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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

MEA councillors support MAGGIE’S CALL for increased Fire Service response



Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has backed an urgent motion in support of ‘Maggie’s Call’ for dispatch of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service to medical emergency calls in the Glens of Antrim.


The motion was proposed by Coast Road Sinn Fein Councillor James McKeown and seconded by Coast Road DUP Councillor Andrew Clarke at a meeting of the local authority on Monday evening (7 February).


Cllr McKeown told the meeting that more than 20,000 people have signed the petition to the Northern Ireland Assembly initiated by the parents of five-year-old Maggie Black who died tragically on December 1.



A P2 pupil at St John’s Primary School in Carnlough, Maggie was the daughter of Sheenagh and Brian Black.

The petition calls for “a guarantee that the Northern Ireland Fire Service (NIFRS) will be dispatched to emergency calls in Carnlough, Glenarm, the Glens of Antrim and all rural areas in Northern Ireland”.


It continues:


“On the morning of December 1, 2021 our lives changed forever, as we lost our innocent, fun-loving, beautiful ‘Wee Maggie’. She was the light of our lives, who made an impression on everyone she met. We as a family will never be able to put into words the impact of that morning’s events.


“Whilst we are under no illusion about the pressures and strains on the ambulance service, it is surely unacceptable that we had to wait one hour and ten minutes for an ambulance to arrive when our five-year-old daughter’s life was at stake.



“Fortunately, we contacted a family member, a local firefighter, to come to the scene, he then dispatched the fire crew. We are truly grateful for the medical expertise, professionalism and kindness demonstrated by the fire service.


“As first responders with lifesaving equipment we know that Maggie was given the best available support, this is the greatest comfort to us at this time.


“We as a family and our community are truly shocked, worried and saddened that the dispatch of the fire service is not an automatic response in these situations.


“Sadly, not everyone in our community will get access to this emergency medical assistance during the crucial “golden hour”.


This can ultimately mean the difference between life and death.


“We appeal to you in Maggie’s memory, to guarantee the mandatory dispatch of the fire service in emergency situations to support our vulnerable rural families and ultimately give us all the best chance of life.”



Cllr McKeown stressed that it is “not in any way a criticism of anybody”.


“It is a call for the Fire Service to be notified and allowed to attend an emergency call which is the case in England, Scotland, Wales and the 26 counties,” he said.


He indicated that discussions are taking place between the Ambulance Service and Fire Service.


“We need the council’s support to push this petition through,” he stated.


Seconding the motion, Cllr Clarke added: “There is something uniquely poignant in a parent burying a child.


“We grieve with the family. We pay tribute to their dignity and strength in trying to bring something positive from this loss.”


He went on to say that response times can potentially improve survival rates.


“Maggie’s call is not demanding an ambulance in every village.


“It is a proposal that deserves the most serious and urgent attention of the Health Minister.”



Cllr Clarke also urged the council to write to other local authorities to seek their support in lobbying Health Minister Robin Swann.


Coast Road Alliance councillor Alderman Gerardine Mulvenna said:


“Like the whole community, I was absolutely devastated and really saddened to hear of the death of wee Maggie. She was only five.


“What happened was every mother’s and father’s nightmare. It was just devastating throughout the whole community.”


She went on to say that this dispatch of NIFRS needs to “happen not just in the Glens area but right across Northern Ireland in all rural areas”.



Larne Lough Ulster Unionist Councillor Keith Turner said that he would like to extend the sympathies of his party to Maggie’s family circle adding that he hopes “no other family has to suffer the same experience”.


He indicated that he has been informed by the Health Minister that a trial pilot of this scheme has taken place in Lurgan and he believes there will be a “positive statement in the very near future to bring a positive outcome to this issue”.


Ballymena SDLP Councillor Eugene Reid also extended sympathy to Maggie’s family.


“We never ever want to see this happen again. It highlights how difficult it is to get emergency services to these rural areas.


“We want to see progress being made and hope progress is made sooner rather than later.”


Cllr McKeown thanked the parties for their kind comments.


“Hopefully the Black family will take comfort from them.”


Mayor Councillor William McCaughey remarked that it was “nice to see the chamber united”.





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