Belfast Telegraph

Widow slams 'meaningless' apology from bosses over firefighter's death

By Donna Deeney

The widow of a firefighter killed while on duty has described a letter of apology from the Fire Service as "meaningless".

Joe McCloskey died as he tackled a blaze at the Gorteen House Hotel in Limavady in 2003.

He had been ordered onto the roof of a store room that then collapsed and he plunged into the flames. He was rushed to Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry but died a short time later from his injuries.

His widow Marie and his family have campaigned for the past 15 years for the Fire Service to tell them who gave the order for Mr McCloskey to go onto the roof.

Mrs McCloskey received a letter of apology from the NI Fire and Rescue Service under instruction from Michelle O'Neill in her role as former Health Minister.

The Sinn Fein MLA made the request as part of a review carried out by the Department of Health in March 2017 into how Mr McCloskey's death was investigated by the Fire Service and the way it treated his bereaved family.

The Fire Service offered Mrs McCloskey its "unreserved apology, for failings following the death of leading firefighter Joe McCloskey who tragically lost his life in the line of duty at an incident at the Gorteen House Hotel in Limavady in 2003".

The letter, reported yesterday by the Irish News, did not reveal the name of the person who gave the order for Mr McCloskey to go up on the roof of the burning building.

Mrs McCloskey told the Belfast Telegraph that a forced apology lacking the information she has been seeking for 15 years meant nothing to her. However, she said it would at least serve as a reminder to her grandchildren of how hard she tried.

She said: "When I opened this letter and saw how the Fire Service were still refusing to tell me the name of the person who ordered Joe up on the roof of that store, I was completely floored.

"We have fought for 15 years to get justice for Joe and to have our questions answered but the Fire Service has blocked us at every turn. We found out through a Freedom of Information request that while Joe was lying in Altnagelvin dying from his wounds, the Fire Service officials had already met and agreed a 'no blame policy'.

"For the past 15 years while I have lived a life of purgatory without the man who was the absolute rock of our family, the Fire Service watched me ask questions they knew they would never answer.

"This is another reason why this letter is so meaningless to me, but it will serve as a reminder to our children and grandchildren of how much we loved Joe and how hard we fought for him.

"We have been robbed of what Joe described as our 'golden years' because he died so needlessly and our grandchildren have been robbed of knowing their granda."

The NIFRS said the Chief Fire and Rescue Officer wrote to the McCloskey family on May 11, 2018 "offering an unreserved apology for failings following the death of leading firefighter Joe McCloskey".

"The failings were identified through a recent review by the Department of Health. NIFRS accepted the findings of the review and has revised and amended policies in line with review recommendations.

"NIFRS admitted liability for Joe McCloskey's death in May 2007 and sincerely regrets the irreplaceable loss which the McCloskey family have experienced following the tragic death of leading firefighter Joe McCloskey."

Belfast Telegraph

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