Investigation launched into Dublin Fire Brigade handling of Portmarnock sewerage tragedy

AN INVESTIGATION has been launched into Dublin Fire Brigade’s handling of the recent Portmarnock sewerage tragedy in which two men died.

It is likely to take up to six weeks and was instituted by DFB because three crew were injured during the June 10 mission to rescue Alan and Stephen Harris. Two of those fire fighters only only returned to work Saturday. A third is due to return tomorrow.

All three had not been passed fit for work after they ended up being covered in raw sewerage during their bid to rescue Alan and Stephen. The Harris brothers died after they separately succumbed to fumes while they were working to clear a blockage in the sewerage system on the Drumnigh Wood Estate, in Portmarnock, north County Dublin.

Drainage company Harris Drain Tech director Alan, 45, was the first of the two to fall into the sewerage system.

Alan Harris of Harris Drain Tech
Alan Harris

He is believed to have been about half way down the 12-meter shaft when he collapsed. His younger brother and part-time actor Stephen, 32, raced down after his brother to try and save him but he too succumbed to the fumes. While Alan died at the scene, paramedics managed to revive Stephen but he tragically died two two days later.

Fire crew had to strip naked in front of onlookers.

Because three fire fighters were injured, Dublin Fire Brigade has launched an internal inquiry, which is due to take about six weeks. Sources say there are issues over why various protective or rescue equipment were either not used at all or only for a portion of the DFB’s rescue mission.

Stephen Harris of Harris Drain Tech
Stephen Harris

For example, although dry suits were at the scene, they were not used. This is because a decision was taken to send the fire fighters down to try and save the Harris brothers’ lives as quickly as possible.

All three crew who went into the sewer ended up being – according to sources – ‘almost entirely covered’ in raw sewage. They went down dressed in their standard-issue fire wellington boots, fire trousers and fire tunics.

While the trousers and tunics have certain thermal properties to give wearers some protection against extreme heat, they are neither fire retardant or water proof. Had they worn dry suits, they would have been protected against the sewage.

In addition, because there was no contamination suite erected at the scene of the tragedy, all three had to strip naked. Watched by onlookers, including school children, their colleagues then hosed them down.

They were later taken to Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital for injections and tests in the same ambulance.

It has also emerged that it was not possible to erect and operate the force’s Quad Pod rope haulage and harness system (pictured during a training exercise just days previously) to bring Stephen – the first of the two brothers to be brought up – to the surface.

Using the device greatly increases the speed with which casualties can be brought to the surface. Bystanders on the estate where the rescue was being conducted were used to help haul Stephen Harris to the surface because there wasn’t time or extra staff available to erect the force’s Quad Pod.

While the fire officers knew what they were doing, the bystanders who helped haul the first casualty up didn’t and pulled too fast. As a result, Stephen snagged half way and fell partially out of the rope hold he was in and on top of one of the fire fighters, dislodging his breathing apparatus.

However, when the Quad Pod was erected and a harness used, Alan was brought to the surface without incident. It has also emerged that the two fire engines and one rescue tender with a crane and specialist equipment sent to scene were each a man down.

As a result, the number of designated fire crew tasked with specifically rescuing the Harris brothers from the sewerage system totalled 12 – five on board Delta 61 fire engine, four on-board Delta 41 fire engine, two on board Delta 35 rescue tender and one district officer.

Because D61 came from Kilbarrack, which is a one-pump fire station, the vehicle should have had six crew on board and D41 should have had five crew on board as it came from North Strand, which is a two-pump station.

Fire crews practiced near-identical rescue days before Portmarnock tragedy

D35 should have had three crew on board as it came from Phibsboro, which is also a two-pump station.

While there were 12 crew designated to rescue the Harris brothers, a further six were designated to tend to them when they were each brought to the surface before taking them to hospital.

In addition, one DFB crew member was used to drive an advanced paramedic vehicle containing three National Ambulance Service paramedics. A senior officer later attended the scene.

So, of the total of 20 DFB at the scene, about 13 were directly involved in the rescue while a further six tended to casualties.

This contrasts with the estimated 19 DFB crew who took part in a training exercise (pictured above) just days earlier in the grounds of Dublin’s iconic Poolbeg Generating Station.

