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Firemen claim breathing kit has 'dangerous fault'

FIREfighters have had to pull colleagues from burning buildings after their new breathing equipment "froze", they claimed last night.

The Dublin fire crews have raised serious safety concerns about the recently issued breathing apparatus.

But the claims have led to tensions with Dublin City Council, which has said the issue is simply "teething problems".

However, firefighters say that there have been six incidents in the last week alone -- including Monday's blaze at St Catherine's Church in Dublin's Liberties -- and that unless something is done someone will die.

The matter has been brought to the attention of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

The breathing apparatuses -- which allow firemen to breath in smoke-filled rooms -- were replaced in September and October after the shelf life of the previous units ran out.

Scott Safety, the UK-based company which supplied the new equipment, said last night that it would work to "ensure support is provided to enable proper and safe use and operation of the equipment".

Sources have indicated that the most serious problem is the apparent "freezing" of the high-pressure air supply, blocking the pathway to the mask. One fire source said: "All of a sudden you go to take a breath and there is nothing there. It's panic.

"It's a scary amount of incidents and the lads did tests in the station. Someone got on the treadmill (wearing the equipment) for a while, nothing heavy just a little bit of heavy breathing, and it failed."

The matter was brought to the attention of Dublin City Council manager John Tierney earlier this week by the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association (IFESA), which claims to represent around 400 members. "In the cases to date, the firefighters have been unable to extricate themselves from the threatening situation facing them," wrote general secretary Des Kavanagh.

"Surely the sets should be withdrawn and the manufacturer notified immediately."

However, Dublin City Council played down the situation and accused the IFESA of "exploiting difficulties".

"There have been a relatively small number of issues reported with the new sets and, following investigation, these have been attributed to teething problems and lack of familiarity with certain features of the sets," it said in a statement. "A small period of retraining on features of the new sets will be undertaken."

It added that only SIPTU and IMPACT officially represented firefighters and that the IFESA "do not have negotiation rights within Dublin Fire Brigade and have consistently sought to exploit difficulties, either real or perceived, within the fire service over the past two years".

However, a letter from IMPACT to the assistant chief fire officer earlier this week also raised concerns about the breathing equipment.

Irish Independent