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Paramedics

Ambulance boss says no need for toll tags despite incidences of vehicles driving into barriers

On Monday, The Journal reported how an ambulance with a seriously ill patient on board was forced to stop at a toll booth.

AMBULANCE CHIEFS HAVE said they will not be issuing paramedics with electronic toll tags despite multiple incidents of ambulances driving through barriers and damage being done to the vehicles. 

On Monday, The Journal reported how an ambulance with a seriously ill patient on board was forced to stop at a toll booth as it had not been supplied with an electronic toll tag.

That evening, a message was sent to paramedics across the nation. It read: “Can all staff please familiarise themselves with the safety alert issued today regarding operational procedures at toll plazas.”

Under local authorities’ by-laws, ambulances are exempt from paying tolls. However, details of the registration are often taken manually by staff while the booths are manned – an act that itself causes delays, if only by a few seconds.

In some instances during the night when there is no staff, paramedics have to push the help button and wait for an external staff member to let them through remotely. These staff are usually located in external buildings adjacent to the toll booths themselves.

While most of the busy tolling points on major routes are manned, there are some stations on sliproads that do not have staff members on duty during nighttime hours.

The three page document sent to staff on Monday evening outlined how toll booths should be used and highlighted some dangerous incidents regarding improper use of the plazas. 

Incidents at toll booths

The memo is accompanied by the current rules surrounding using toll plazas. Various diagrams showing exactly how the plazas should be used are also featured. 

That safety order describes how damage has been caused to ambulances who have driven through toll barriers. 

“Ambulances have driven into restricted lanes at toll plazas on a number of occasions leading to vehicular damage and delay in attending calls.

“Ambulances are 2.85 metres tall and do not fit in a car lane or a height restricted lane at a toll plaza. At a toll plaza use the left most lane available – check for any height restrictors.

“If you are delayed at an automated toll bridge contact the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) and ask them to contact the toll operator.”

Tags

The director of the National Ambulance Service, Robert Morton, said he would not be issuing tags any time in the near future. He said the same safety procedures, issued in February of this year, would remain. 

“Section 6 (1) (2) of the Local Government (Toll Roads) Act, 1979 provides an exemption from the paying of tolls for ambulances. Consequently, the HSE, similar to other emergency services, does not hold an account with any toll operator and hence no toll tags are or will be issued to any NAS ambulance,” Morton’s memo to staff reads. 

“Where a NAS ambulance needs to urgently move through any toll barrier, the operational procedure continues to be that the crew notify the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) and request the barrier on the extreme left of the motorway be monitored by the Toll Operator’s Remote Monitoring Centre so that the barrier can be opened immediately as ambulance approaches,” the memo added.

The policy has been described as “ridiculous” by experienced paramedics who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity. 

One said: “It’s literally there in black and white. Delays are happening. There are people damaging ambulances by driving through barriers. I have no idea why they can’t do some joined-up thinking and just issue each ambulance with an access tag and then not charge the NAS. There has to be a very easy tech fix for this. It honestly does not make any sense.”

Earlier this week, Ted Kenny, ambulance sector organiser with trade union Siptu, told The Journal that anything that speeds up response times is to to be welcomed.

He said: “These are minutes and seconds you are dealing with. 

“Anything that can be done to help response times should be done in my opinion even if it’s getting toll tags sorted.

“It is something that makes sense to happen and you’d have to imagine there could be an easy workaround.”

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