Nursing home ventilation fitter had little experience, blaze inquiry told

The electrician responsible for fitting the ventilation shafts in a nursing home where 14 pensioners died in a blaze has told a fatal accident inquiry that he only had “small-scale” experience of installing such systems.

Alexander Ross, 63, told the inquiry in Motherwell yesterday that he was “really quite surprised” when his boss at Star Electrical told him he and an apprentice would be fitting the ventilation system at Rosepark Care Home. His only previous experience was kitting out a “small toilet area”, he said.

“We had done it on a small scale on previous jobs, but never on anything to that scale. I was really quite surprised when I was told we would be doing it,” said Mr Ross. “There was a heating and ventilation company on site and we assumed that they would do the ventilation.”

The installation process would include fitting fire dampers in the roof and ceiling space, which are supposed to seal automatically if smoke is detected to prevent fumes travelling between different sections of the building, known as “fire compartments”.

The inquiry has already heard that initial attempts to control the blaze on January 31, 2004, were hampered by large quantities of smoke flooding other areas of the home, away from the epicentre of the fire.

The inquiry also heard how washing machines in the home were running on insufficient electricity.

Laundry engineer Duncan McCrae, 49, said he had raised concerns about the power supply to two washing machines in the laundry, as he felt it was “not safe”.

Mr McCrae, who did cash-in-hand work “on the side” at Rosepark in addition to jobs through his employer, William Wilkie, was hired to fit a yellow washing machine and re-install a larger red one in the home. At the time he noted both machines were supplied by two power points, linked up by a single cable.

Mr McCrae said he told the home’s handyman, Joseph Clark, he “wasn’t sure the cables should be connected together. There should be two individual supplies”.

He said he “couldn’t remember” whether he had communicated these doubts to Rosepark’s owner, Thomas Balmer, but later conceded it was unlikely he had mentioned it to anyone other than Mr Clark.

Mr McCrae explained he was concerned because the switch unit had a 32-amp rating, but if both washing machines were on at full power at the same time, they would require a 38 to 40 amp electricity supply.

Last week, the inquiry heard that the washing machines would “occasionally” cut out. As a temporary measure, Mr McCrae said he had “de-rated” the yellow machine, cutting off one of its functions so that its electricity demand would be halved to 9 to 10 amps.

Mr McCrae said: “I told Mr Clark to get an electrician in and maybe to get two separate 20-amp supplies for the machines.”

However, he said in the “handful” of times he had returned to Rosepark, “nothing had changed”.

The inquiry continues.