Saturday 17 August 2019

Air Corps took eight hours to respond over staff shortage

A view of the gorse fire in Co Donegal. Photo: Evelyn Sweeney/PA Wire
A view of the gorse fire in Co Donegal. Photo: Evelyn Sweeney/PA Wire
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

An investigation into how long it took the Air Corps to respond to a dramatic gorse fire has highlighted problems with recruiting pilots and crew.

It took nearly eight hours to scramble aerial support from Baldonnel in Dublin to the scene of the blaze in west Donegal last month.

Before being brought under control the wildfire scorched hundreds of acres of land, having begun in the village of Annagry.

However, the Irish Independent has learned that a report commissioned by Defence Minister Paul Kehoe has found there was not an undue delay in dispatching troops.

It said helicopter support "was deployed as quickly as possible". But the review highlights a "diminished" capability within the Air Corps due to a lack of experienced personnel.

A timeline of events on April 22 shows that an initial call was made to the Department of Defence requesting help from the Air Corps at 9.18am.

Twenty minutes later the Air Corps confirmed that efforts were underway to get a crew.

The Defence Forces only provide an "as available" service for such events and therefore "are not on stand-by for immediate response".

It was 12.41pm before confirmation came through that an Air Corps crew could be made available. The aircraft finally took of at 4pm and arrived in Donegal 5.05pm.

The report finds no fault in how the situation was dealt with but does point to wider issues.

It said concerted efforts are underway to address the "well-known pressures on the Air Corps".

"These efforts encompass efforts to mitigate the risk arising from the impact of the loss of institutional knowledge with the departure of senior staff from the Air Corps.

"One element of the gradual process of returning the Air Corps to its full capability is finding sufficient time to train pilots, crew and technicians to the defined standards," the report states.

Contact for comment last night, Mr Kehoe noted some of whose crew "had to travel a significant distance at short notice".

"As demonstrated by this report, the Air Corps is a back up service and it does take time to assemble crew and equipment.

"Pressures in the Air Corps are well known. That's why I asked that the particular issues in the Air Corps would be prioritised in our submission to the Public Service Pay Commission whose report is due shortly."

Irish Independent

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