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Testing skills: Mass casualty training

Firecall looks back on a Dublin Fire Brigade mass casualty training exercise held last July, with trainee paramedics responding to a simulated large-scale terrorist attack in Broadstone.

Trainee Dublin Fire Brigade paramedics were given a baptism of fire last July, tasked with responding to an unknown mass casualty incident on the Luas line between Broadstone and Cabra, revealed as a terrorist attack with a large number of injured and deceased civilians.

Dublin Fire Brigade has had a working relationship with Luas over the past number of years concerning the Cross City works, ensuring they can respond to emergencies in and around roadworks adjacent to the new Luas line. The track is due to open to the public by the end of the year, but DFB officials wanted to run an exercise with Luas before trams hit the tracks. And, given events of the last year or two in London, Manchester, Paris and Nice, it became clear that the opportunity to train for a potential terrorist attack on Irish soil could prove highly useful.

Third Officer John Keogh made the initial contact with Luas and other stakeholders – a long process involving indemnities, insurance and other administrative tasks, with final approval coming just four weeks before the deadline. The Luas line between Broadstone and Cabra was chosen because it’s one of the few sections isolated from the main roads, winding along the old rail network.

“Using Broadstone as the base, we saw the opportunity of checking out some of the scenarios that might be in place if an incident happened on the Luas track where we hadn’t got direct access off the road. It was an opportunity we didn’t really want to miss out on,” T/O Keogh explains.

The scene of the training exercise. Photos courtesy Trevor Hunt and John Keogh

ORGANISATION

With permission granted for the exercise to go ahead in Phibsboro, the task of organising the incident itself fell to paramedic tutors A/SOFF Karl Kendellen and A/S/O Derek Rooney, charged with fleshing out the details and looking after everything from logistics to compliance with health and safety, traffic management and more. They crafted a highly realistic scenario for what would be the largest mass casualty exercise in DFB history, with 44 trainee paramedics, 60 casualties, and members of the gardaí, ERU, ASU, the Civil Defence, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Luas among those involved on the day.

Testing both the skills of the paramedics and communication lines between DFB and Luas, the exercise began with a call confirming a potential terrorist incident on the line, with an ambulance manned by two recruits arriving from Phibsboro fire station – the station that would turn out to a real incident along this route. The scenario saw four terrorists crashing a car into a tram, overturning the vehicle on the tracks before entering the tram and shooting and stabbing passengers. A second incident later in the day saw an attack on another tram by a second terrorist cell.

“One of the things we did differently from previous years, and to try and make it more realistic, was that we staggered the response and the numbers that were allowed into the incident at any particular time,” says A/SOFF Karl Kendellen. “If an incident happened for real in Dublin, we wouldn’t have 30 or 40 paramedics turning up at the same time – you might only have one or two fire appliances or ambulances, depending on the information that’s given.”

Members of the Garda Emergency Response Unit (ERU), backed by the Armed Support Unit (ASU), cleared the scene before the paramedics could begin triage as per the PHECC clinical practice guidelines. Patients were removed by order of severity to a treatment tent before transportation to a field hospital set up in No. 3 and manned by Dr Niamh Collins, a consultant in emergency medicine who is heavily involved in the DFB training programme – a training exercise for her team also.

“It’s really important for us to build up links with these people. These are agencies that we are working with all of the time – a smiling face of somebody you know helps, particularly in a highly tense environment like this,” says co-organiser A/S/O Derek Rooney, whose primary brief was to produce a risk assessment for the exercise, identifying potential hazards and ensuring the risks were controlled. “[The recruits] were brilliant, in fairness to them. They had a carry, from the initial incident near Broadstone, of approximately 400m. They were in full PPE, which obviously is hard work anyway, carrying 15 or 16 stone – colleagues and members of the public who volunteered and were moulaged (mock injuries), so they had real-life injuries, and a lot of them were shouting and roaring which put a lot of pressure on the recruits. It went very well. A thorough success from everyone concerned.”

Trainees in action.

LESSONS LEARNED

The exercise was a huge success, a large-scale operation that went off without a hitch, and the paramedic trainees excelled on the day. The exercise also highlighted where DFB’s response to such an incident could be improved and further strengthened the links between the emergency response agencies and medical crews who would work side-by-side in the event of a real attack.

