbeing.

"I won’t be able to walk my daughter down the aisle and visiting friends and family is no longer simple. I fear for my health and hate to think I will be a burden."

An investigation by Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service found Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service had 'fallen below standards of health and safety'.

The force pleaded guilty to failing to discharge general health, safety and welfare duty to employees and has been fined £10,000. The service has also been ordered to pay costs of £6,804.80 as well as a £170 surcharge.

Prosecutor Craig Morris said: "[Mr Hogan] could not understand what had happened. This was a planned training event that took place. There was little senior management.

Mr Morris continued: "The defendant failed to put in place any proper management of the training exercise. The investigation team found no guidance for personnel."

He added: "It’s not the case of one day, the defendant's failures are more systemic."

Bernard Thorogood, representing the Staffordshire Fire And rescue Service, said: "There’s been complete transparency from the outset. It’s not the lack of care overall, staff are well trained. They express regrets.

"After Grenfell, checks were increased. There’s more work and no money. There were extensive discussions before the training. We described all the hazards and risks."

District Judge Kevin Grego said the fire and rescue service had been proactive with the investigation.

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He said: "The service has maintained its reputation. They are providing a service to the public which places many of them at risk. There's real cooperation and regret for what’s happened."

In addition to paying the fines and cooperating with investigations, Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service has apologised to the injured firefighters and launched their own investigation, the findings of which have been shared nationally in the hope of preventing a future incident.

Chief fire officer Rob Barber said: "Our people are at the heart of our organisation and the colleague who was seriously injured and his family have remained at the forefront of our minds throughout this process.

"He continues to receive our full support and we are very grateful that he is still a member of our team."

He added: "We have a duty to protect our staff throughout those training exercises and I’m sorry to say that standards fell below our expectations. Immediately after the incident occurred, we took action, suspending our working at heights provision until we were satisfied that the relevant safeguards were in place to protect our staff.

"We acknowledge there were failings and we would like to reassure our staff and the public that we have now put in place the relevant training and processes to ensure our staff are as safe as possible.

"However, that will not change what happened on that difficult day and our primary concern is providing support to the injured member of our team and his family, both now and in the future."

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