PEOPLE in north Louth who call for an ambulance may end up with with the fire brigade instead after it was revealed that fire service personnel are responding to emergency calls for ambulances in the north Louth area.
Cllr Tomas Sharkey highlighted the issue at the monthly meeting Louth County Council after he was told that fire fighters had responded to three calls for ambulances since September.
Director of services Joe McGuinness confirmed that Louth Local Authorities is about to enter into an agreement with the HSE which he claimed could end up being beneficial to the council as staff would be provided with training.
He said the provision of cover was particularly significant in north Louth areas like Carlingford where there can be problems with the availability of the ambulance service. Fire crews attend to patients until the arrival of the ambulance. Cllr. Sharkey said he had heard suggestions that the fire service had responded instead of an ambulance but he never thought it would be confirmed to him that this had happened three times since September.
'Someone who is in distress or ill, rings for an ambulance and a fire engine turns up, not an ambulance,' he noted, adding that there must be no ambulances available for that to happen.
He was concerned about whether their fire officers were qualified to do the work of advanced medical technicians and feared that they might be asked to respond to instances 'above and beyond their capabilities.'
' There seems to be a deficiency in the ambulance service in the county,' he said, adding that he didn't know if Meath fire service gets called out to provide ambulance cover. 'I don't know if counties other than Louth have insufficient ambulance cover in areas because there is a fire station there.'
He asked for a full report on the implications of this development for the next meeting.
Last week, The Argus revealed concerns raised by the ambulance service over HSE plans to get them to take patients from the MIU in Dundalk to Drogheda in order to comply with the new proposed closing time of 6 p.m.
The ambulance service said they wanted a 'contingency service' in place because they fear they would not be able to meet that commitment with their current resources.
County Manager Joan Martin said it was an operational matter for the Fire Service, the Chief Fire Officer and the Director of Service. She was sure if there were financial implications, they would raise them with the HSE.
Mr. McGuinness said a service level agreement was being entered into with the HSE which may be beneficial to Louth Local Authorities in terms of training provided. 'All our fire staff are trained as First Responders,' he said.
The Argus has learned that this arrangement has been in place for a number of years.
'We have been providing support to the HSE when there is no immediate ambulance available and there is an immediate risk to life,' Mr McGuinnes confirmed after the meeting.
'The support, which is the duty crew, continues until the arrival of an ambulance at which stage the HSE, take over. This process has been in place for a number of years.'