Toxic gas that killed two brothers almost claimed life of fireman

Gardai at the scene of the fatal incident at Drumnigh Wood last year
Gardai at the scene of the fatal incident at Drumnigh Wood last year

A toxic gas tragedy that claimed the lives of two brothers almost killed a fireman attempting to rescue them, an inquest heard.

Alan (45) and Stephen Harris (32) were overcome by fumes while working in an underground sewer at Drumnigh Woods, Portmarnock, Co Dublin, on June 10, 2015. They were recovered from the sewer and rushed to hospital but died of hypoxia due to toxic levels of hydrogen sulphide.

Stephen Harris

Alan Harris, of Hazelbury Park, Clonee, died at Beaumont Hospital within hours. His brother Stephen, of Monasterboice Road, Crumlin, died two days later. They were conducting sewer works at a housing development at the time.

Pumps engineer Gabriel Hoyle was a subcontractor working on the same job. When Mr Hoyle was leaving for lunch, the brothers planned to descend the 30ft pump chamber to clear out sewage. Before reaching his car, he heard shouts for help.

"Stephen was frantic. He was standing on the ladder shouting for Alan and then said, 'Lads help me, Alan's after falling down'. His voice was deteriorating as if he was being overcome. He was saying: 'Please help me, help me get Alan'," Mr Hoyle said.

He told Dublin Coroner's Court that he shouted to Stephen, telling him "get out now while you still can". "But he carried on down," Mr Hoyle said.

Alan Harris

Fireman Ger Coughlan responded to the emergency call at 2.30pm. Wearing breathing apparatus, he climbed down into waist-height sewage. He said the level of water entering the chamber was rising. His mask was displaced as he tried to lift one of the injured and he took a gulp of air.

"It was like someone pressed a switch, cutting off all my energy. My arms and legs were like lead. I was five seconds away from losing consciousness," Mr Coughlan said.

The court heard the brothers were wearing wader boots and rain jackets and that Stephen was wearing a dust mask.

Health and Safety Authority inspector Frank Kerins said the job required specialist equipment.

The jury returned verdicts of misadventure in relation to the deaths.