Fire Brigades Union calls for investigation into Beirut blast

UK Fire Brigades Union calls for international investigation into Beirut port blast
3 min read
02 November, 2020
The joint call comes ahead of three-month anniversary of devastating 4 August blast that killed more than 200 people, including ten emergency responders.
The huge August 4 Beirut blast killed ten firefighters from the Beirut Fire Brigade [Getty]
UK-based Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has joined activists in urging the British government to press for a full international investigation into the devastating Beirut port blast that killed over 200 people three months ago.

The FBU and rights group Amnesty International urged UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to back calls for a credible, international investigation.

The investigation should be mandated to assess all aspects of responsibility for the explosion, Amnesty and the FBU said in a statement, adding that findings should be made public.

"The devastating scenes in Beirut will live long in the memory and the thoughts of firefighters in the UK," Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said.

"Each day, firefighters across the world are first on the scene responding to fires and other incidents in the knowledge that they may never return.

"Tragically, the brave men and women responding to the fire at the port in Beirut did so without being told that 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were present on the site - they were led to their deaths and unforgivably let down," Wrack said.

"The families of the firefighters and all those who died in Beirut deserve answers."

Meanwhile, Amnesty urged the British government to make it "crystal clear" to Beirut that those responsible will be punished.

"Lebanon has a long and wretched history of its politicians allowing serious crimes - including serious human rights violations - to go unpunished, and that’s precisely what appears to be happening all over again," Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International said.

"The UK should make it crystal clear to the Lebanese authorities that it's time to break with the past and hold those responsible for the devastation of 4 August to account."

Lebanon has a long and wretched history of its politicians allowing serious crimes - including serious human rights violations - to go unpunished, and that’s precisely what appears to be happening all over again
- Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International Amnesty UK
'Stuff of nightmares'

In a new one-minute video, UK firefighter Holly Ferguson, 36, who has been in the fire service for 11 years, says the Beirut explosion was "the stuff of nightmares".

Lebanese firefighters were "badly let down" by officials who knew that dangerous chemicals were stored at the port but failed to pass this information on, Ferguson said.

The huge August 4 Beirut blast killed ten firefighters from the Beirut Fire Brigade. They were identified as Najeeb Hati, Charbel Hati, Ralph Malahi, Charbel Karam, Joe Noun, Rami Kaaki, Joe Bou Saab, Elie Khouzami, Mathal Hawa and Sahar Fares, a firefighter paramedic.

The ten emergency workers were called out by police to respond to a serious fire at the Beirut dock area at 5.55pm.

They were not made aware of the large quantities of ammonium nitrate stored at the port, despite several senior Lebanese officials knowing of its existence.

At 6.08pm, the warehouse storing the chemicals exploded, killing the nine firefighters and the paramedic, and 190 people.

More than 6,500 people were injured by the explosion, while 300,000 people were left homeless or displaced from their homes. It also led to an estimated 70,000 workers losing their jobs.

Read also: Lebanon blast victims file almost 700 legal complaints

'No intention of a transparent investigation'

The FBU and Amnesty International have said that it has become clear that the current Lebanese authorities have no intention of conducting an effective, transparent and impartial investigation into the explosion - denying victims their right to truth, justice and remedy, including the families of the firefighters who died doing their jobs at the port.  

Victims of the blast - including relatives of the firefighters killed - have been vocal in calling for an international fact-finding mechanism, expressing their lack of faith in domestic processes.

These calls have so far been rejected by the Lebanese authorities, including by the president.

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