The HSE investigation into the ambulance fire in Naas will look at whether there was a problem with connections to one of the oxygen tanks in the ambulance.

Christopher Byrne, aged 78, from Suncroft, Co Kildare, died and two ambulance workers, Dave Finnegan and Stephen Lloyd, from Baltinglass, Co Wicklow, suffered burn injuries when there was an explosion in the vehicle outside Naas Hospital on Thursday.

There are three different type of oxygen tanks on ambulances — ranging from portable smaller cylinders to 1.4m F-sized cylinders. It is believed the fire may have begun with a F-sized cylinder.

The HSE has asked its oxygen provider, BOC Gases Ireland, to “undertake a detailed review of oxygen supplies on the entire fleet”.

According to sources in the ambulance service, BOC Gases inspect and date all cylinders they produce before they are handed over to the HSE.

However, the HSE is charged with ensuring that all equipment, ranging from the regulator which controls the oxygen pressure, to attached face masks, is working properly.

Despite widespread complaints about the age of the ambulance fleet, the HSE says the vehicle was a new Mercedes CDi 152D registered vehicle which came into service in November 2015.

The HSE said: “Our initial approach is to focus on priority areas — without prejudice to the investigation — and obviously the oxygen is an area of potential concern.

“The HSE initiated two actions last night — firstly we issued a safety notice to all staff, and secondly the National Ambulance Service directed our supplier to undertake a detailed review of oxygen supplies on the entire fleet.”

It was revealed earlier this week that a second ambulance in Naas burst into flames in the past year. The HSE would not comment in detail but a spokesman said it is their understanding that “there was an issue regarding the engine which differs from that [fire] experienced on Thursday”.

One of the paramedics who suffered serious head, face, torso, and arm burns, was released from the burns unit of St James’s Hospital in Dublin yesterday.

The second man, who was suffering from shock, was discharged from Naas General the day previous.

The ambulance burst into flames outside the hospital in when paramedics were unloading the patient at the door of the hospital’s emergency department at about 1.30pm.

The two paramedics were injured while trying to save Mr Byrne.

An Garda Síochána, the Health and Safety Authority and the HSE are investigating the accident.

 

134 retrofitted or new vehicles in past two years

HSE focus on oxygen tanks in ambulance blaze probe

Up to 134 either retrofitted or new fully equipped ambulances were brought on stream by the HSE in the past two years.

Over the past two years, 62 ambulances containing a new chassis but with a patient compartment from a decommissioned ambulance were brought into the ambulance fleet. The patient compartment was then refurbished and re-engineered to meet new legislative and best practice standards, according to the the e-Tenders website.

Another 62 ambulances were totally new with a new chassis or cab and a new patient compartment. Another 10 ambulances were van conversions to ambulances.

According to the HSE yesterday, the ambulance involved in Thursday’s incident was “a brand new vehicle, a new Mercedes CDi 152D registered vehicle which came into service in November 2015”.

It’s understood the HSE investigation will look at concerns raised previously about the fleet by advanced paramedics.

Two other investigations have also begun by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) and the Gardaí.

Senior paramedic sources have confirmed, that with oxygen being the primary possible cause, the HSE National Ambulance Service (NAS) will be looking at the equipment attached to the oxygen tank including regulator, tubing, mask and flow meter and if the cylinders of oxygen met EU standards and regulations.

It will also examine if a bulb which comes on automatically when the oxygen storage unit is opened blew, resulting in the cylinder or cylinders combusting due to a possible leak.

The engines of those particular Mercedes ambulances, which have been fitted with a fire suppression unit, will also be double checked due to serious concerns over previous engine related fires.

A senior ambulance supervisor said: ““Paramedics have pointed out to NAS management that, lead acid batteries fitted in the ambulance engines should be replaced with a more up to date gel unit, which is viewed as being safer.” It is understood that industrial unrest amongst the 1,200 NAS advanced paramedics has been brewing for some time.

“Thursday’s explosion may be the catalyst for paramedics to say, enough is enough, as they believe senior management are not listening to their concerns.

 


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