“It was great to be a part of, it was a real achievement by everybody. The work that the paramedic tutors and the paramedic trainees themselves put in into making it a success just can’t be quantified,” says T/O Keogh, who notes the efforts made by Broadstone, Luas, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, Dublin Civil Defence, Sisk, the Order of Malta and St. John’s Ambulance in ensuring everything went as planned, and for facilitating their every need on the day. “I just can’t describe how much of a success it really was. To have everybody fully compliant, doing what they were tasked to do without any problem whatsoever – it was a pleasure to be involved in.”

Syria to Swords

Above: Joanne Doyle with crew members in Swords.

Defence Forces NCO Joanne Doyle spent a year working with Dublin Fire Brigade as part of her postgraduate advanced paramedic internship.

Lebanon. Liberia. Chad. The Golan Heights. Swords. One of these is not like the other. The latter, along with Finglas and Tara Street, is where advanced paramedic Sgt. Joanne Doyle – a non-commissioned officer (NCO) with the Defence Forces – spent the best part of a year attached to Dublin Fire Brigade while completing her AP internship. Joanne is usually based in the Defence Forces Training Centre in the Curragh, Co Kildare, but her drive to improve her skills within the medical and paramedic fields have seen her career take an interesting tangent.

“I joined the medical unit earlier on in my career – I liked the medical end of things. I did a paramedic course in 2005 – all of the trips that I’ve completed overseas have been from a medical perspective. The opportunity to join the advanced paramedic course came up after my return from the Golan Heights, so I thought it was a good opportunity and decided to do it,” she explains. Joanne’s background is in training, and she taught in the medical school in the Defence Forces training centre for a number of years. She was promoted several years ago to the rank of sergeant, and is now in charge of the outpatients department for the training centre. “It deals with occupational medicine, primary healthcare – any soldiers presenting sick, for annual medicals etc.,” she says. “I still teach in the Defence Forces and you’re still expected to be a soldier as well as a paramedic. I have been trained in different spheres, not just the medical aspects. In that respect not every day is the same – no more than working on an ambulance here! Every day is different.”

All Defence Forces recruits follow a similar path – 17 weeks of basic training, followed by 3 Star training, and specialist training courses at a later stage. Joanne always had an interest in further education and set her sights on joining one of the core units – staffed by soldiers with a specialised skill. Her first step was to complete a ten-week military medical course in the Curragh followed by ambulance-based skills, including the use of a defibrillator. In 2005 she undertook a paramedic course with the National Ambulance Service, learning skills that would stand to her on a number of overseas missions. Deploying overseas with other United Nations peacekeepers can be an interesting experience, not least because you have an opportunity to work with people of different nationalities and backgrounds and see how they approach certain challenges or situations.

“When I was in Syria I worked with Fijian soldiers. A lot of them were civilians who were contracted in to work for the army for two years – they spent two years overseas. They come with huge clinical backgrounds,” says Joanne. “The two types of missions that we do are peacekeeping and peace enforcement. Normally all personnel are based in a camp and the situation would dictate whether you would do a ten-day patrol or whether the area needs to be patrolled. But everything that leaves the camp, such as patrols, there’s always an ambulance and there’s always a doctor. Sometimes you’re just based in a camp looking after the medical welfare of the personnel – there are always slips, trips, falls, different types of injuries. Spending six months overseas, people get sick or they get injured. [But] you’re still a soldier, so you’re still carrying a weapon, you just carry all your other items and a medical bag [too].”

Joanne Doyle

BACK TO THE BOOKS

It’s more than two years now since Joanne first began training as an AP through University College Dublin (UCD), having decided to take the next step in her career, a process she describes as challenging, though made easier by the Defence Forces’ policy of allowing students like Joanne to focus on their studies. Although her work in the Defence Forces won’t make use of her skills as often as a shift in Dublin City might, she felt that the ability to make greater clinical interventions, particularly in difficult situations overseas, would stand to her and those under her care.

“You need to be able to provide interventions, give some sort of medication for pain relief, utilise a more advanced set of skills to provide more clinical benefits to the patient that you’re dealing with,” she tells me. “If we deal with Irish soldiers that are injured, they usually aren’t injured badly. But we don’t always have helicopters to evacuate them. If I need to move a patient you don’t always have that facility, so you’re managing the patient for that bit longer – you could be waiting a few hours before air support arrives. Here you’ll get an ambulance within a reasonable length of time; you don’t overseas because the operational situation is obviously different.”

Her first contact with Dublin Fire Brigade occurred during the Block 3 internship, a six-week stint on the road supervised by a doctor or professor in medicine. Once she had passed her exams, Joanne was keen to complete her postgraduate internship with DFB, realising that it would provide her with a wide range of experiences and learning on the job, not to mention a rank structure and a team spirit ethos similar to that of the Defence Forces. Some informal enquiries were made, followed by a formal meeting – the issue of indemnity from the Department of Defence had to be resolved among others, although Joanne describes this process as ‘straightforward’.

“I thought that Dublin Fire Brigade was a much better option for the volume and variety of calls, and exposure to different types of clinical situations. My interaction with the Defence Forces was limited for the year, because the Defence Forces will let you gain your exposure and your experience for 12 months before you return,” she explains.

Her initial point of contact in DFB was Third Officer John Keogh, a former member of the Defence Forces himself, who investigated the possibility of Joanne coming on board for the year and worked with EMS Support Officer Martin O’Reilly to sort out indemnity, insurance cover, Garda clearance and the myriad administrative issues that had to be overcome. During her 12-month stint Joanne worked on C watch, primarily between Swords and Finglas, with weekly shifts on the AP car based out of HQ and several weeks in No 8, broadening the range and type of incidents to which she responded.

“Martin O’Reilly dealt with my schedule. He was absolutely fantastic, I always received it weeks in advance,” she says. “I always knew where I was going – it was very professional.” Those three stations were chosen to give Joanne a broad overview of the incidents DFB APs and paramedics deal with on a daily basis, with different population profiles and risk factors in each location.

“We tried to give her as much scope as we could to get a good view of everything that was happening. Her primary location was in Swords fire station with C watch out there, which was a great benefit to her at the start because we had three APs on the watch. Any time she was responding on the ambulance, more than likely she was going to be with an already qualified and experienced AP,” Third Officer Keogh explains. “We had a few priorities when we went to introduce her to the station, [including] the local protocols that DFB has as regards dealing with RTCs, medical cases, any cases where the fire tender is involved. Additionally, there was a recruit class going through the training centre at the time so we were able to slot her into several modules that provide recruits with an overview of the incident command system that we operate, and how the officer falls into the equation.”

Joanne with Third Officer John Keogh and EMS Support Officer Martin O’Reilly.

BACK TO WORK

Joanne has since completed her year with DFB, which she refers to as one of the highlights of her 19 years with the Defence Forces. She returns to a perhaps less hectic life at the Curragh where any given day could see her leading driving courses (she’s also a driving instructor), joining heavy armament shoots in the Glen of Imaal in case of injuries, or simply tending to the medical needs of personnel on the base. “It’s an absolute adjustment!” she says with a smile. “I’ve been out of the Defence Forces for two years on and off between being in UCD and working with Dublin Fire Brigade. I will work as an AP but I won’t work on a daily basis on a frontline ambulance.” Still, Joanne brings back a wealth of experience having had the chance to practice her newfound skills in a more clinically busy environment than she would experience with the Defence Forces, and to shadow and work with DFB APs who have been practising for a number of years.

“In her time here she probably spent more time on the AP car in DFB than any of our own APs, so she received huge exposure to incidents. She’s going back to a job now where she won’t do anything like what she’s done over the past year. It was a great asset for her, and a great asset for the Defence Forces to have that kind of background going back into their service, a good understanding of how the civilian EMS side operates,” says T/O Keogh, who notes that by the end of her year with DFB Joanne was well-known across Foxtrot District, deferred to as the clinical lead if she was the only AP on site. “She also got on really well [with the crews], she got involved in all of the social events that were run between Finglas fire station and Swords fire station. She was fully involved really with everything that was going on in the station, and they treated her just like one of the crew.”

The relationship with the Defence Forces also continues to blossom – a second AP has since begun his AP internship with DFB, a good sign of things to come. “We’re hoping that continues with Darren McDaid – he’s going to be with us for a year. Hopefully we will continue that development between ourselves and the Defence Forces because it’s great to be able to do it. We’d love to be able to facilitate it more,” says T/O Keogh, a sentiment echoed by Joanne.

