Bishopbriggs firefighter receives £1.5m after losing hand in training exercise
A hero firefighter at Bishopbriggs whose hand was amputated after being injured by faulty cutting gear has received £1.5million in damages.
Ian McDonald, 37, was pierced by a high-pressure jet of hydraulic fluid while using the ‘jaws of life’ on a training exercise.
He needed 40 operations after the toxic liquid destroyed tissue in his right hand but after a four-year battle medics were forced to amputate.
Ian – who was right-handed and used to be a joiner - is now learning to write and relishes tasks like changing his daughter’s nappy as he adapts to life with a prosthetic limb.
Despite the challenges the dad-of-four feels positive about the future, remains close with his firefighter comrades and praised the NHS for their efforts.
But Ian believes it was devoted wife, Claire, who kept the family together after his life-changing injury, who deserves most thanks.
He said: “It was a case of ‘It’s the hand or your life’ so it was an easy trade.
“I was injured but it’s really Claire the accident happened to – she basically raises four kids, runs a household, manages her business and helps me.
“My recovery and our childrens’ smiles would be impossible without her.
“Claire is nothing short of incredible and I am lucky in ways I could never describe but I hope she sees and knows.”
Ian from Bishopbriggs, Glasgow became a wholetime firefighter in 2004 at Castlemilk Fire Station.
In his first week he responded to the Stockline Plastics disaster and in 2007 he attended the Glasgow Airport terror attack.
Despite daily risks Ian was never seriously injured until March 2014 when two hours after a training exercise at Bishopbriggs Fire Station he was taken to A&E at Glasgow Royal Infirmary with a painful and swollen hand.
Ian said: “I had no idea what was going on - my hand felt like it was on fire and was swollen with a painful throbbing feeling.
“When hospital staff examined me they saw a tiny red dot like a skelf which turned out to be a puncture wound.
“Then when blood tests revealed I was poisoned we realised something happened with the cutting gear.”
It later emerged the hose pipe connecting the generator to the cutting gear, which pumps an internal fluid up to 850 Bars, was riddled with tiny punctures which can appear over time after being dragged over broken glass or metal shards at incidents.
One of these punctures then caused a fine jet of hydraulic fluid to pierce Ian’s leather safety gloves.
After a year of pain and dozens of failed surgeries to flush the toxins Ian was referred to specialists at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and underwent the first of three amputations – his right pinkie.
He added: “I didn’t think too much of it – it was just my pinkie and at that point we thought it’d remove the affected tissue so I was quite optimistic.”
But the treatment was unsuccessful and a year later – and after more failed ‘flush outs’ – surgeons amputated Ian’s ring-finger leaving the football-playing father with just a thumb, index and middle finger on his right hand.
To worsen matters Ian started suffering complex regional pain syndrome and his painkillers changed from co-codamol to the stronger gabapentin – he even tried acupuncture and botox injections but nothing worked.
Ian added: “My dexterity remained pretty good but the pain was agonising and nothing would stop it.
“When I heard the full hand had to go the idea of being pain-free made it easier to accept.”
Ian was admitted to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in June 2018 and after 18 days and six surgeries his full right hand was amputated at the wrist.
Ian welcomed pastoral care from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) but he chose his own lawyers to access a specialist prosthetic instead of a ‘hook’ offered by the NHS.
He is now recovering at home with craft business owner wife, Claire McDonald, 33, and their two daughters Ava, 11, and Thea, eight-months, and their two sons Lucas, seven, and Noah, three.
He said: “I understand the NHS can’t afford fancy prosthetics but the hook has limited uses while my new arm restores more normality to my life.
“I can hold mugs, phones, change my daughter’s nappy and after adapting my steering wheel the DVLA confirmed I could still drive.
“I’ve still a way to go but after the support of my family, the doctors and colleagues I finally feel like the dark days are behind me.”
An investigation into the incident by Digby Brown Solicitors revealed there was an inadequate system of inspection and maintenance for equipment despite the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service knowing about the risks.
There were also protective coverings for the hose which would have prevented Ian’s injury yet they were not used.
David Nellaney, Partner at Digby Brown’s Glasgow office who secured the seven-figure sum for Ian, said: “The SFRS is undoubtedly a safety-conscious organisation that provides an invaluable service but on this occasion it failed in its duty of care to an employee.
“Ian has shown courage throughout his recovery but he and his family suffered physically, emotionally and financially through no fault of their own.
“No settlement can alter the past, but it can improve the future and in Ian’s case, it will provide access to ongoing medical treatment and ease the financial implications of this workplace injury.
“Additionally, I’d hope this case has resulted in SFRS personnel benefiting from improvements to the safety of their equipment and procedures.”