CITY councillor Jim Long has warned that lives may be lost unless a stand-off between the HSE and the local authority over charges is resolved.
The fire service - run by Limerick City Council - is billing the HSE for call-outs to road traffic accidents where casualties have to be cut free from wreckage.
While talks are ongoing between the National Ambulance Service, the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management and the Department for Local Government, a fire unit is no longer automatically dispatched to an emergency call out.
And Cllr Long fears this could lead to a fatality.
“It means that up to a few months ago [for] any road traffic accident which came into the system, the fire tender would be deployed in case there were people trapped in the vehicle. That operation is no longer automatic. It is now up to the discretion of the ambulance crew or the gardai when they arrive at the scene,” Cllr Long explained when contacted by the Limerick Leader.
He predicted that the Fire Service is billing the HSE around €200 a time.
But the fact the fire service does not travel out with the ambulance is the real problem, Cllr Long argued.
“In the event of a major accident, it would take another ten minutes to deploy the emergency service vehicle after the ambulance has arrived at the scene. This is a needless delay. In a road accident, time is of the essence. A car could catch fire in two minutes. If there are people trapped in the car, and it goes into a blaze, there is no qualified person there to tackle that fire,” he said.
The city south Fine Gael councillor called for a return “to the status quo”: to deploy the fire tender with the ambulance once the call comes in.
“If it is a road traffic accident, use it. And if it is not required, send it away,” he said.
The discussions between the National Ambulance Service and the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management are with the aim to come to an agreement on when the service can request fire fighter service without being billed.
Although these began a number of weeks ago, there does not appear to have been any breakthrough.
Cllr Long urged City Council to “step into the breach and sort this out”.
An HSE spokesman, however, said: “Various Local Authorities have traditionally provided this type of assistance however, in recent years the HSE has in some circumstances been presented with bills from the Fire Service for assisting patients.”