Emergency 999 call operators in Munster have threatened strike action unless immediate steps are taken to address “critical safety concerns” they have regarding the communication system used by operators to dispatch firefighters to emergencies.
Staff within the Limerick-based Munster Regional Control Centre (MRCC), which controls fire service responses in the south of the country, said they fear “someone will die” on their watch, and have claimed there are serious anomalies with the operating software system that they have been using since October 2021.
The sources claimed these concerns have been ignored for several months by Limerick City and County Council, which has ultimate responsibility for the service.
The main issues include problems with mapping, dropped calls, and integration with the fire service communication system.
A reliable source within the service described the situation as “a shit-show”.
"If we mess up, someone dies, and it’s going to be cold comfort to anyone if they're told ‘oh there’s a glitch in the system’ — that doesn't mean anything to the operators, that operator will have to live with that, so they are stressed out of their heads,” said the source.
Sources said up to €14m was spent on implementing the system, but they described it as “a disaster”.
“The controllers who have highlighted these issues have been told ‘move along, nothing to see here’.”
“For example, there have been relatively innocuous 999 calls which have dropped mid-way through. However, the next call after that can be something like an infant in cardiac arrest, so you can imagine if the call dropped during that, and that’s what we would class as a near miss.
"There have had a lot of near-misses, and you can only push your luck for so long."
A statement released by Siptu said its members will ballot for industrial action if there is a "failure to take immediate steps to resolve critical safety concerns relating to the operation of the software system”.
In a letter to the executive of Limerick City and County Council, Siptu organiser Con Casey called for “urgent action”.
“Our members have for several months been highlighting serious problems with the roll-out and operation of the new CTRi software system in the MRCC," he said.
“Despite commitments from the management of Limerick City and County Council to resolve these issues, our members have yet to see any appropriate action.
"Siptu members in the MRCC have given a two-week deadline for appropriate measures to be put in place to resolve these issues or they will immediately move to ballot for industrial action, up to and including strike action,” added Mr Casey.
Siptu organiser Suzanna Griffin said controllers have been highlighting their concerns for the past eight months.
“We met with Limerick City and County Council senior management on Friday, May 6, concerning these issues. At that meeting, there was a commitment that management would revert to our members concerning what actions would be taken to resolve these issues within a week. Unfortunately, we are yet to receive a response,” Ms Griffin claimed.
“This has left our members with no option other than to move towards a ballot for industrial action in order to ensure that steps are taken to ensure the effective operation of fire services in the Munster region and public safety,” she said.
Limerick City and County Council has been asked for a response.