EMERGENCY 999 call operators have threatened strike action over “critical safety concerns” at the Limerick communication centre that dispatches firefighters to emergencies.
Sources at the Munster Regional Control Centre (MRCC), which is attached to the Limerick City Fire Station in Mulgrave Street, said they fear someone will die on their watch because of serious anomalies with the software system they have been using since October 2021.
The operators, who control fire service responses in the south of Ireland, claim these concerns have been ignored for several months by Limerick City and County Council, which has ultimate responsibility for the service.
The main issues include problems with mapping, dropped calls and integration with the fire service communication system.
A reliable source described the situation as “a shit-show”.
“If we mess up, someone dies. It will be cold comfort to anyone if they’re told ‘oh there’s a glitch in the system’.
“It’s the operators who will have to live with that, so they are stressed out of their heads,” said the source.
“It is a health and safety issue, not only for the public, but for ourselves, and there are people in there for 20 years and they’re in tears in work, because they can’t get the communication system to do what they need it to do”.
One source said that up to €14 million was spent on implementing the system, but they described it as “a disaster”.
“The controllers who have highlighted these issues have been told ‘move along, nothing to see here’.”
A source said there have been “a lot of near misses” over the past eight months “but as has been expressed to the Council, you can only get away with this for so long”.
“There have been relatively innocuous 999-calls which have dropped mid-way through, however the next call after that could be something like an infant in cardiac arrest. You can imagine if the call dropped during that, and that’s what we would class as a near miss, and there have had a lot of near misses. You can only push your luck for so long”.
Sources said they fear “someone will die” unless operator concerns are immediately addressed.
A statement released by the SIPTU trade union said its members “will ballot for industrial action if there is a failure to take immediate steps to resolve critical safety concerns relating to the operation of the software system”.
SIPTU Organiser, Suzanna Griffin, said controllers have been highlighting their concerns for the past eight months.
“We met with Limerick City and County Council senior management on Friday, May 6 about these issues. At that meeting there was a commitment that management would revert to our members concerning what actions would be taken to resolve these issues within a week.
Unfortunately, we are yet to receive a response,” she said.
“This has left our members with no option other than to move towards a ballot for industrial action in order to ensure that steps are taken to ensure the effective operation of fire services in the Munster region and public safety,” Ms Griffin added.
In a letter to the executive of Limerick City and County Council on May 20, SIPTU Organiser Con Casey called for urgent action to rectify serious problems highlighted by SIPTU members.
“Our members have for several months been highlighting serious problems with the roll-out and operation of the new CTRi software system in the MRCC.
“This has resulted in a number of serious incidents which have significantly affected the proper operation of the MRCC and, as a result, fire services within the Munster region,” said Mr Casey.
“Despite commitments from the management of Limerick City and County Council to resolve these issues, our members have yet to see any appropriate action.
“SIPTU members in the MRCC have given a two-week deadline for appropriate measures to be put in place to resolve these issues or they will immediately move to ballot for industrial action, up to and including strike action,” added Mr Casey.
Limerick City and County Council has been asked for a response.