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Coroner at Macroom fire inquest makes call for ban on chip pans

January 30th, 2017 3:02 PM

By Southern Star Team

Fatal Fire St Colemans Park

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TWO young Macroom men were this week praised for their bravery by a coroner after he heard how they made heroic efforts to rescue two men who perished when a blaze broke at a house in the town over last year’s May Bank Holiday weekend, when a chip pan caught fire.

Ryan Manning from Sleaveen in Macroom and Tim Coleman from St Colman’s Park in the town had made ‘heroic efforts’ to save Kenny Relihan (26) and Noel O’Mahony (64) when fire broke out at Mr Relihan’s home in St Colman’s Park, said coroner for South Cork, Frank O’Connell.

Mr O’Connell had heard how Mr Manning raised the alarm when he was visiting Mr Coleman’s – directly opposite the burning house – at around 4am on the morning of May 2nd last, and together they had managed to kick in the front door to try and rescue the occupants.

 ‘Tim and myself were kicking down the door – we got it down after a minute or so – I could  hear Kenny Relihan – I couldn’t see him with the thick smoke, but I could hear  him about six or seven feet away – he sounded disoriented and in pain,’ said Mr Manning.

He told how he tried to advance further into the smoke-filled hallway of the house, but was forced back by the smoke and the intense heat and he later dropped to his knees at the front door to try and see Mr Relihan under the smoke but he couldn’t see him.

Mr Coleman told how he had tried to get up the stairs, but was met by a wall of ‘intense heat and smoke’ and managed to get to only the second step on the stairs before he was forced to retreat. ‘I was choking from the smoke, and the heat was overwhelming,’ he said.

Mr Coleman, who was later treated in hospital for smoke inhalation and lacerations, told how he then assisted his mother’s partner, Alan Doyle, in putting a ladder up to the upstairs room and he went up where he persuaded Mr Relihan’s mother, Noreen McAuliffe, to jump from the windowsill.

 Ms McAuliffe landed in the garden and neighbours came to her assistance before she was taken to hospital for treatment but Mr Coleman was unable to get to Mr O’Mahony, who had appeared briefly at the upstairs window but then was lost in the smoke.

 Ms McAuliffe told, in a statement, how she was asleep upstairs when she was awoken by Mr O’Mahony to find the room filled with black smoke. ‘Noel pushed and threw me out the window. I shouted at him to follow me out. He saved my life, God be good to him,’ she said.

In her statement read to the court by Insp Brian Murphy, Ms McAuliffe said she kept a saucepan with oil on the cooker downstairs and that Mr Relihan liked to cook up a meal when he got home after a night out, as there was no late night take-away in Macroom.

Neighbour Kelly O’Driscoll said Ms McAuliffe had told her once that Mr Relihan had nearly burned the house down cooking late at night, while on another occasion Ms McAuliffe had told her that she came down in the morning to find the oven left on and Mr Relihan asleep.

Another neighbour, Tyrone Murphy, told how he had come home around 3am on the morning in question from babysitting and spent some time looking for a phone charger before going to bed, only to hear a faint high pitch beeping and he went around their house to try and locate the noise.

He then realised the noise, which he later discovered was a fire alarm, was coming from Ms McAuliffe’s house next door, and he heard a commotion and when he opened the window to look out, ‘a big gush of smoke’ passed in front of his window.

He woke his parents and his brother and they went downstairs and out onto the street to assist where he saw Mr Manning and Mr Coleman trying to kick in the door and he later helped to try and break Ms McAulliffe’s fall when she jumped from the upstairs window.

‘I tried to lift her to her feet and I went and got her a chair from our kitchen – she kept saying ‘Noel and Kenny, where are they, where are they?’  I told her they were coming,’ said Mr Murphy who stayed with Ms McAuliffe until she was taken by ambulance to Cork University Hospital.

Witness Andrew Hegarty told how he had met Mr Relihan at around 1.30am after he had been thrown out of O’Riada’s Nightclub. ‘He was merry,’ said Mr Hegarty, adding he later met him again at 2.30am as he was walking home and he tried to talk to him but Mr Relihan kept his head down.

The inquest had earlier heard evidence from Commander Kevin Kingston of Macroom Fire Brigade who told how the brigade responded to an emergency call at 3.55am that two people were trapped in a house fire at a two-storey terraced house in St Colman’s Park in Macroom. 

They arrived at the house at 4.03am to discover the fire well underway with heavy, thick smoke throughout the building and they battled to bring it under control and when it was safe to do so, two teams entered the building using breathing apparatus.

One team found Mr O’Mahony between the bed and the window in an upstairs bedroom while a second team recovered Mr Relihan from the downstairs hall area, between the kitchen and the sitting room, and both were removed and pronounced dead at the scene by Dr Peter Cronin.

 Garda technical expert Gda Keelin O’Keeffe said she carried out a forensic examination of the scene and was satisfied the fire started accidentally in the kitchen where it appeared a chip pan on an electric cooker caught fire with most extensive damage being directly over the cooker.

 Gda Patrick O’Leary said he arrived to discover Ryan Manning and Timmy Coleman had attempted a rescue but were forced back by the smoke. 

Witnesses said they had seen Mr O’Mahony at an upstairs window and heard Mr Relihan downstairs, but he saw no sign of life when he arrived.

Assistant State Pathologist, Dr Margaret Bolster found Mr Relihan had died from carbon monoxide poisoning, due to smoke inhalation, in association with burns and Mr O’Mahony had died from carbon monoxide, due to smoke inhalation in association with an enlarged heart and coronary artery disease.

 Coroner Mr O’Connell said he was satisfied from all the evidence that the fire started after Mr Relihan came home from a nightclub and put on a chip pan, only to fall asleep and the house to catch fire resulting in his own death and that of Mr O’Mahony who was staying over for the night.

 He noted that Mr Relihan was found to have an alcohol concentration of 213mgs per 100mls of blood and Mr O’Mahony had an alcohol concentration of 247mgs per 100mls which was a factor, not just in the fire starting, but also in impairing their ability to escape from the burning house.

‘Alcohol had a big role in both deaths but the old fashioned chip pan – the type you put on top of a cooker – was also a factor and has been the cause of so many house fires and deaths that they should be banned,’ said Mr O’Connell as he returned verdicts of accidental death in both cases.

Mr O’Connell said he intended to write to the Director of Consumer Affairs seeking to have such old style open chip pans withdrawn and he advised anyone with one to dump it in the bin, and go and buy an electrical fryer with a thermostat that cuts out before the oil catches fire and is much safer. 

He said that he had come across at least three cases of people losing their lives in house fires started by chip pans catching fire in South Cork alone in the past five years, while he was aware of another case in Cork city where another person lost their life after a chip pan caught fire.

He paid tribute to Mr Manning and Mr Coleman and the other neighbours in St Colman’s Park for their efforts to try and save the two men and he extended his sympathies to both Ms McAuliffe on the loss of her son and to Mr O’Mahony’s family on their loss.

Insp Murphy also extended his condolences to both Ms McAuliffe and the O’Mahony family on their loss while also paying tribute to residents in St Colman’s Park – not just for their efforts in trying to save the two men – but also for their assistance to gardai in investigating the tragedy.

Mr Relihan from Macroom  is survived by his parents, Noreen and Barty, sisters, Sinead and Edel and brother, Jonathan while Mr O’Mahony, a native of Clondrohid,  who used to sing locally under the stage name Leon Haymoon, is survived by his wife, Sheila and daughters, Noreen, Joanne and Paula.

Ryan Manning from Sleaveen in Macroom and Tim Coleman from St Colman’s Park in the town had made ‘heroic efforts’ to save Kenny Relihan (26) and Noel O’Mahony (64) when fire broke out at Mr Relihan’s home in St Colman’s Park, said coroner for South Cork, Frank O’Connell.

Mr O’Connell had heard how Mr Manning raised the alarm when he was visiting Mr Coleman’s – directly opposite the burning house – at around 4am on the morning of May 2nd last, and together they had managed to kick in the front door to try and rescue the occupants.

 ‘Tim and myself were kicking down the door – we got it down after a minute or so – I could  hear Kenny Relihan – I couldn’t see him with the thick smoke, but I could hear  him about six or seven feet away – he sounded disoriented and in pain,’ said Mr Manning.

He told how he tried to advance further into the smoke-filled hallway of the house, but was forced back by the smoke and the intense heat and he later dropped to his knees at the front door to try and see Mr Relihan under the smoke but he couldn’t see him.

Mr Coleman told how he had tried to get up the stairs, but was met by a wall of ‘intense heat and smoke’ and managed to get to only the second step on the stairs before he was forced to retreat. ‘I was choking from the smoke, and the heat was overwhelming,’ he said.

Mr Coleman, who was later treated in hospital for smoke inhalation and lacerations, told how he then assisted his mother’s partner, Alan Doyle, in putting a ladder up to the upstairs room and he went up where he persuaded Mr Relihan’s mother, Noreen McAuliffe, to jump from the windowsill.

 Ms McAuliffe landed in the garden and neighbours came to her assistance before she was taken to hospital for treatment but Mr Coleman was unable to get to Mr O’Mahony, who had appeared briefly at the upstairs window but then was lost in the smoke.

 Ms McAuliffe told, in a statement, how she was asleep upstairs when she was awoken by Mr O’Mahony to find the room filled with black smoke. ‘Noel pushed and threw me out the window. I shouted at him to follow me out. He saved my life, God be good to him,’ she said.

In her statement read to the court by Insp Brian Murphy, Ms McAuliffe said she kept a saucepan with oil on the cooker downstairs and that Mr Relihan liked to cook up a meal when he got home after a night out, as there was no late night take-away in Macroom.