“The Defence Forces is delighted because they would like to have a relationship with Dublin Fire Brigade and to keep that relationship open,” she tells me. “I absolutely loved every shift with Dublin Fire Brigade. I’ve met brilliant people, I’ve made great friends. I think Dublin Fire Brigade has some of the best APs – there was always something to learn, as every clinical case is totally different. It was brilliant to work with really experienced advanced paramedics who have seen everything and done everything. It was a great opportunity to work with them. If I wasn’t retiring in two years I would definitely consider applying for Dublin Fire Brigade. I think it’s a great opportunity for people who have any interest in the EMS or the firefighting side. I think it’s a great career.”

High standards in safety

Health and safety

Above: DFB’s management team with the certificate.

Third Officer John Guilfoyle outlines the process by which Dublin Fire Brigade was granted certification to OHSAS 18001:2007 by NSAI.

Dublin Fire Brigade had reason to celebrate last year when the service was awarded OHSAS 18001 certification by the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI). Recognised worldwide as the highest international standard for Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (SMS), OHSAS 18001 provides a framework to identify, control and decrease the risks associated with emergency service activities.

“This award is the result of the Brigade’s on-going efforts to deliver emergency services in a safe and responsible manner with a commitment to protecting the well-being of our staff and the public we serve,” Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Pat Fleming noted. “Best health and safety practice has always been at the heart of DFB, and I am delighted that our hard work has been recognised with this accreditation. DFB has now achieved world-class standards of excellence in Health and Safety Management and Quality Management Systems, which is a remarkable achievement for an organisation of our size and complexity.”

ACFO Terry Kearney, with responsibility for Health and Safety, outlined the process involved in achieving accreditation. “The OHSAS 18001 accreditation followed a rigorous external audit of DFB’s policies and practices by the NSAI. The process included detailed interviews, samples of operations, and workplace activities inspections in all sections of DFB,” he explained.

The establishment of the full-time Health and Safety Unit was a key element in the organisation successfully implementing the OHSAS 18001 Safety Management System.

The Health and Safety Unit based in DFB HQ facilitated the audit process across the service. The establishment of the full-time Health and Safety Unit was a key element in the organisation successfully implementing the OHSAS 18001 Safety Management System. The Health and Safety Unit is managed by Third Officer John Guilfoyle and has three full-time staff: District Officer Thomas Keane, Station Officer Mark Hogan, and Station Officer Chris Tallon. The role of the Health and Safety Unit is to advise the CFO and DFB on occupational health and safety. Its function is to support the introduction and management of DFB’s safety management system. The legislative requirements with which DFB must comply are set out in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 supported by the General Application (Regulations) 2007. DFB chose OHSAS 18001:2007 as the most appropriate framework to manage safety, health and welfare within the organisation; using OHSAS 18001 also aligned DFB with the safety management recommendations from the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA).

DFB achieved accreditation because of the hard work, support and commitment of its entire staff who assisted with the numerous internal and external safety management system audits during the accreditation process. DFB also received invaluable support, assistance and guidance from DCC’s Corporate Health and Safety Office. By achieving accreditation to OHSAS 18001, DFB now has the framework of an internationally recognised safety management system to maintain and further develop a safer, healthier environment for its staff.

A tall order

Above: D/O John Rush

Conor Forrest caught up with D/O John Rush to discover more about the brigade’s new hydraulic platform.

Firefighting rescues and operations involving tall or difficult to access buildings often necessitate the use of either a turntable ladder or a hydraulic platform. Dublin Fire Brigade has recently added one of the latter to its fleet, a MAN SS263 appliance that extends to approximately 86 feet and features a range of updated safety features and increased versatility when compared to the 70-foot SS220 currently in use. “It’s not used instead of a turntable ladder – they both complement one another. The turntable ladder has its good points and the hydraulic platform has its good points,” explains District Officer John Rush, a 34-year veteran of the job who was trained in Kilbarrack and today oversees A watch Alpha District. D/O Rush spent a number of years in Dún Laoghaire fire station – where the hydraulic platform is stationed – as a firefighter, and undertook two weeks of platform training before being asked to instruct on its use. D/O Rush tells me that DFB’s first hydraulic platform went into use during the late 1980s, a 50-foot appliance originally based in Tara Street – Dún Laoghaire became its base of operations following the amalgamation with Dún Laoghaire fire brigade. While the platform can be deployed anywhere within DFB’s jurisdiction, it also goes out any time there’s a general turnout for Dún Laoghaire.

