Full report into delays in mobilising Aer Corp to fight West Donegal gorse fires demanded by Pat the Cope

Published on: 23 April 2019

Fianna Fáil TD for Donegal and Leas Cheann Comhairle Pat the Cope Gallagher has demanded a full written report into the circumstances which lead to a seven-hour delay in mobilising the Aer Corp helicopters to fight the West Donegal gorse fires.

Deputy Gallagher commented, “It is absolutely shocking the delays which occurred before the Aer Corp helicopter arrived on the scene of the gorse fires in West Donegal, the delay in mobilising the helicopter certainly left the entire situation very dangerous, and potentially threatening to numerous properties and indeed life in the areas of the fires.

“The efforts of Donegal Fire Service have to be publicly acknowledged along with the massive number of local volunteers who fought the fire for hours, and the numerous farmers who provided slurry tanks for quenching the fires. A private helicopter was also on site from earlier in the afternoon which was arranged by Donegal County Council. When the Aer Corp helicopter did arrive, it played a significant role in controlling the fire. But, the issue here is why it took a full 7 hours to get the helicopter cover, which was so badly needed earlier in order to control this raging inferno that threatened property and life in West Donegal.

“The initial alarm and emergency call for Aer Corp assistance was made by Donegal County Council at 9.30 am, that was followed shortly afterwards by myself contacting the Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe. I maintained constant contact with the Minister and Officials, unfortunately the contact was all initiated from me, and very little response was being returned by them to me in the course of the day.

“What is devastating for all of us involved in this sequence of events is that it took 7 hours to get the helicopter on site. Critical and crucial time was lost whereby the fire could have been better managed had the numerous firefighters and local volunteers got the Aer Corp support.

“I am immediately demanding of An Taoiseach & Minister for Defence Leo Varadkar along with Minister of State Paul Kehoe to order a full written report as to the background and circumstances which lead to this totally unacceptable delay in getting air cover to fight this gorse fire in West Donegal. It is simply just not good enough that such a delay could occur. Critical time was lost in fighting this fire with the necessary Air Support that was so desperately needed and was going to be required to manage a fire of this magnitude.

“Serious breaches of protocols have occurred here in this case. We are fortunate that no lives were lost, only for the fact of the massive local voluntary effort along with the entire Donegal Fire Service being on site working endlessly to fight this fire, massive property loss would have occurred albeit one house was lost to the fire.

“The Defence Minister and the Minister of State need now to conduct this examination into what exactly occurred here, compile a detailed report into the circumstances and make it known publicly. Otherwise, it is only a matter of time until a similar situation arises again, and we cannot countenance a similar massive time delay in mobilising the Aer Corp in the interests of public safety.

“We must learn from the massive mistakes of today’s fire and ensure that robust protocols are in place that better manages wild fires – by insuring that Aer Corp cover is provided when requested by a Fire Service within an acceptable time along with Army support, these will be the basic requirements of any agreed protocol,” concluded Pat the Cope.

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