The emergency telephone exchange in Leuven has been blamed for delays in dispatching fire engines that may have cost the lives of two girls aged 15 and 18 at the weekend. The two girls were in a microcar with two friends when it collided with another vehicle in the early hours of Saturday morning in the commune of Sint-Genesius-Rode in Flemish Brabant.
A microcar is a type of quadricycle that resembles a normal car, but weighs less than 425kg and is restricted to speeds of 45 km/h. It does not require a driving licence to operate.
According to some reports, the two girls who died, 18-year-old Alix Koerperich and 15-year-old June Michiels, might have been saved if emergency services had arrived at the scene more rapidly.
According to Eric Labourdette of the public services union SLFP-AFRC,the fault lies with the exchange in Leuven which handles emergency calls made to the number 100.
The accident took place at 0105, and the first call came into the Leuven exchange at 0107, he explained. The exchange contacted the Walloon Brabant centre at 0113 to dispatch two ambulances, despite the fact that the accident scene is in Flemish Brabant. Then, when it became clear two of the girls in the microcar were trapped, fire services were sent out from the Chênaie fire station in Uccle in Brussels, 5km from the scene. They were dispatched at 0127 and arrived at 0133 – 26 minutes after the first emergency call.
“Clearly there was an error on the part of the 100 exchange in Leuven,” Labourdette said. “I do not want to attack the operators personally, but their rules are too strict, too narrow and do not allow for initiative. Either the training given by the federal government to the staff of the 100 exchange needs to be urgently reviewed, or the exchange has been guilty of incompetence and should be prosecuted for serious negligence in the provision of emergency assistance.”
Federal home affairs minister Pieter De Crem, whose office is in charge of the emergency services, issued a brief denial: “All of the emergency services were alerted immediately, in accordance with the principle of providing sufficient assistance as quickly as possible.”