A new ambulance designed to carry morbidly obese patients is going into service with Dublin Fire Brigade.
As the problem of obesity continues to worsen, the new vehicle will enable paramedics to provide emergency transport to hospital for people weighing up to 60 stone.
The new ambulance is equipped with a reinforced suspension and four-wheel-drive.
It has an extra-wide padded interior for the comfort and safety of patients, and a hydraulic ramp capable of lifting up to half-a-ton.
The specialised vehicle is known as a bariatric ambulance, and they are being manufactured in greater numbers throughout the western world.
Regular wheeled stretchers on standard ambulances can take patients weighing up to 30 stone, but the special stretchers in the new ambulance can support someone twice that weight, ensuring the dignity of obese patients.
They are also located in the middle of the ambulance cabin rather than to one side to ensure the vehicle is properly balanced.
An estimated one in every 200 calls to Dublin Fire Brigade requires additional support because the patient is so overweight.
A brigade source told the Herald: "We will be able to respond much more quickly to emergency calls involving people who are very overweight.
"We recently had a patient weighing 37 stone. When we find we have a very heavy patient we've had to contact the Eastern Health Board to send one of their own bariatric ambulances which might have to come from Loughlinstown, St James Hospital, Tallaght or even Mullingar.
"Having our own bariatric ambulance means there will be less waiting time for patients to be transported to hospital.
"The procedure for caring for very overweight patients has been for the two paramedics to be assisted by a fire engine crew to help lift and transport the patient. That means eight paramedics.
"Hospitals will be alerted by paramedics to have the necessary equipment ready if a patient is very overweight.
"The eight will remain with the patient on arrival at the hospital and help transfer them inside."
Having extra help lifting patients is essential for paramedics to avoid back injuries.
"People are certainly getting heavier," the source said, "and that can be a risk to personnel."
People who are morbidly obese are vulnerable to heart problems, and having the necessary equipment on ambulances to deal with coronary emergencies is essential, the source added.