Fire crews 'lacked supplies to help 7/7 wounded'

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The Independent Online

Firefighters spoke today of their frustration at shortages of first aid equipment that hampered their attempts to save lives after the 7/7 bombings.

The fire crews sent to the Tube train bombing at Aldgate station in London lacked stretchers and ran out of basic medical supplies such as bandages, the inquest for the 52 victims of the attacks heard.

One firefighter recalled how he "watched a young man die" before medics reached the devastated carriage.

Neil Walker said he believed Richard Ellery was less in need of help than other seriously injured passengers because the 21-year-old shop worker was able to tell him his name.

But Mr Ellery, from Ipswich, Suffolk, died shortly afterwards while rescuers were waiting for a stretcher to remove him from the train, the inquest heard.

Mr Walker said: "I was pretty shocked about that because I had recently spoken to him. It was quite an awful moment, as you can imagine."

Suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer detonated his device on an eastbound Circle Line train at Aldgate at about 8.50am on July 7 2005, killing Mr Ellery and six others.

Mr Walker, who was on duty at Bethnal Green fire station in east London that morning, was among the firefighters who climbed into the wrecked carriage to help the wounded and dying.

The inquest heard he wrote in a London Fire Brigade incident report after the attacks: "I was the first person on the train, tried to attend to the casualties, who were still and quiet, with no first aid or resuscitators. Watched a young man die before help arrived."

He said he and his colleagues were "very under-equipped", having only small first aid kits containing a "minimal amount" of bandages, which were used up "very, very quickly".

He had to use his breathing apparatus, designed for entering smoke-filled buildings, to give oxygen to severely wounded passenger Kira Mason because no resuscitator was available.

A retired firefighter launched an attack on the health and safety culture of the fire service at the inquest today.

Stephen Foster, who in 2005 was a firefighter at Dockhead fire station in south-east London with 25 years experience, had to wait to go into the Tube tunnel at Aldgate because of rules about ensuring the power to the tracks was switched off.

He said: "The majority of firefighters have been brought up in a health and safety environment.

"If we go against that health and safety, we could actually be cutting our own throats, we could be charged. The powers that be that run the fire service set down plans, we don't tend to bend from those plans.

"There are others, mavericks, of which I would classify myself as one, who just turned around at the end of it and said, 'oh stuff this, let's get on and do the job we get paid for'.

"It wasn't long before I got the hump and walked along the track with my crew."

Mr Foster also saw Mr Ellery a short time before the young man died from his injuries.

He said: "I felt for a pulse and we made eye contact, and there was still some life in there. It was still there, it didn't last particularly long but it was still there. I gave him a cuddle."

The former fireman was also scathing about shortages of equipment for the rescuers working inside the bombed train, saying: "There was no need to wait the time that we waited for stretchers."

Christopher Coltart, counsel for seven of the bereaved families, asked him: "To what extent did you feel that you were hampered in your actions on that day by the lack of equipment available to you?"

Mr Foster replied: "I wouldn't say it would have saved some people.

"But having the right equipment or having the equipment which should have been available, and having it in your hands to use, may have saved some distress."

Fireman Sean Jones said he and his colleagues lacked the training and medical equipment to treat the most seriously injured victims of the Aldgate attack.

He told the inquest: "The nature of the injuries that we saw on the train, there was no mild first aid - it's either seriously injured or they get up and walk off.

"So there was no triage that needed to be done, there was nothing like that.

"It was just purely a case of the casualties that we saw were way beyond our remit and skill levels to be able to treat."

Fellow firefighter Kevin Richards added: "There was a sense of frustration because we were asking for extra first aid equipment to treat the people and it didn't seem to be coming down."

The co-ordinated attacks on three Tube trains and a bus launched on July 7 2005 by suicide bombers Tanweer, 22, Mohammed Sidique Khan, 30, Hasib Hussain, 18, and Jermaine Lindsay, 19, were the worst single terrorist atrocity on British soil.

The hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London was adjourned until tomorrow .