Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher has called for a change in protocol to the Aer Corps response to emergency situations.
It follows a delay in scrambling personnel to tackle the recent wildfires in West Donegal.
An official report into the delay found that a lack of crews on standby was the reason for the delay
Now Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher wants a full rethink of the protocols surrounding the tasking of Aer Corps personnel in such situations.
He said “I am calling on the Minister for Defence and An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to take personal charge of this situation as the line Minister of the Department of Defence and immediately put in place a programme for restoring numbers within the Aer Corp in order that these situations never arise again.
“It will also be necessary in the future, even though it was not mentioned in the report that if delays of longer than one hour occur then the Department of Defence should be obliged to call in helicopters from the private sector; this was very successfully done by Donegal County Council in order to fight the recent fires.
“Therefore, I am proposing that the current protocols are amended to facilitate the emergency drafting in of private helicopters.
“It is critical once the alarm is raised by the local authority fire services that no time is wasted in getting a helicopter out to fight these wildfires otherwise we run the risks of serious fire damage and the potential loss of life.”
He added that he accepts that procedures were fully followed in the initial raising of the alarm and that the Aer Corp immediately moved to assemble a crew.
Unfortunately, there were no crews on call or on standby due to cuts in numbers of fully trained crews available to the Aer Corp at present.
He adds that the report furnished to him directly references the call from assistance from Donegal Fire Officers; (on page two, contained in part 8 of report.)
Teh report says “The request for helicopter fire support was actioned immediately on receipt in the Department of Defence from the National Directorate of Fire and Emergency Management (DHPLG). The Air Corps have confirmed that they moved immediately to assemble a crew.
“This required pilots and crew with the necessary training on the use of the specialised firefighting equipment (bambi bucket). This took some time as some of the crew assembled from their time off, but was achieved as quickly as possible in the circumstances. ”
He addes that in the conclusion of the Report which was compiled on foot of his public request for an explanation into the over 7-hour delay in getting helicopter cover to fight the wildfires, it expresses further concern.
The report adds “In no way diminishing the concerns caused by the recent fire event, Defence Forces helicopter support was deployed as quickly as possible in the current circumstances for an “as available” capability.
“The capability of the Air Corps is diminished with the loss of experienced personnel. The Emergency Aeromedical Service (EAS) and Garda Air Support Unit (GASU ) are prioritised. Every effort is being made to return to full capability and to manage risk. A return to capability will take some time.”
Pat the Cope Gallagher added it is self-evident that the massive delays in mobilising of an aircrew to fight the wildfires in Donegal last April, was due to lack of an available call-up crew, as there was no standby crew on duty due to cuts in personnel numbers.Tags: