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'Not the first fire in an ambulance': Calls for review of whole fleet after tragedy

There have been a number of high profile incidents with ambulances in recent years and paramedics are worried for their safety.

Image: Niall Carson/PA

THERE HAVE BEEN calls for a full review of the National Ambulance Service fleet after a fire on an ambulance at Naas General Hospital yesterday, which killed a man in his 70s and injured two paramedics.

The fire, which involved a small explosion, occurred at 2pm yesterday and is believed to have been connected to an oxygen tank in the back of the vehicle, though a full investigation is now underway to identify the cause.

Siptu, which represents a number of paramedics in the National Ambulance Service has demanded an immediate examination of the fleet following yesterday’s tragedy.

“It is of deep concern that despite several similar incidents our ambulance representatives have never been fully informed as to original cause of other such fires,” the union’s health division organiser Paul Bell commented.

He told TheJournal.ie there had been a number of ambulances with “very new equipment involved in fires that totally destroyed them”.

One was outside Drogheda, one was in Meath in the last 16 months outside Navan, one was at the K-club, which was during the Ryder Cup – it was parked and it combusted – and in one patient transfer, a fire broke out on the Naas dual carriageway.

Fires and breakdowns

In 2014, an ambulance caught fire while a patient was being transferred from Cavan to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin. The fire broke out on the M3 near Navan and the crew managed to get their patient to safety.

There have also been a number of high profile breakdowns in the last two years, including one case in which a sick baby was being brought to hospital and another which involved a patient who was on life support.

In September last year, the two rear wheels of an ambulance fell off while it was driving between Letterkenny General Hospital and Galway University Hospital with a patient on board.

Navan councillor Wayne Forde, who himself worked as a paramedic in the National Ambulance Service, said workers have, for years, been highlighting issues with the fleet.

“I remember being on call one day, responding to an emergency and smoke started coming from the vehicle with loud noises,” he said.

“Myself and the other paramedic had to run from the vehicle in fear of our lives.

Unfortunately, it appears it was only a matter of time before an incident would happen with tragic outcomes.

Mileage

HSE Director General Tony O’Brien yesterday told reporters the fire appeared to have started in the rear of the vehicle and it therefore was not engine-related. He also said it was a relatively new vehicle and the chassis and body has been in service since November this year.

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There are, however, concerns about vehicles on the fleet that are much older.

TheJournal.ie spoke to two NAS paramedics who both said they have driven ambulances with more than 500,000km mileage.

“You wouldn’t drive a car with 200,000 and we’re being asked to drive frontline vehicles at high speed with half a million km,” one said.

“We’re run off our feet and we’re running these things around the clock.”

Another paramedic who works in Kildare and is due on duty today said he is worried about his safety.

I have a family, I’m playing it down at home because my kids are quite young. They saw it on the news and they’re asking “Daddy, is that going to happen to you?”

Gardaí, the HSE and the Health and SAfety Authority have all commenced investigations into the incident at Naas yesterday and a safety action notice has been issued to paramedics to ensure all oxygen is checked.

Read: ‘An extraordinarily traumatic event’: Ambulance fire at Naas General may have been ‘oxygen related’>

Read: Death of patient at Naas General Hospital was direct consequence of ambulance fire>

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