Court hears Dublin City firefighters equipment 'faulty'

Tuesday 21 January 2014 17.52
Matters were brought to a head following a fire in Thomas Court earlier on this month
Matters were brought to a head following a fire in Thomas Court earlier on this month

A body representing Dublin City firefighters has claimed that essential breathing equipment used in emergency situations is faulty and unsafe to use.

The Irish Fire and Emergency Service Association told the High Court it is extremely concerned about "regular failures" of the Scott ACS FX BA breathing apparatus, supplied by Dublin City Council.

Firefighters require the equipment so they can breathe freely in smoke filled environments.

It says that matters were brought to a head earlier this month when the breathing equipment being used by two firefighters failed while they were tacking a blaze in Thomas Court, off Thomas Street, Dublin 8.

Despite making complaints about the apparatus, they claim nothing has been done by DCC to alleviate their concerns.

They want the sets removed from service until the safety of firefighters using them can be assured and an investigation conducted into why a number of the breathing sets have failed.

The association and three of its members, John Kidd, Ross MacCobb and Geoff Tracey, have launched High Court proceedings against Dublin City Council.

They are seeking injunctions restraining the use of the Scott ACS FX breathing apparatus in the course of their duties as firefighters until the equipment has been tested and deemed safe to use by independent competent persons.

They also seek injunctions requiring DCC to withdraw all its current stock of the breathing apparatus in question until it is deemed safe to use, and that DCC is restrained by the court from providing firefighters with breathing apparatus sets that are unsafe to use.

They also want the court to compel DCC to consult with the union and its safety representatives in relation to equipment supplied to firefighters in the course of their employment.

The application came before Mr Justice Paul Gilligan, who granted permission to serve short notice of the injunction proceedings on the defendants. Permission was granted on an ex-parte basis.

After reading sworn statements including one from a firefighter whose breathing equipment failed while tacking a blaze, the judge said he was satisfied the matter was "sufficiently urgent" where a short return date was merited.

The judge made the action returnable to Thursday of this week.

Paul McGarry, SC for the firefighters and the union, said that matters were brought to head a earlier this month.

Counsel said his clients' concerns about the equipment were communicated to DCC, however, these communications had been ignored.

In an affidavit one of the firefighters whose breathing apparatus had failed, Mr Tracey, said in the early hours of 5 January last while tackling a fire at Thomas Court he experienced "a complete failure of air supply causing the face mask on his equipment to collapse".

At the same time one of his colleagues, who was also using the Scott ACS FX, had a similar problem.

Both were required to exit the burning building in a hurry. Mr Tracey said both he and his colleague were extremely distressed at what had happened and were fortunate that they were able to escape from the building in time.

He said that he is "extremely worried about the breathing equipment, which is the only means in which he can breathe while fighting a fire failed in such circumstances".

IFESA national chairperson John Kidd said 300 of the Scott ACS FX BA sets came into service in 2011.

During its first few weeks of service, reports were received that several sets had failed. By early 2012, 60 sets were taken out of service.

He also told the court that several other sets have failed since. The Health and Safety Authority were informed, he added.

However since the incident at Dolphins Barn, he said the IFESA is "no longer prepared to tolerate the use by DCC of equipment manifestly unsuitable and liable to fail at such an alarming rate".