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Inquest examines the death of soldiers in tent fire in Helmand

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: May 14, 2014

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Fire safety checks were to be carried out on a tent in which two British soldiers died in a blaze, an inquest heard yesterday.

Privates Rob Wood, 28, and Dean Hutchinson, 23, lost their lives when flames swept through a logistical centre at the Helmand province HQ in the early hours of February 14, 2011.

The soldiers, who served with the Royal Logistic Corps, were sleeping in the tented office so they could respond more quickly when vital supplies arrived at Camp Bastion.

Witnesses have described smelling smoke coming from the area housing a 32-inch flat screen TV, boiler and fridge and seeing flames coming from cabling leading to the air conditioning unit.

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The inquest at Salisbury, Wiltshire, has heard that members of the Transport Troop were stationed in an 18ft by 24ft tent, which shortly before the fire had been extended by 50 per cent to include members of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

The Transport Troop were also due to take over the neighbouring tent, which had recently been vacated by the quartermaster.

Captain Timothy Fitzgerald, who was Privates Wood and Hutchinson's commanding officer in the Transport Troop, told of an intention to carry out a fire risk assessment once they had moved into the second tent.

"From my point of view it made sense to do the fire risk assessment when we pushed through (into the quartermaster's tent) and the sleeping arrangements were changed," Captain Fitzgerald said.

"Either way the whole dynamics would have changed and I saw that as my opportunity to update assessments. I knew when something changed I needed to do a risk assessment."

Captain Fitzgerald said there was a smoke detector on the ceiling of the tent but he did not know who was responsible for ensuring it was in working order. He told Wiltshire and Swindon coroner David Ridley that the troop's fire officer, Lance Corporal David Williams, had raised with him the issue of checking the detector, which might have prevented the deaths.

"He was told not to test it. The direction that he explained to me was that the red light should be flashing and that's as far as it went," Captain Fitzgerald said.

"We were not told if the detector went into a mainline system or made a beep or something else."

He added: "We didn't interfere with it in any way but make sure the red light was flashing.

"It had been inferred by Lance Corporal Williams that if the red light was flashing it was working but I didn't know who told him that."

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