Defence Forces report busy year for the Irish Air Corps

This year was a busy year for Air Ambulance Missions for the Air Corps. They completed 103 Air Ambulance missions up to 31 December 2013, including national and international transfers of patients.

The Air Corps’ unique ability to conduct multiple mission using fixed wing and rotary wing assets meant that there were several days in 2013 when several Air Ambulance Missions were completed at the same time. The Air Corps also launched a time critical Air Ambulance to London in the early hour of 26 December with the patient arriving in time for specialist treatment.

The increase in demand for air ambulances has given rise to the Air Corps maintaining dedicated crews on stand-by 24/7 for fixed wing and rotary wing with the ability to cover: Transport of Neonates, Inter-hospital transfer of patients with spinal or other serious injury, Transport of patients requiring specialised emergency treatment in the UK, Transport of Organ retrieval teams in Ireland, Transport of patients from the islands where the Coastguard is not available and Transport of paediatric patients requiring immediate medical intervention.

Air Corps helicopter crews also utilise specialist Night Vision Goggles in their night time air ambulances and are the only pilots in the State with the capability to fly using them which gives significant added capability. The crew of the Agusta Westland AW139s used these goggles to complete 23 night time transfers of patients in 2013, which included four night air ambulances completed during the Halloween Bank Holiday.

In 2013 the Air Corps continued to support the HSE National Ambulance Service (NAS) in the pilot project to provide dedicated aeromedical support to the West of Ireland. The pilot Emergency Aeromedical Service (EAS) operates from Custume Barracks, Athlone and the Air Corps provide helicopter and personnel to fly and maintain the craft while the National Ambulance Service are responsible for patient care. This year the EAS answered 527 callouts from the National Aeromedical Co-ordination Centre up to 31 December including a tasking on Christmas Day.

Search and Rescue

Although search and rescue is not a primary role of the Defence Forces, the Air Corps conducted 24 SAR missions in 2013. 15 of these were SAR Top cover provided by the Air Corps’ fixed Wing assets for Irish Coast Guard operations. Such missions included the CASA Maritime Patrol Air Craft  providing cover for the night time medical evacuation of crewman from a merchant vessel 250nm South West of Valentia on 20 October. The Air Corps’ rotary wing were also involved with several rescues this year. This included four mountain rescue SAR taskings and a rescue while assisting in the snow relief efforts in Northern Ireland in March.

The Air Corps deployed two helicopters to Northern Ireland on March 28 to the Co. Down area to carry animal feed for some areas cut off by heavy snow. During one of the flights, the AW139 was tasked to provide assistance to two climbers who had become stranded on a rock face and were unable to move to safety. The Air Corps helicopter picked up two PSNI mountain rescue team members from Belfast City Airport and brought them to the location of the stranded climbers. One PSNI team member was dropped close to the location and abseiled to secure the two casualties. Once secured, the climbers were winched to safety by the Air Corps helicopter.

Source: Irish Defence Forces

UK News: Five Fire Brigade Units tackled fire at Flat Complex in Chester

Five Units of the Fire Brigade dealt with a fire at a flat complex in Blacon, Chester in the UK. The incident was reported to Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service shortly after 12.30pm and fire crews reported a flat on the ninth floor ‘well alight’.

Two Fire engines and a Hydraulic Platform from Chester, two engines from Ellesmere Port, one engine from Deeside (Wales) are all in attendance at the blaze. One male casualty has been reported.

Pic: Chester Fire and Rescue Service

London Ambulance Service prepares for New Years Eve

London Ambulance Service is gearing up for its biggest night of the year when thousands of revellers descend on the city to welcome in the New Year.

As Londoners ring in the New Year, sirens will ring out across London as New Year’s Eve is expected to be an exceptionally busy night for London Ambulance Service. They are appealing to party-goers to drink sensibly and only call in a genuine emergency. Last year, London Ambulance Service took over 600 calls an hour when normally it would only take around 180.

Assistant Director of Operations, Katy Millard, who is leading the Service’s response on New Year’s Eve, said: “It will be a busy night for us across the capital as Londoners go out to celebrate. But we’re also expecting hundreds of thousands of people to attend the event in central London.”

