Ambulance service orders safety check after fatal explosion

Oxygen cylinder may have caused ambulance fire that killed patient outside Naas hospital

The scene at Naas General Hospital after a fatal explosion inside an ambulance. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The scene at Naas General Hospital after a fatal explosion inside an ambulance. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The National Ambulance Service has ordered a safety check on all oxygen containers in vehicles after an explosion in the back of an ambulance yesterday left a patient dead and two paramedics injured.

Three separate investigations are underway into the fatal incident outside Naas General Hospital in Co Kildare.

The Garda Síochána, the Health and Safety Authority and the Health Service Executive are investigating the fire which broke out as the ambulance was unloading the elderly patient at the door of the hospital’s emergency department at about 1.30pm.

Action notice

“As a result, the National Ambulance Service is issuing an immediate safety action notice to ensure all oxygen is checked and has also directed its supplier to undertake a programme of checks on the oxygen in our ambulances.

“Staff have also been asked to re-familiarise themselves with the emergency ambulance evacuation procedures,” it said.

The two injured paramedics, both men, were initially treated at Naas hospital. One of the men suffered severe head, face, torso and arm burns and was later transferred to the burns unit of St James’s Hospital in Dublin.

The second man, who was suffering from shock, was discharged after treatment at Naas hospital.

The ambulance had just arrived at Naas hospital and was backed up to the entrance of the emergency department, with its back doors open and a hydraulic ramp in position, when the fire broke out.

HSE director general Tony O’Brien, who arrived at the scene yesterday afternoon, said hospital workers and paramedics had fought hard to rescue the patient but were beaten back by the flames.

The man’s family were being comforted at the hospital last night.

The family were said to be extremely shocked and the hospital asked the media to respect their privacy.

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He said one theory being examined was that an oxygen cylinder in the ambulance exploded, starting the blaze.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he was numbed when he heard about “this terrible tragedy”.

He visited the hospital to extend his sympathies to the family of the deceased.

“I also wanted to support the incredible efforts of the staff on what was an extremely difficult and upsetting day, and to convey my hope of a full recovery to the injured paramedic staff.”

Pictures on social media showed a large plume of grey smoke rising from the ambulance which caught fire, while passersby said flames could be seen coming from the vehicle.

The hospital’s major emergency plan was put in place and parts of it were evacuated. The emergency department had closed but reopened at 9pm.

Existing emergency department patients were treated in a temporary area set up elsewhere in the hospital, while incoming patients were directed to Tallaght or Portlaoise hospitals.

Workers at the hospital expressed shock at what had happened, with a number saying they had not been aware of an explosion and only heard of the fire when alarms sounded.