The object of that training exercise was to rescue a single casualty trapped and injured in a confined space, deep below ground. Three fire engines – Deltas 31, 32 and 11 attended with a total of 15 crew on board.

A further three fire crew on board the rescue tender Delta 35 – the same vehicle used in Portmarnock – are believed to have attended the training exercise.

In addition, a Dublin Fire Brigade district officer attended. The exercise was almost identical to the real-life incident in Portmarnock.

‘Number of personnel attending and weight of response to incident was appropriate’

Asked why fire crew had not worn dry suits, a Dublin City Council spokesperson confirmed there had been dry suits on site but said: ‘Following a dynamic risk assessment carried out by the incident commander, it was decided to carry out an immediate rescue to save valuable time in effecting the rescue.’

When asked about the fact that the Quad Pod was not used for the first rescue, they added: ‘The setting up of the quad pod would have taken up valuable time which would have delayed the rescue effort for the first casualty.’

A Dublin City Council spokesperson said: ‘Dublin City Council extends its deepest sympathies to the families of the Harris brothers who died following the tragic incident in Portmarnock.

‘One Fire-fighter who had his face mask dislodged felt nauseous and at this point is was decided that he and the other two Firefighters should be taken to hospital as a precaution.

‘It is reasonable in these circumstances that all three Firefighters travelled in the same vehicle. Additional Ambulances could have been requested at any stage during the incident

‘A total of 20 Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB) Fire-fighters/Officers attended the incident including a senior on-call Fire-Officer. The number of personnel attending and the weight of response to this incident was appropriate and in line with pre-determined attendance.

‘To help ensure appropriate resources are available DFB operates a minimum manning level which is maintained through staff management procedures.

‘This incident was not designated a hazardous-material incident (based on the data received from initial call). As a result, the hazardous-material unit was not mobilised.

‘All front line vehicles have a primary decontamination capability which was used in this case. The number of appliances and personnel who respond to an incident is based on the information provided by the caller to the control room.

‘There is a PDA (Pre-Determined Attendance) for each incident type which is dispatched by the controller, at this incident the response was appropriate and in accordance with PDA as stated previously.

‘In all training the goal is to maximise the learning outcomes, as a result the Officer in Charge of a training exercise ensures as many as possible can attend. The number of personnel at a training exercise is not an indicator of how many personnel are required at an actual incident.’

They added: ‘Of the three Fire-fighters who were referred to hospital for assessment, two are expected to return to their normal shift (on) 27th June. The third Fire-fighter has been confirmed fit for duty from Monday, 29th June’.

Do you have a news story? Email randomirish @ icloud . com

Enniscorthy at night.

Random shots of Co Wexford town of Enniscorthy . . .

Irish Army Syria training

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WITH IRISH peacekeepers (pictured above) about to head off for their latest mission abroad, the Defences Forces were yesterday involved in pre-deployment training in advance of their forthcoming tour of duty in Syria.

Last month, they received authorisation from the Government to deploy with UNDOF, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, in the Golan Heights.

The 46th Infantry Group is deploying there on a mission established to supervise the implementation of an ‘Area of Separation’ and two equal zones of limited forces and armaments in the Golan Heights region between Syria and Israel.

The Irish contingent will constitute the Force Reserve Company and its tasks will be to provide Armoured Force Protection for UNDOF Personnel, to conduct regular patrolling of the Area of Separation and to provide mutual support to UNDOF elements located in Observation Posts throughout the Area of Separation.

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(More members of the search and clearance team)

Such a deployment is not without its risks. Last November, a platoon of Irish peacekeepers escaped unharmed when they were shelled in Syria yesterday.

The 39 soldiers were on escort duty when three shells landed within 200m of their convoy. And another ten shells landed near them on their way back to their base in the Golan Heights.

The men, who are mostly attached to the 2nd Brigade at Dublin’s Cathal Brugha Barracks, were with 24 other soldiers from the UN Disengagement Observer Force.

They had left their base at Faouar in a ten-vehicle convoy when they stumbled into a skirmish between government forces and rebels.

