Response to Wexford hospital fire shows staff were well trained, says expert

Critical element of fire safety in buildings is that staff conduct regular exercises, says former Dublin Fire Brigade officer

The response to the fire at Wexford General Hospital could be seen as “a win”, according to a former assistant chief fire officer with Dublin Fire Brigade, Eamon O’Boyle.

The fire, which appears to have broken out in a plant room in the roof of the hospital, where boilers and other types of equipment are located, led to more than 200 patients being evacuated and part of the roof of the hospital caving in.

“From the world I live in, albeit very disruptive for everybody, [the response] was sort of a success in a way, in that the fire spread was limited. Based on the reports I’ve seen, [it] was limited to the plant room that was up in the roof area,” said Mr O’Boyle. “It was a win from that point of view.”

A former Dublin Fire Brigade officer, Mr O’Boyle is now the managing director of Eamon O’Boyle and Associates, which carries out fire safety assessments of buildings in a range of sectors, including healthcare. A critically important element of fire safety in buildings such as hospitals is that the staff conduct regular exercises in what to do when the alarm is raised, he said.


“It seems in Wexford that they were pretty well exercised in what to do in emergencies. There is always a period of chaos when these things happen, but they seem to have gotten on top of the chaos fairly quickly.”

“They figured out what to do. There was probably one good decision made. That was to evacuate the hospital. Everything flowed from that.”

Buildings where people sleep, such as hospitals, nursing homes, hotels and apartment blocks, are considered among the most challenging by fire safety engineers, and there is an ongoing process of updating codes based on experience, including examinations of events such as the fire in Wexford General Hospital.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) conducts regular inspections of hospitals and nursing homes with fire safety being among the issues considered. The process, said Mr O’Boyle, “drives compliance” with fire safety in the private nursing home sector.

A review by The Irish Times of recent Hiqa inspection reports found only one since January 2022 that raised a concern in relation to fire safety in a hospital.

An inspection of Mayo University Hospital in August of last year found patients on corridors in the emergency department, some of whom were close to fire exits, and a ward where an additional bed was positioned so that it was a potential obstacle to accessing a fire exit. The latter bed was “decommissioned” pending a review by a fire officer, the report said.

In January, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) called for a fire safety review at Cork University Hospital following a fire in the emergency department that was quickly extinguished by a member of staff. Overcrowding in the emergency department and in the hospital generally was an issue in terms of fire safety, a representative of the INMO said at the time.

In the same month, concerns were expressed about University Hospital Limerick where the numbers attending the emergency department have at times exceeded the cap on patients and trolleys agreed with the local fire safety officer.

The Limerick Fire Service has threatened to prosecute the hospital for breaches of the capacity limits imposed on the emergency department, and has been monitoring the attendance levels.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act in 2019 showed the fire service repeatedly expressing concern about breaches of the capacity limits at the hospital’s emergency department. In correspondence with Limerick’s chief fire officer at the time, a senior executive with the hospital group said that if Limerick hospital observed the cap, it would “force a decision to close or divert services outside the Midwest which will affect the public, creating clinical risk and a threat to life or limb”.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent