First responders give evidence at Stardust inquests

The Stardust inquests have heard harrowing evidence from members of the Dublin Fire Brigade who attended the scene of the deadly blaze and who carried out the recovery operations.

A total of 48 people were killed when a fire swept through the Artane nightclub in the early hours of 14 February 1981.

Today, officers from the emergency services who responded to the disaster began giving evidence at the Dublin District Coroner’s Court which heard how the first 999 call was received at 1.43am.

First giving direct evidence was Dermot Dowdall who was a 26-year-old fireman at the time.

He was driving an ambulance on the night and said he got there at around 1.49am. He said the fire was “very intense” and “very fast” and had gone through the roof, and largely vented itself. He said there was a “mayhem of people” and said there a lot of people doing what they could.

‘Skin on the ambulance window’

On arrival, he was told to bring some of the badly injured people to hospital. “They were severely burnt,” he said, at one point adding there “was skin on the ambulance window”. He said there were a number of people in his ambulance and there were people standing upright inside.

He also described being in the control room when the initial 999 calls were made and receiving a phone call from fireman John Fitzsimons who was in the club at the time working as a doorman.

Mr Dowdall said Mr Fitzsimons conveyed the seriousness of the situation and told him “we could lose up to 200 people here tonight”. He said he could hear the “chaos” in the background and said Mr Fitzsimons was emphasising the level of distress they were in.

As a result, Mr Dowdall said today the response from the fire brigade was as high as it could be on the night.

“We were fully aware of what we were going to, we’d no allusions,” he said, adding “as we came within a mile, you could see the glow of it”.

He said the fire had reached its peak “very, very quickly” before the fire brigade got there and said all the damage was done in five minutes. He said when he arrived on the scene, the roof was gone and the fire had escaped through it.

He told the court when he arrived back to the scene from the hospital, he worked to remove the casualties and find bodies. He said some were “fused together”, it was “gruesome work”.

At times, upset, he also described a group of deceased who were in a “huddle” and were all basically “welded together”. He said their sheer reaction must have been to get their heads down and grab onto each other.

Families in the public gallery today were earlier advised that aspects of the evidence could be graphic and upsetting.

Today marks the start of a new, third phase of these inquests and will deal with how the emergency services responded to the fire.

The first module of the proceedings heard from staff and management of the club and was followed by the evidence of patrons who were there on the night and escaped.

These fresh inquests, which began last April, are now on day 86 of the proceedings.

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