Neighbour Kelly O’Driscoll said Ms McAuliffe had told her once that Mr Relihan had nearly burned the house down cooking late at night, while on another occasion Ms McAuliffe had told her that she came down in the morning to find the oven left on and Mr Relihan asleep.

Another neighbour, Tyrone Murphy, told how he had come home around 3am on the morning in question from babysitting and spent some time looking for a phone charger before going to bed, only to hear a faint high pitch beeping and he went around their house to try and locate the noise.

He then realised the noise, which he later discovered was a fire alarm, was coming from Ms McAuliffe’s house next door, and he heard a commotion and when he opened the window to look out, ‘a big gush of smoke’ passed in front of his window.

He woke his parents and his brother and they went downstairs and out onto the street to assist where he saw Mr Manning and Mr Coleman trying to kick in the door and he later helped to try and break Ms McAulliffe’s fall when she jumped from the upstairs window.

‘I tried to lift her to her feet and I went and got her a chair from our kitchen – she kept saying ‘Noel and Kenny, where are they, where are they?’  I told her they were coming,’ said Mr Murphy who stayed with Ms McAuliffe until she was taken by ambulance to Cork University Hospital.

Witness Andrew Hegarty told how he had met Mr Relihan at around 1.30am after he had been thrown out of O’Riada’s Nightclub. ‘He was merry,’ said Mr Hegarty, adding he later met him again at 2.30am as he was walking home and he tried to talk to him but Mr Relihan kept his head down.

The inquest had earlier heard evidence from Commander Kevin Kingston of Macroom Fire Brigade who told how the brigade responded to an emergency call at 3.55am that two people were trapped in a house fire at a two-storey terraced house in St Colman’s Park in Macroom. 

They arrived at the house at 4.03am to discover the fire well underway with heavy, thick smoke throughout the building and they battled to bring it under control and when it was safe to do so, two teams entered the building using breathing apparatus.

One team found Mr O’Mahony between the bed and the window in an upstairs bedroom while a second team recovered Mr Relihan from the downstairs hall area, between the kitchen and the sitting room, and both were removed and pronounced dead at the scene by Dr Peter Cronin.

 Garda technical expert Gda Keelin O’Keeffe said she carried out a forensic examination of the scene and was satisfied the fire started accidentally in the kitchen where it appeared a chip pan on an electric cooker caught fire with most extensive damage being directly over the cooker.

 Gda Patrick O’Leary said he arrived to discover Ryan Manning and Timmy Coleman had attempted a rescue but were forced back by the smoke. 

Witnesses said they had seen Mr O’Mahony at an upstairs window and heard Mr Relihan downstairs, but he saw no sign of life when he arrived.

Assistant State Pathologist, Dr Margaret Bolster found Mr Relihan had died from carbon monoxide poisoning, due to smoke inhalation, in association with burns and Mr O’Mahony had died from carbon monoxide, due to smoke inhalation in association with an enlarged heart and coronary artery disease.

 Coroner Mr O’Connell said he was satisfied from all the evidence that the fire started after Mr Relihan came home from a nightclub and put on a chip pan, only to fall asleep and the house to catch fire resulting in his own death and that of Mr O’Mahony who was staying over for the night.

 He noted that Mr Relihan was found to have an alcohol concentration of 213mgs per 100mls of blood and Mr O’Mahony had an alcohol concentration of 247mgs per 100mls which was a factor, not just in the fire starting, but also in impairing their ability to escape from the burning house.

‘Alcohol had a big role in both deaths but the old fashioned chip pan – the type you put on top of a cooker – was also a factor and has been the cause of so many house fires and deaths that they should be banned,’ said Mr O’Connell as he returned verdicts of accidental death in both cases.

Mr O’Connell said he intended to write to the Director of Consumer Affairs seeking to have such old style open chip pans withdrawn and he advised anyone with one to dump it in the bin, and go and buy an electrical fryer with a thermostat that cuts out before the oil catches fire and is much safer. 

He said that he had come across at least three cases of people losing their lives in house fires started by chip pans catching fire in South Cork alone in the past five years, while he was aware of another case in Cork city where another person lost their life after a chip pan caught fire.

He paid tribute to Mr Manning and Mr Coleman and the other neighbours in St Colman’s Park for their efforts to try and save the two men and he extended his sympathies to both Ms McAuliffe on the loss of her son and to Mr O’Mahony’s family on their loss.

Insp Murphy also extended his condolences to both Ms McAuliffe and the O’Mahony family on their loss while also paying tribute to residents in St Colman’s Park – not just for their efforts in trying to save the two men – but also for their assistance to gardai in investigating the tragedy.

Mr Relihan from Macroom  is survived by his parents, Noreen and Barty, sisters, Sinead and Edel and brother, Jonathan while Mr O’Mahony, a native of Clondrohid,  who used to sing locally under the stage name Leon Haymoon, is survived by his wife, Sheila and daughters, Noreen, Joanne and Paula.

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