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Irish ambulance service orders safety checks after fatal explosion

23 September 2016

The National Ambulance Service of Ireland has ordered safety checks on all oxygen containers in vehicles after an explosion in the back of an ambulance on September 22 left a patient dead and two paramedics injured. Three separate investigations are underway into the fatal incident outside Naas General Hospital in Co Kildare.

The Garda Síochána, the Health and Safety Authority and the Health Service Executive are investigating the fire which broke out as the ambulance was unloading the elderly patient at the door of the hospital’s emergency department at about 1.30pm, according to the Irish Times.

The HSE said early indications suggested the explosion caused a fire to start in the rear of the vehicle. “While the results of the full investigations are awaited, it would appear that the explosion was related to oxygen.

“As a result, the National Ambulance Service is issuing an immediate safety action notice to ensure all oxygen is checked and has also directed its supplier to undertake a programme of checks on the oxygen in our ambulances.

“Staff have also been asked to re-familiarise themselves with the emergency ambulance evacuation procedures,” it said.

The two injured paramedics were initially treated at Naas hospital. One suffered severe head, face, torso and arm burns and was later transferred to the burns unit of St James’s Hospital in Dublin. The second, who was suffering from shock, was discharged after treatment at Naas hospital.

HSE director general Tony O’Brien said hospital workers and paramedics had fought hard to rescue the patient but were beaten back by the flames. He paid tribute to the staff and paramedics as well as Naas and Newbridge fire brigades, who he said were on the scene almost immediately.

He said one theory being examined was that an oxygen cylinder in the ambulance exploded, starting the blaze.

A union representing Irish paramedics said there have been “several similar incidents” to the Naas ambulance explosion.

Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell said: “It is of deep concern that despite several similar incidents our ambulance representatives have never been fully informed as to the original cause of other such fires.

“While the vehicle involved should be subjected to a full Garda forensic and technical examination to determine the cause of this incident, our members believe the entire fleet should also be examined for potentially fatal defects.”

HSE director general Tony O’Brien, however, insisted last night the incident was “entirely unprecedented”. He confirmed that all ambulances in the fleet are designed identically and that they remain in use. A 'safety action notice' was however issued to ensure all oxygen is checked.

“All of our ambulance fleet is the same,” he said. “This is why we’ve issued a safety action notice. Obviously no motor vehicle of any kind can be described as 100 per cent safe. At this point we’re taking the steps we consider prudent. That’s why the suppliers of our equipment are carrying out a programme of checks on all equipment.”

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