Pensioner killed as explosion triggers fatal ambulance fire
Three investigations under way after blast outside A&E Paramedic in hospital after being flung across tarmac
An elderly man was killed after the ambulance he was in burst into flames following an explosion outside a busy emergency department.
A multi-agency investigation involving An Garda Síochána, the Health Safety Authority (HSA) and the HSE has also been launched after what the HSE's director general Tony O'Brien described as "dark day for the health services".
The tragic incident occurred shortly after 1.30pm yesterday at Naas General Hospital, Co Kildare, as the ambulance arrived at the emergency department (ED).
Paramedics David Finnegan, who is aged in his 40s, and Stephen Lloyd, aged in his late 30s, were in the vehicle preparing to move the patient into the ED.
However, as elderly patient Christopher Byrne was being tended to, an explosion occurred. The force of the explosion was so severe that Stephen Lloyd was thrown across the tarmac, having left the driver's seat to open the side door.
Three separate investigations are now under way after the shocking incident.
Two Naas-based paramedics who witnessed the incident ran towards the burning ambulance and pulled David Finnegan, who was on fire, from the vehicle. However, there was nothing that could be done for Mr Byrne.
Mr Lloyd was treated for burns but was discharged yesterday evening, while Mr Finnegan was transferred to St James's Hospital in Dublin as a matter of precaution. He is expected to make a full recovery.
Tony O'Brien expressed his sympathies to the deceased man's family, who he had spoken with at Naas General Hospital following the tragic incident.
Four units from the Kildare Fire Service stations in Naas and Newbridge were called to the scene. The emergency call was received at 1.33pm and the first unit arrived at 1.37pm.
It is believed that an oxygen tank caused the explosion, and the HSE has said that checks will be put in place immediately.
"There is going to be an investigation under way, as is normal practice by An Garda Síochána and the Health Safety Authority, as well as the HSE, but it does appear the fire started towards the rear of the ambulance," Mr O'Brien said.
"It does not appear to be related to the engine and currently, without prejudicing that outcome, we are currently focusing our concerns on the possibility, and I stress possibility, that this was oxygen-related."
He said they are confident of a "full recovery" for the ambulance driver who was hospitalised with burns.
"Two members of the ambulance service staff were injured while attempting to save the patient," he continued.
"One of those has been discharged from hospital recently and the second staff member has been transferred to St James's Hospital in Dublin where he is receiving care.
"We are confident of a full recovery but he will remain in hospital overnight as a precaution.
"I'm sorry to have to tell you that the patient's death was a direct consequence of the fire. If the fire had not occurred, he would have not died. We express our sympathies with the family."
Mr O'Brien also said that the staff did everything they could. "In addition, a series of checks are going to be carried out on all National Ambulance Service (NAS) equipment and that has already been organised. This is clearly a very serious incident and I wouldn't want to downplay it in any way."
Paramedic representatives last night called for an immediate examination of the ambulance fleet after the fatal fire.
Health Minister Simon Harris said: "Like all of us, I was numb when I heard about this terrible tragedy.
"I visited the hospital this evening to extend my sympathies to the family on the death of their loved one.
"I also wanted to support the incredible efforts of the staff in Naas General Hospital on what was an extremely difficult and upsetting day and to convey my hope of a full recovery to the injured paramedic staff."
Union bosses at Siptu offered condolences after the patient's death and said a number of other similar vehicles have been destroyed in fires, three of them in 2008 and 2009, and another in 2014.
Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless, who visited the hospital, said the paramedics and the staff should be commended for their response to the tragic accident in what was an "unprecedented situation".
"David is a very decent man, he is very involved in the campaign for Naas Community National School.
"He is well liked by his colleagues," he said.