To help respond to anyone who becomes unwell or injured in the event area, 200 St John Ambulance volunteers will run 13 treatment centres. While medics in the event area will work in teams of three – a paramedic, technician and St John Ambulance volunteer – on foot, carrying full medical equipment with them, including a defibrillator, oxygen and a carry sheet to use as a stretcher. They will be able to weave in and out of the crowds where it is too busy to take an ambulance.

Katherine Eaton, Events Manager for London St John Ambulance, said: “If you need medical help make your way, if you can, to one of our treatment centres. In an emergency ask for help – or get a friend or passer-by to do it for you – from a steward, security official, first aid volunteer or police officer. Only dial 999 as a last resort.”

Katy added: “Many of the people we are called to on New Year’s Eve have injured themselves or become unwell because they’ve had too much to drink.

London Ambulance and London St. John Ambulance are hoping people will have a good time, but not get so drunk that they need an emergency ambulance and the help of two medics. They are asking people not to let this happen to you as they need to ensure their ambulances are available for those who genuinely need them on what we’re expecting to be the busiest night of the year.

Irish Coast Guard: Lives at risk by Ministers Safety Plan

The Irish Coast Guard has warned that the lives of both rescue staff and volunteers could be put at risk by a Maritime safety plan which was initiated six months ago by Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar.

A report in today’s Irish Times says that Irish Coast Guard director Chris Reynolds warned that the proposals threatened “to tear up 30 years of progress” in marine safety, and said he believed Mr Varadkar had “not been sufficiently advised” of the full consequences of implementing them.
(Full report Below)

Documents seen by The Irish Times cite vehement opposition by both the Irish Coast Guard and Marine Survey Office (MSO) to the changes due to be implemented over the next year, which include reducing Donegal’s Malin Head Coast Guard station to a 12-hour watch rather than 24 hours, and cutting coast radio station staff by 18.5 per cent.

The documents, some of which were released under the Freedom of Information Act, outline Irish Coast Guard and MSO opposition to the creation of what both say is a new layer of bureaucracy known as the Irish Maritime Administration (IMA).

The body, approved by the Cabinet last July, was created on foot of two value-for-money consultancy studies of the Irish Coast Guard and MSO. The Irish Coast Guard is primarily responsible for emergency response to incidents on water, while the MSO monitors safety standards on boats and in ports.

Mr Varadkar said at the time that the overhaul would have an “overriding emphasis on safety” and would “co-ordinate efforts more closely between the Irish Coast Guard and MSO”, both of which are sub-divisions within his department.

He said he was committed to retaining all three Irish Coast Guard co-ordination/radio stations at Valentia, Co Kerry; Malin, Co Donegal; and Dublin; but said the new body would aim to integrate operations between the three. However, the details of the plan seen by this newspaper involve reducing Malin Head watch hours to 12, and renaming of Malin and Valentia as Marine Rescue Sub-Centre A and B under a single national marine co-ordination centre run from Dublin.

The plan involves reducing Coast Guard volunteer units from 49 to 42, and “strengthening” preventative measures to reduce the need for an emergency towing vessel for dealing with ship groundings and consequent pollution risk.

In his response, Mr Reynolds pointed out that the Irish Coast Guard was already operating at 50 per cent less than Britain’s recommended manning levels. He said it was “unwise and unsafe” to reduce numbers further and rely so heavily on overtime to cover for unfilled posts.

He warned against transfer of pollution control to administrators, stating that the plan represented a “dumbing down” of activity, and noting that it was “against best practice of unifying all coastal activity into a single operational entity”.

The plan threatened to break “all the links, the relationships, the expertise” in “what is already a weak system” due to under-resourcing, he said, and the IMA “brand name” would cause confusion with fishermen less likely to approach it fearing prosecution by what is perceived to be the regulator.

In his comment on the plan, MSO chief surveyor Brian Hogan said the new structure did not address a shortfall in inspection staff numbers, against a background of increasing regulatory requirements. Five surveyors are due to retire in the next two years, he noted, and if vacancies were not addressed, it was “likely that in the coming years the fatality and accident rate will increase” due to a shortage of inspecting and auditing capacity. Mr Hogan also took issue with a reference to the MSO and Coast Guard not working together as a justification for the changes.

In his response to Mr Reynolds, Department of Transport assistant secretary Maurice Mullen said he “totally rejected” the suggestion that Mr Varadkar had not been fully informed of the implications.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said the Minister was aware of the Irish Coast Guard’s opposition.

