FIREFIGHTERS have been warned about the danger of being hit by ammunition left in burning cars by criminals.
Emergency services staff have been told to be extra cautious when extinguishing car fires after two incidents in which guns used in gangland shootings went off in burning getaway vehicles.
Criminals have started leaving their firearms in the vehicles in the hope that any forensic evidence will be destroyed when they burn them out.
The Herald can reveal that high-powered weapons left in burning cars have discharged bullets when they were affected by the flames and heat.
"It's another risk we have to contend with, and one that is another threat to our lives and our safety," said a Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB) source.
The warning came in a memo that was issued in recent weeks after separate incidents in which garda technical teams have inspected burnt-out cars for forensic evidence in relation to the crimes they were used in.
"What they found was puncture holes in the metal skin of the car that had come from inside the vehicle, and discovered they were from guns or ammunition left in the car before it was set alight," the DFB source said.
"There are different types of car fires, but we would be extra cautious about fires in areas where getaway cars are often dumped.
"You can get a pattern to emergency calls too which would lead you to suspect if a car on fire might have been used in a crime.
"If we get a call to an assault or attack on a person, and then a few minutes later a car fire call comes in from nearby, we have a fair idea the two events are connected.
"The last thing we want is an innocent emergency crew member being accidentally shot by a discarded weapon or bullets carelessly left in a car. The job is dangerous enough as it is without that."
The situation is considered so dangerous that gardai decided it was vital to issue the memo to emergency crews who are often in close proximity to burning cars.
"There are other risks with burning cars," the DFB source said. "Hydraulic struts that hold the boot or the bonnet up on a car shoot metal rods like crossbows when the gas inside them gets hot."