Fire Brigades Service on verge of collapse
By Michael Pierse
``It's outrageous. Most Dubliners would simply not believe what is
happening to their emergency services,'' said Sinn Féin Councillor
Christy Burke after meeting with Fire Brigade staff this week.
The North Inner City representative was supporting Fire Brigade
Ambulance staff, who say the service they provide has become
inadequate for the needs - and safety - of a growing city. They are
not complaining about wages, or personal working conditions, but about
the fact that the people of Dublin are being put at risk because of
the thriftiness of the authorities.
According to government statistics, the number of calls being received
by the Brigades in Dublin has doubled in the last ten years. Although
the most recently published statistics place the number of calls at
78,000 per annum, the number of ambulances on the road has remained
the same since 1985. One Ambulance Accident and Emergency worker even
ventured to say that ``it's lucky people haven't died... or maybe they
have. It's the goodwill of the staff to stretch themselves that keeps
the whole system going''.
``This has been going on for some time but it came to a head over
Christmas'', one worker explained. On Friday, the day the staff met
with Councillor Burke, six of the 11 Fire Brigade ambulances in Dublin
had been in attendance at the Mater Hospital at 1.45pm. The ambulance
staff could not leave the hospital as they had to cater for patients
waiting on queued trolleys in the corridor. Consequently, the pump
fire-engine in Finglas had to be called to the Mater to relieve the
ambulance staff (a service it is not meant to provide), while the
other five ambulances catered for the rest of Dublin. An urgent
accident case in Eastwall could only be tended to by the Tallaght
ambulance several miles away, leaving the biggest of Dublin's suburbs
without emergency cover. Meanwhile, senior administrators continue to
deny that this is happening.
``People are getting fire engines when they need ambulances,'' the
worker said. ``This is OK when we're dealing with major incidents where
immediate on-site treatment is necessary. But with minor problems we
end-up `babysitting' until an ambulance arrives, leaving other cases
where lives are at risk without cover.'' Ambulance workers spoke of the
shock experienced by people who call for an ambulance when a fire
brigade pump, which cannot take them to hospital, arrives on their
``This situation is indicative of the general grinding-to-a-halt our
health services are experiencing,'' says Burke. ``Superior systems in
other cities throughout Europe show just how dilapidated our system
is, despite unprecedented economic growth'', he continued.
``The workers are calling for a doubling of the number of ambulances in
Dublin in tandem with the rise in emergency calls, along with a
corresponding rise in recruitment levels. We are supporting this call.
The consequences of further inaction simply do not bear thinking
The crisis may already have resulted in deaths, but research is
difficult as ambulance workers do not have time these days to fill in
compulsory detail sheets after each call. Meanwhile, calls to the
emergency services are constantly stacked in order of priority at the
call centre in Tara Street. It is a sobering thought that any of us
could end up piled at the back of the list because the person who made
the call did not sound frantic enough, while the ambulance we need is
sitting outside a casualty ward.