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Captain Brian Coughlan (pictured above), from Co Offaly, said last night: ‘Obviously there is a certain amount of apprehension but with the training we have all been conducting over the past few weeks and months, I believe we will be more than able to deal with the challenges we face.’

The 26-year-old engineering graduate will be running a specialist search and clearance team that will be tasked with eliminating road side bombs.

The 46th Infantry Group will be the third Irish contingent to deploy with UNDOF.

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It is comprised of 130 Irish personnel – comprising of 14 officers, a chaplain and 115 other ranks – and will constitute the Force Reserve Company of an overall UNDOF Mission strength of 1,250 troops.

Other states contributing military personnel to the mission include Fiji Islands, Philippines, India and Nepal.

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(Glen of Imaal today, Golan Heights tomorrow . . . )

Dublin Zoo baby elephant makes first appearance

DUBLIN ZOO have announced the birth of its second bull calf this year. And here he is.

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Following on from the last one born just six weeks ago, this little blighter weighed in at 70kg and has since grown to nearly a metre in height.

He was born after a staggering 22-month gestation period and will feed from his mother for a further FIVE years.

According to Dublin Zoo director Leo Oosterweghel, the other Asian elephant females in the herd at the zoo kneeled around this as-yet-un-named baby’s mother while she was giving birth.

He told the Irish Times: ‘I live in the zoo and I could hear them about 400 metres away.

‘When the calf was born, they gave him a little nudge and he stood up after seven minutes.

‘It all went extremely well.’

Dublin Lord Mayor Christy Burke has named October the Month of the Elephant in honour of the little new arrivals, who can be viewed on the zoo’s webcam.

Naming of the new calf is down to members of the public, who have been invited to send their suggestions to the Natural Confectionary Company – which sponsors the habitat where they live in the zoo.

Despite the obvious ‘ah’ factor here though, there are a few ethical issues to consider.

Asian elephants are an endangered species.

According to National Geographic, these elephants have been domesticated for centuries and ‘employed to move heavy objects, such as felled trees, to carry humans on their backs, and even to wage war’.

But their numbers are dwindling and are now listed as an endangered species by the Indian Government as well being included on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

Helping with their endangerment is the growth in the human population and resulting encroachment into their natural habitat, a reduction in areas exclusively reserved for them in the wild, poaching and an increase in railway-related accidents since the Indian government increased the size, speed and range of their railways.

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According to the World Wildlife Fund, the population of Asian elephants has dropped from 100,000 at the start of the 20th century by about 50% over the last 60-75 years.

The WWF also points out that about 20% of the world’s human population lives in or around the areas where Asian elephants live in the wild.

The number of Asian elephants living in the wild have now dwindled to somewhere between an estimated 25,600 and 32,750

One of the main solutions to arrest the Asian elephant population decline are what are known as ‘Elephant Corridors’, and Dublin Zoo funds a number of these.

According to its website, Dublin Zoo has been supporting Asian elephant conservation projects since 2008.

Then, it joined forces with the (Asian) Elephant Family charity and in 2010, along with them and the World Wildlife Trust of India, they funded research into establishing corridors in north east India.

The Dublin Zoo website states: ‘After preliminary studies, the Kalapahr-Daigurung corridor was selected for further investigation as it offered the best prospects of establishing a viable corridor and elephants regularly pass through this area.

‘This corridor would connect the Kalioni Reserve Forest and the Kaziranga National Park (biodiversity hotspot and World Heritage Site).

‘Local people have been surveyed about their use of the corridor, the local planning authorities have been notified of its presence and signage has been erected advising people to minimise their presence here and to take precautions if passing through.

‘Further ecological studies need to be conducted before the corridor is procured’.

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As well as working to set up these corridors, Dublin Zoo – recently voted one of the best in Europe –  is also very active in raising awareness of their plight.

It, for example, helps Elephant Family run the Elephant Parade Classroom Challenge in Ireland, an international fund-raising art competition.

But the whole issue of elephants in captivity is not without its critics.

Peta, for example, is currently running a campaign to ‘Get Elephants Out of Zoos’. And there is an emerging raft of studies which make observations about the ethics of keeping elephants in Zoos.

One of these is the ‘Compromised survivorship, fecundity and population persistence in zoo elephants’ research paper.

