An airport chief fire officer died in a bizarre incident when a bottle of compressed gas hit him on the head, causing catastrophic injury, an inquest jury was told today.
Father-of-one Steve Mills was found dead at the Cotswold Airport near Kemble, Gloucestershire, having apparently died instantly from the impact.
Tom Osborne, Assistant Deputy Gloucestershire Coroner, told the jury Mr Mills 45, of Malmesbury, was fire services manager at the airport and died there on April 8, 2011.
He had worked at the airport for many years before moving to Gloucestershire Airport at Staverton, near Gloucester, but had been asked to return as fire chief in 2010.
As well as running the airport’s fire prevention services, the Gloucester inquest was told he was also a retained fireman with the Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service in Malmesbury.
Mr Osborne said Mr Mills had helped the airport to acquire a number of steel containers from the Ministry of Defence simply for the cost of transportation.
“These had been used as temporary offices, but the airport intended to use them for other purposes to do with fire training,” he said.
When the containers were delivered, they had to be stripped out of all the remaining office furniture, wiring and redundant computer parts.
“This included fire suppression units fitted to each of the containers to help prevent fires,” he said.
The hearing heard that these units used five foot high, 120kg compressed gas cylinders, and the systems were designed to remove all the oxygen inside and stop a fire from spreading.
When the cylinders discharged, Mr Osborne said it could be quite violent and they were mounted inside a metal cage in the containers.
“There is also a sign in each container warning of the dangers posed by these devices,” he said.
On April 8, he said, it appeared that one of the cylinders, which had been removed the evening before, had fallen over and started to discharge in a violent manner.
“In doing so it seems to have spun around, first breaking Mr Mills’ foot and then hitting him on the head, killing him,” he said.
Cotswold Airport manager and operations director Nicholas Howard told the hearing that no risk assessment had been carried out with regard to the stripping out of the containers once they arrived on site.
He said there was no-one on the site with the expertise to safely remove the fire suppression units and he had assumed that when this needed to be done, experts would be called in.
Some of the containers were to be used on part of the airport site by the Wiltshire fire service for fire behaviour training he said, and members of the service had gone to the airport on prior to April 8 to help strip them out.
These containers would have had to have the fire suppression units removed he said.
However, he said he would not have expected Wiltshire fire service staff to be involved in the stripping out.
Following the incident in which Mr Mills died, he noticed that the suppression units and cylinders had been removed, and said the Wilts crew must have taken them out when they were clearing out the other contents.
The inquest continues, and is expected to last for four days.