Some breathing kits used by firefighters to enter blazing buildings in Northern Ireland have developed faults, it was revealed.
The manufacturer is examining two sets after defects were found during routine testing. There is no immediate risk to firefighters or members of the public and the ability to respond to emergencies has not been compromised, with almost 600 other pieces of the equipment available, the fire service said.
The defective kits were supplied by a German-owned firm, which has contracts with other fire services in the UK.
SDLP MLA John Dallat said: “I am seeking reassurance that the Fire Authority has got the proper management of that particular resource in place and that there is no risk to firemen and that in the event of a major incident where breathing apparatus is required, that it is functional and available and that there is someone competent to say that it is safe.”
The equipment, an oxygen tank connected to a face mask, allows firefighters to carry their own air supply into a burning building, protecting them from the deadly effect of smoke.
Sets are tested regularly, often twice a day and before entering the location of a fire, because if something goes wrong while a firefighter is engaged in an operation he or she could die.
Jim Barbour, a representative of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in Northern Ireland, said: “Breathing apparatus and its effective use is absolutely intrinsic to providing a rescue capacity and safe systems of work for firefighters.”
He added the union was extremely concerned about the faults.
“However we understand that the Brigade have initiated an investigation into this, they have contacted the suppliers and the Brigade has taken steps across Northern Ireland to mitigate any potential risk.
“At this stage there is no immediate risk to local firefighters or the public.”
The breathing apparatus is supplied by Drager, a Lubeck-based firm with operations around the world, which is conducting an investigation.
A statement on its website said: “All Drager employees carry the responsibility of protecting lives. After all, whenever our products are used, people entrust us with their most valued possession - their life.”
It said this responsibility applied to ensuring quality of life for years to come.
A spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said: “We can confirm that defects have been found in routine testing of two firefighter breathing apparatus (BA) sets. We have notified the manufacturer and they are carrying out tests on the sets.
“Operational response and firefighter safety has not been compromised.
“While we await the results, all personnel have been reminded of the requirement for systems and processes in checking their individual BA sets.
“This is the first time defects of this type have been reported in any of our 600 BA sets which firefighters test regularly as part of our safe systems of work and carry out ‘pre entry’ testing before entering a building during an incident.”