The claimants in the case were battling a fire that had broken out on 3 December 2006 on Marlie Farm in East Sussex when a shipping container, that contained a large quantity of fireworks, exploded. This explosion killed two people and injured many of the firefighters and police officers attending the scene.
The claimants, having already obtained summary judgment against the owner of the premises, which operated as a fireworks factory but whom seemingly would not be able to meet any damages award, were seeking compensation from East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (the “Fire Service”) in the High Court. The Fire Service defended the case by in part arguing that the Bolam test should be applied to decisions made at the scene by the incident commander, in part that the Fire Service was immune from suit in an attempt to apply ‘combat immunity’ to the fireground and in part that Health and Safety legislation did not apply to fire services.
In his judgment of 30 July 2013, Mr Justice Irwin rejected the Fire Service’s legal contention that there was any immunity from claim and found that both a claim for breach of statutory duties and in common law negligence had been made out. His judgment makes clear that the Fire Service: failed to give any special training as to the risks associated with fireworks (despite it being aware of fireworks being stored within the area), failed to carry out standard inspections on the site to build a plan before any fire incidents occurred on the site, failed to evacuate the ground upon becoming aware of the presence of the fireworks and failed in executing the evacuation once it was belatedly ordered.