Firefighter dies in Edinburgh pub blaze

Floor collapses as crews tackle fire at Balmoral Bar in Edinburgh's Dalry Road

A firefighter was killed in Edinburgh when the floor of a pub collapsed after fire broke out at closing time.

Ewan Williamson, 35, was part of a two-man crew sent into the bar with breathing apparatus. He died despite the efforts of colleagues to save him.

The fire is believed to have started in the basement of the Balmoral bar in Dalry Road. Fire crews arrived just after 12.30am. At the height of the blaze, about 70 firefighters were at the scene, with a total of 16 fire appliances including 11 pumps.

Ewan Williamson, firefighter killed in Edinburgh blaze
Ewan Williamson, the firefighter killed in the Edinburgh blaze. Photograph: Lothian & Borders Fire and Rescue/PA Photograph: Lothian & Borders Fire and Rescu/PA

More than 20 people, including several young children, were rescued from the multi‑storey tenement block above the bar. Williamson's breathing team colleague and seven members of the public were taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, mainly suffering from smoke inhalation. The other fireman was released after treatment.

Williamson's death is the Lothian and Borders fire and rescue service's first death in service since the early 1990s.

Paying tribute to him, the chief fire officer, Brian Allaway, said: "Lothian and Borders fire and rescue service is a closeknit community and we are all absolutely devastated by this loss. The thoughts of every single member of the service are with the firefighter's family. This is a tragic day for our service."

Lothian and Borders police and the Health and Safety Executive are to investigate the cause of the fire, which is not yet clear.

Deputy chief fire officer Alex Clark, the incident commander, said it appeared to have started in the basement of the pub.

Superintendent Ivor Marshall, deputy divisional commander with Lothian and Borders police, said it was "far too early to say" if the blaze was suspicious, because the severity of the fire had restricted access to the premises. Pockets of fire had continued to burn under the debris of the collapsed floor for several hours.

Police appealed for anyone with information to contact them.

Williamson's family were shocked at his death. "Ewan was a wonderful, kind, sporty and outgoing person who was loved by everyone," they said in a statement. "He loved the fire service. We would ask that the public remember members of the service who risk their lives every day."

Allaway described the blaze as "a very difficult fire to deal with – the flames were so fierce".

A local witness said the fire had caused so much black smoke the area looked like a "war zone". The man, who asked not to be named, said he heard the sirens and then watched from his window as firefighters using ladders rescued people from the three storeys of flats above the pub.

"The firefighters were trying to break into the basement of the Balmoral, it looked like the smoke was coming out of there. The people in the flats above were opening their windows, shouting and screaming for help.

"The firemen took some people out using their ladders right up to the top floor and I saw a woman and a man coming down."

Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish justice secretary and MSP for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh, said Williamson's death "reminds us of the debt of gratitude we all owe the brave men and women who serve in our emergency services ... It is typical of the professionalism of our firefighters that, despite the tragic loss of one of their colleagues, they continue to tackle the blaze and secure the safety of the building and neighbouring properties."

The general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, Matt Wrack, said: "This terrible news is a reminder of just how deadly our profession can be. Our thoughts are with all our colleagues in fire services across the UK."


Haroon Siddique and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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