Emergency Services: which service do you require?

You need fire and ambulance service? Choose one.

In July 2012, a 2-seater light aircraft landed in a ditch, short of the runway at Newcastle Airfield, Co. Wicklow, Ireland. Fuel spilled into the ditch, but fortunately did not ignite. Although the plane was destroyed, the occupants were uninjured. If you’re interested, you can read the accident report here.


When the understandably distressed pilot called the number for the emergency services and was asked which service he required, he said “everything”. Not unreasonably, he felt that police, fire and ambulance services were all needed at the scene. Urgently.

When forced to choose, he requested an ambulance and the call was put through to the ambulance service.

25 minutes later, someone at the airfield made a second emergency call, this time requesting “Garda and Fire brigade”. Again, the caller was forced to choose, was put through to the gardaí, and was advised to tell them that a fire service was required.

Meanwhile, around half an hour after the accident Dublin Fire Brigade finally received notification of the crash by unofficial means (someone at the airfield contacted an acquaintance in a local fire station, and that person contacted Dublin). Dublin Fire Brigade mobilised a response, which arrived 20 minutes later. If there had been a fire, it would presumably have burned itself out by then, incinerating the aircraft and any unfortunate person trapped inside.


It seems incredible that such a flawed system continues to operate. If a plane crashes in a field somewhere, a single phone call should suffice to mobilise the immediate dispatch of ambulance and fire service to the scene.

The air accident investigation unit made a single recommendation:

[...]the Emergency Call Answering Service service 
provider and the emergency services to consider putting procedures 
in place which ensure that emergency calls related to air accidents are 
notified immediately to all of the emergency services.

Unless and until that happens, an injured person trapped in a burning aircraft will be faced with the difficult choice, “which service do you require?”


3 thoughts on “Emergency Services: which service do you require?

  1. It’s certainly incredible that you can have ambulance or fire service but you cannot have both. It’s unbelieveable that the person taking the call felt unable to use their own discretion when the situation was explained to them.

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