“A lot of the time the platform is used it’s nearly the first thing that is looked for if there’s a big fire. It’s a great piece of kit if you want to work from a height with a water tower. It’s more versatile – there are three booms on it so you can manipulate it a little better,” D/O Rush tells me. “I’ve used it at incidents, especially when I was the station officer in No. 12. I’ve used it to take people off buildings, particularly building sites where perhaps somebody has had an accident.”

INSTRUCTION

Until recently, D/O Rush was the sole hydraulic platform instructor in the job, and his move away from Dún Laoghaire meant less time spent working with the platform on a weekly basis – necessary if you’re to keep on top of its operation. Given that this new platform will be in service shortly, and with D/O Rush coming towards the end of his career in the brigade, he was asked to train a new team of instructors for the next generation of platform operators. Three instructors based in No. 12 were chosen and D/O Rush, working with emergency appliance builder Emergency One, ran a comprehensive course covering the ins and outs of the SS263’s features and operation, including several demonstrations of its capabilities across Dublin City, at Trinity College, on Mary Street and other locations. “It’s versatile and nearly foolproof, but you still have to know what you’re doing to use it safely,” says D/O Rush.

When spoke the new platform was with the Workshop, with a trip to No. 12 with the driving instructors to follow – at 12m long the SS263 is no easy machine to navigate through heavy traffic and narrow city streets. “It’s probably one of the longest appliances in the job at the minute,” D/O Rush explains. “You have to be a bit more careful driving it around – there’s an overhang at the front and then a cage hanging from the back. With some of the smaller streets around the city you may have to be really careful.”

Once the instructors can safely navigate Dublin’s highways and byways, the next step will be training the crew of No. 12 to safely operate the new platform – the set of controls inside the cabin and in the cage, and the vehicle’s jacking system. The latter is one of the most important safety features and needs to be extended correctly each time. Fail to do so and you could wind up with the platform on its side. “If it’s not right and some of the safety features are not adhered to it could easily go over,” he says.

“Normally there’s a crew of three on the appliance – a sub-officer, a driver, and a cage operator. The cage man goes into the cage and goes up, and the driver then operates the jacking and all of the base controls. He’s the important person in the job – it’s really important that the driver/operator has everything sorted and that the platform is jacked properly before it’s operated.”

Once the crew of No. 12 finish their training on the new appliance it will be ready to enter service wherever required. D/O Rush is confident that the platform will boost Dublin Fire Brigade’s capability in responding to high-rise and other incidents. “It’s probably one of the best platforms I’ve encountered in the job,” he says. “It’s a step up again, another level.”

Retired member profile: Rory Mooney

Above: Marion and Rory.

Conor Forrest sat down with retired firefighter Rory Mooney, who spoke about his career with the brigade and his voluntary work with orphaned children affected by the Chernobyl disaster.

It’s more than 36 years now since the tragic Stardust fire that saw 48 people lose their lives and a further 214 injured when flames tore through the popular nightclub on Dublin’s northside. The harrowing events of that night have echoed through the proceeding decades, with the findings of the tribunal of inquiry – which concluded arson as the likely cause – disputed ever since. One of the emergency responders on duty that night was Dublin Fire Brigade firefighter Rory Mooney, relatively new to the job having joined in 1978. Despite having been marked for ambulance duty, a colleague on sick leave meant he was tasked with manning the phones that night.

“That was a totally different ballgame,” he explains. “The records of the Stardust are all in my handwriting. I ended up eight hours on the stand giving evidence in the Stardust Tribunal. The only person who spent longer on the stand, I believe, was the Chief Fire Officer T.P. O’Brien. Nothing could prepare you for it. I just answered as best I could. ‘And why did you do that?’ ‘Because that’s the way I was trained’. Simple as that.”