Picture: Irish Coast Guard Director Chris Reynolds (
Source: The Irish Times

Irish Naval Vessel assisting with Kinsale Operaton

A stricken bulk carrier and its crew of 13 on board is being towed to shore after drifting without power in stormy seas off the Cork coast since yesterday.

The Irish Coast Guard sent the Celtic Isle tug to tow the 108 metre long Abuk Lion this morning. The bulk carrier, Abuk Lion was 24km off the Old Head of Kinsale after drifting almost 32km towards shore overnight.

The alarm was raised at approximately 3pm yesterday. The Irish Naval ship, LE Róisín is also at the scene and standing by to assist in escorting the Abuk Lion to shore while an Irish Coast Guard rescue helicopter, Rescue 117 is also on standby at Waterford Airport in the event of a rescue and recovery operation.

The vessel was en route from the Shannon Estuary to St Petersburg in Russia with 7,500 tonnes of bauxite when the engines failed off the West Cork coast yesterday afternoon. The Celtic Isle tug arrived on scene about 1am this morning but conditions were judged to be too dangerous to try and get a tow on board the bulk carrier with gale force winds and six to eight metres swell.

The Irish Naval vessel Ship, the LE Róisín has taken up station 30 nautical miles off the Old Head of Kinsale and is standing by to assist and escort the merchant vessel following a request from the Coast Guard while an Irish Coast Guard Sikorski helicopter, Rescue 117 also remains on standby at Waterford Airport in case it is needed in the rescue and recovery operation.

The Defence Forces has described conditions in the area as ‘challenging’, however it s not thought the vessel is in any immediate danger.

Pic: Irish Defence Forces

Gardai shot at during Barricaded incident in Sligo

Gardai and members of the Garda Regional Response Unit were shot at by an armed man at a house in Sligo.

The incident unfolded at around 12.30 today when Gardai in Sligo received a telephone call of suspicious activity at a house approximately two miles outside Sligo town on the Strandhill Rd locally known as Scardenmore.

On arrival uniformed Gardai noticed damage to a patio door. They then observed a male in his 30’s in the house carrying a firearm. The male discharged the firearm in the direction of the Gardai. The Gardaí retreated to the marked patrol car. Gardai at the scene requested the
assistance of further units to attend the scene.

The Regional Response Unit attended the scene a short time later and the male discharged
further shots. The Gardai returned fire and also deployed less lethal. The male barricaded himself into the house. A critical incident was established and an on scene Commander was designated in accordance with barricade incident protocols.

Two cordons were put in place and inner and outer surrounding the house in question. The scene was the attended by armed units from the Emergency Response Units, trained hostage negotiators and local units. A number of houses adjacent to this property were evacuated. The main Sligo to Strandhill was closed during this incident for safety reasons. The area is still sealed off
to facilitate a technical and ballistic examination.

The house is believed to be the family home and no other family members were present at the time.

At approximately 1.30pm the male exited the house.  The male was arrested under the provisions of section 30 Offences Against the State Act 1939 as amended and is currently detained at Sligo Garda Station. A licensed firearm (shotgun) was recovered and will now be subject to technical examination.

No one was injured during the course of this incident.

Northern Ireland multi-agency forum established

A new multi-agency group has been established to tackle road deaths and injuries and promote road safety awareness throughout Northern Ireland.

The group, known as the ‘Joint Road Safety Forum’ was created by members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS), the Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP) and other related agencies.

The aim of the forum is to promote awareness of road safety issues in a bid to reduce the numbers of road deaths and casualties on Northern Ireland roads. Voicing their concern about the recent road death figures, members of PCPS in Cookstown, Fermanagh, Omagh, Dungannon and South Tyrone said that ‘unfortunately, road traffic collisions are all too-often occurrences on our roads. Every death on our roads is one too many and we aim to improve road safety for all road users through our on-going PCSP Action Plan’.

The Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service has attended 109 road traffic collisions across the districts of Fermanagh, Omagh and Cookstown so far this year. Group Commander of the NIFRS, Eamon Gallagher welcomes the establishment of the forum and the opportunity to play a role in the multi-agency road safety partnership. He said “We have attended 109 road traffic collisions this year and unfortunately our Firefighters, along with our colleagues in the Emergency Services, have witnessed all too often the carnage on our roads and the lives completely destroyed caused by irresponsible driver behaviour such as drink driving, inattention and not wearing a seatbelt.  We fully support this joint road safety partnership to reduce the number of road traffic collisions occurring and the number of people killed and seriously injured as a result”

Fifteen people lost their lives on roads in the Cookstown, Fermaagh, Omagh, Dungannon and South Tyrone district areas this year so far, compared to seven last year. The Police Service of Northern Ireland also welcomes this forum and assures the community that they are all committed addressing the issue of road safety. PSNI Chief Constable Sue Ann Steen said “The pain of avoidable deaths such as those on our roads touches family, friends and communities right across Cookstown, Dungannon and South Tyrone, Fermanagh and Omagh and beyond. Each victim represents a tragic loss for individual families and friends. I do not want officers knocking on doors at any time of the year, but especially over Christmas and the New Year, to tell families that a loved one has been killed on the roads”.

Chief Constable Steen concluded “If everyone slowed down, did not drive after drinking or taking drugs, wore a seatbelt and drove with greater care and attention then together we can reduce this preventable carnage on our roads.”

Pic: Members of the multiagency Joint Road Safety Forum (l-r) Rosemary Barton, Fermanagh PCSP, Frances Burton, Dungannon PCSP, Gary Harkness, Cookstown PCSP, PSNI Chief Inspector Sue Ann Steen, Fiona Crawford, Dungannon PCSP, Eamon O’Hagan, Station Commander, NIFRS, Roger Burton, Dungannon PCSP and Errol Thompson, Omagh PCSP

Gardai to get new powers to test for drug driving

Gardaí are to get new powers to test for drug driving at checkpoints. The Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has confirmed that tenders will issue early next year for a new roadside device to test motorists for illegal drugs and medicines that can impair driving.

The device will test a driver’s saliva for the presence of illegal drugs, and if the sample is found to be positive, the driver will be brought to a Garda Station for a blood sample for further analysis.

To date, it has been difficult for the Gardai to detect drug driving as it is more challenging to test for than alcohol. This is due to multiple substances being tested for and the quantities consumed. Minister Varadkar believes a number of roadside devices which are available to the Medical Bureau of Road Safety to test for samples from drivers for intoxicants will withstand legal scrutiny.

The new legislation being introduced in the New Year for roadside drug testing will strengthen the legal provisions relating to driving in an impaired state after taking drugs. Drug driving is currently an offence but the legislation does not specify an allowable level nor does it distinguish between legal and illegal substances. It simply states there must be a proven impairment due to a drug.

Equipment can test for some, but not all, of the seven most commonly detected drugs so impairment tests will still be required. The drugs most commonly detected in motorists are Cannabis and benzodiazepines. The benzodiazepine class includes prescription medicines such as diazepam and alprazolam while other drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines, amphetamines, opiates and methadone are also detected.

Prosecution for drug driving is based on proof of an intoxicant being found and evidence from a Garda that the motorist’s ability to drive was impaired. Cannabis and benzodiazepines are the drugs most commonly detected in motorists, but others include cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamines, opiates and methadone.

The news comes as road deaths in Ireland have reached over 188 so far this year, an increase on road deaths last year.

Emergency service radio networks compromised by pirate radio signals

Police, fire and ambulance radio communication systems were severely compromised when
pirate radio and TV stations began to broadcast across Ireland in the 1980’s.

Confidential documents released from the state archives showed that illegal radio stations
had caused serious interference within the Irish emergency and transport
services. In April 1983, the Government was determined to increase fines to clamp down on
the rising number of pirate stations.

While interference was caused to the Garda, ambulance and fire brigade radio networks, there was also disruption to airport fire services, taxiing aircraft and aircraft immediately after take-off.
Dublin Airport had reported a total of 22 incidents in 1982 where radio frequency interference was recorded.

Fire at Limerick Prison – Two Prison officers recovering

It has emerged that two Prison Officers are recovering after a fire at Limerick Prison on Thursday night last. It is understood the fire which broke out in the control room at the prison may have been as a result of an electrical fault.

The incident occurred at around 11.30pm

Three Units of Limerick City Fire and Rescue Service were alerted to the incident and contained the fire in the control room area.  Both prison officers suffered smoke inhalation during the fire and were taken to University Hospital Limerick where they’re condition was described as ‘stable’.

No prisoners were evacuated during the incident which only lasted a short time.