Thomas Pringle TD

Why the delay in deploying helicopters and backup to tackle Donegal gorse fires?

For Written Answer on : 08/05/2019
Question Number(s): 67 Question Reference(s): 19550/19
Department: Defence
Asked by: Thomas Pringle T.D.


To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the reason requested helicopters and backup had not arrived in a timely manner to combat the gorse fires in the Rosses, County Donegal; if emergency plans and protocols will be put in place to deal with similar future incidences; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


The Deputy will be aware that the principal response agency designated to respond to fire emergencies is the Fire Service, under the responsibility of the relevant Local Authority.

The availability of the Air Corps to support principal response agencies is dependent upon a number of factors including the availability of suitable aircraft, the availability of flying crews and the suitability of weather conditions for flying.

On the day referred to by the Deputy, the Air Corps performed numerous tasks including delivery of the Emergency Aeromedical Service provided to the HSE operating out of Athlone and the Garda Air Support Unit operating out of Baldonnel. However, as is well known, Pilot and other Air Corps specialist shortages have reduced the Air Corps availability to perform certain non-routine tasks on an ‘as available’ basis.  In exceptional circumstances, the Air Corps can recall personnel, though this can take a number of hours to effect.

This recall was activated when a request for support came in from the Chief Fire Officer in Donegal through the National Directorate of Fire and Emergency Management in the Department of Housing Planning and Local Government for assistance.  The Air Corps moved immediately to assemble the necessary personnel.  This required pilots and crew with the necessary training on the use of the specialised firefighting equipment (bambi bucket) as well as other specialist personnel. This took some time as some of the crew assembled from their time off, from a distance, but was achieved as quickly as possible in the circumstances with no unnecessary delay.

The policy lead in relation to fire-fighting rests with National Directorate of Fire and Emergency Management in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and any proposal relating to the establishment of a dedicated aerial fire-fighting service will need their consideration.