Sinn Féin TD for Wicklow, John Brady, has reacted with concern that firefighters responding to the fire at Wexford General Hospital last week, which led to the evacuation of over 200 patients, were left dangerously understaffed.
Just one fire tender, containing just two firefighters, was available to tackle the blaze for close to 20 minutes before help arrived.
This was a consequence of the failure of the government to address the ongoing crisis in the Retained Fire Service.
Teachta Brady said:
“It is important to acknowledge the courage and selflessness of the retained firefighters who were among the first on the scene of the fire at Wexford General Hospital last week, and the hospital staff who came to their aid.
“The Retained Fire Service in Wexford Town has been left understaffed through the failure of government to respond to the crisis in the service.
“There are nine firefighters, and two officers at the Wexford Fire Station, which is four staff short of the recommended number of 15 staff for a two-pump station.
“On the day of the fire at Wexford General Hospital, one fire tender from Wexford Town responded, with a crew of seven, five in the fire tender, and two more in a jeep to a road traffic accident in Enniscorthy.
“This left two staff at the fire station. The two remaining firefighters – a driver and an acting station officer – responded to the emergency call out to Wexford General Hospital.
“For approximately 20 minutes, they were forced to tackle the fire on their own before assistance arrived, with only hospital staff to assist them. Hospital porters helped in pulling hoses from the fire engine into the hospital and carried out other firefighter duties.
“In a clip on RTÉ News, a uniformed member of the hospital staff can be clearly seen pulling fire hoses from the back of a fire engine and proceeding into the hospital with them.”
Sinn Féin TD for Wexford, Johnny Mythen, praised the courage and the selflessness of both the retained firefighters and the hospital staff, who despite being understaffed, were there in the first critical moments of the fire to orchestrate a response until assistance arrived.
Deputies Brady and Mythen expressed further concern at the dangers of the understaffed retained fire station in the town, particularly considering Wexford Town, which has a population of over 60,000, is also home to large factories and industrial plants, including the Coca Cola plant and Rosslare Euro port.
They argued that Wexford Town should have a full-time service as opposed to a part-time retained fire service.
Teachta Brady, who introduced a Dáil Motion on the Retained Fire Service in November added:
“In November I introduced a motion in the Dáil designed to address the core issues that lie at the heart of the Retained Fire Service after considerable consultation with representatives from the Retained Fire Service.
“The government, led by Minister Darragh O’Brien, opposed the motion, promising instead to lead out instead on a full review which would address the core issues impacting on the Retained Fire Fighter Service.
“This has not had the desired effect. The Retained Fire Service is still having to deal with the impact of the recruitment and retention crisis, which, but for the courage and initiative of two firefighters in Wexford may well have led to serious repercussions.
“The Minister needs to immediately address the issues which are at the heart of the crisis in the service, his continuing failure to do so is endangering the lives of retained firefighters and members of the public.
“I am further calling on the Minister to investigate how the recruitment and retention issues in the Retained Fire Service impacted on the emergency response to the serious fire at Wexford General Hospital, which could have just as easily ended with catastrophic consequences.
“The Minister must heed this warning, and immediately implement the recommendations contained in the report into the Retained Fire Service published by his department late last year.”