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An ‘extract’ from this study reads as follows:

‘Keeping elephants in zoos is extremely costly, yet does not yield self-sustaining populations. In Europe, which holds c. half the global zoo elephant population, a long-term decline of c.10% per year is expected in both species, if reliant on zoo-bred animals under historically prevailing conditions.

‘Fitness in zoos is compromised in several ways.

‘Compared with protected in situ populations (Burmese working Asians; Kenyan free-living Africans), zoo elephants show premature reproductive senescence and — despite improving adult survivorship for Africans — die earlier in adulthood than expected.

‘In Asian elephants, infant survivorship in zoos is also greatly reduced relative to Burmese elephants, and furthermore, zoo-born animals die earlier in adulthood than wild-caught conspecifics kept in zoos, via effects ‘programmed’ peri-natally. In this species, being transferred between zoos also increases mortality rates.

‘Both survival and fecundity would need to improve to attain self-sustaining zoo populations. Our findings demonstrate deficits in zoo elephant management, particularly for Asians, and implicate stress and obesity as likely problems.

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‘The welfare implications of captivity, and the relative cost and effectiveness of ex versus in situ conservation, determine the value of captive breeding for any given species.

‘Several species apparently thrive in zoo conditions and captive breeding has saved some from extinction.

‘However, ex situ conservation is typically costlier than in situ programs, captive-bred individuals often fare poorly in the wild and many species show reproductive failure and elevated mortality in captivity, raising ethical concerns particularly when stress is implicated.

‘Asian and African elephants (who can live up to about 60 years in the wild, according to National Geographic) exemplify such problems.

‘The zoo elephant populations of North America are non-self-sustaining, and require importation from range countries – a practice criticized by the IUCN.

‘Both species are naturally wide-ranging and socially complex,  and the large disparities between in situ and zoo environments have elicited concerns about elephant welfare in captivity.

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‘Furthermore, zoo elephants have troubling rates of lameness, infertility, infanticide, tuberculosis and Herpes.

‘Nevertheless many zoos argue that their elephants are vital for conservation, and that their viability is improving.

‘These arguments underpin commitments to spend very large sums relative to in situ conservation costs: around €40million per year in maintenance and, in the last decade, over €407million in facility upgrades worldwide.’

Why all of the above?

It’s sparked in part by a simple one-worded comment someone left on Random Irish Photos’ Instagram account.

‘Free’.

Contact: randomirishphotos @ iCloud.com

Bank of Ireland refuse to pass on ECB interest rate cut despite tax payers’ bail out

BANK of Ireland bosses are still refusing to pass on the European Central Bank’s 0.25 per cent base rate cut.

Despite receiving a hefty bailout from taxpayers, the bank’s bosses are continuing to ignore a call by the Government to change its rates in line with the ECB’s surprise 1.25 per cent rate.

Last night, a BoI spokesman repeated the same statement given on Thursday after AIB’s belated decision to pass the cut on to variable mortgage holders.

He said: ‘All our rates are under constant review.’

Ulster Bank, which has not been bailed out by taxpayers, is also refusing to pass on the reduction.

A spokesman said: ‘We keep all our products and services under continual review, having regard to our cost of funds.

‘Therefore, if the cost of funds goes down we would pass on those rates.’

Because it is not one of the bailed-out banks, Ulster Bank has not attracted as much anger as Bank of Ireland and AIB.

AIB had initially refused to cut rates. But after attending Wednesday’s meeting of the Economic Management Council with Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore, its bosses finally gave in to mounting pressure.

However, there been no contact between officials from Bank of Ireland or Ulster Bank and the Taoiseach since then.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said last night: ‘The arrogance of Bank of Ireland is extraordinary and utterly scandalous.

‘It is a complete outrage that a bank that was bailed out and would not be in existence if it wasn’t for public taxes should still refuse to give taxpayers’ relief.

‘They are only interested in the bottom line.’

Government press secretary Feargal Purcell said: ‘We’ve had the meeting with the banks and it’s down to them to consider it.

‘There has been a very clear message sent from the Government by the Taoiseach to the banks.’

Presidential candidates at RTE Frontline debate

Kitesurfing Dollymount Strand