Rory’s 31-year career in the brigade began, as with all recruits back then, with a stint in Tara Street, following 14 weeks of training in Kilbarrack – one of the last classes to do so. He recalls being handed the job of being ‘on the bunk’ at headquarters on his first night, manning the phones from midnight to 6am, and taking the 6am to 9am early relief shift the following morning.

“It’s all computerised these days, but it was pen and paper in my day,” he explains. “But it was good, it was an education in itself. During our training we had to go into Tara Street at least one or two nights and visit the control room and see how it worked, give yourself an insight into what was going on in the place.” After five years in Tara Street, where he joined other junior men in manning the northside stations whenever there were shortages, Rory was posted to Buckingham Street station on D watch for three years, before moving to Phibsborough where he would spend the rest of his career, eventually retiring in 2009. Back in those days, he says, the ambulance was as busy as it is today, even in 1978. “If you were in work and you knew, for example, that you were on the ambulance on a weekend night, you’d make sure you were well fed and watered before you go into work,” he says. “We were normally very well. received wherever we went. Especially on the ambulance – anywhere we went people knew we were there to help them. [But] as Nobby Clarke used to say, ‘If your budgie doesn’t sing, call the fire brigade’. And sometimes it seemed like that.”

Rory’s collection of memorabilia.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

For Rory, what brought him into work every day was the opportunity to make a difference to the lives of Dublin’s citizens. “We went out when people were at their lowest, and I mean utter lowest,” he explains. “Their house could be burning down around them or their father may have died, and we would arrive. We tried to make things better. It’s not always possible – sometimes you have to do a bit of damage in a house to put out the fire, but we tried to leave the people and structure in a better shape than [when] we found it. That’s what we’re there for really.”

Rory’s desire to help people in wretched circumstances would take him beyond Ireland’s borders. In 1986, while he was based in Phibsborough, the Chernobyl disaster shook the world. On April 26th the No. 4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine was destroyed, releasing radioactive material into the atmosphere, with the fallout spreading across western USSR and Europe. Thirty-one deaths have been directly attributed to the disaster, alongside deformities and defects in children born in Ukraine and Belarus in the years after the explosion.

“Radiation knows no territorial boundaries, it doesn’t apply for an entry or an exit visa, it travels wherever the winds take it,” said Adi Roche, who founded Chernobyl Children International. “At 1.23 am on 26th April 1986 a silent war was declared against the innocent peoples of Belarus, Western Russia and Northern Ukraine. A war in which they could not see the enemy, a war in which they could send no standing army, a war in which there was no weapon, no antidote, no safe haven, no emergency exit. Why? Because the enemy was invisible, the enemy was radiation.” Many of those children wound up in orphanages, grim facilities that provided a roof over their heads and regular meals, but precious little else in the way of a normal life. Stirred by their predicament, Rory joined convoys travelling 1,500 miles from Ireland to Belarus by ground, carrying much-needed medical and humanitarian supplies for the recovery efforts.

“A lot of firefighters died, a lot of children died, and being a father and a firefighter, it tugged at the [heart] strings. So when I had a chance at getting involved I did,” says Rory. His first trip over was in 1996 and by chance he met his future wife Marion the following year, travelling as part of the same convoy. Everything fell into place and their first wedding was at a Russian Orthodox Church on May 4th 2003, but they discovered the marriage wasn’t legal back home. After a four-year wait they were married again in Wales on May 5th 2007. As Marion describes it, “We tried to get as close as we could. So we’re married ten and 14 years!”

Rory and Marion made the trek to Belarus twice a year for 12 years in total, working with the manual team building playgrounds, putting roofs on portacabins, painting wards, renovating shower facilities and whatever else needed to be done. “You carried the kids out to the open air, you put them on swings and roundabouts and you’d amuse [them] for a couple hours during the day. It was very depressing when you’d leave the orphanage because you’d feel very guilty leaving the kids behind,” he recalls. Alongside supplies of medicine, furniture, clothes, shoes and much more, the teams also brought gifts for the children in those institutions – simple items like balloons or rugby jerseys that nonetheless made their day. “To see their faces – you’d give them a jersey and they knew it was theirs to keep, because they were used to being handed gear and it being taken from them,” Rory adds.

Rory also made contact with the fire service in Belarus, an under-resourced organisation that did the best job with what it had. On his first trip he brought over a retired hydraulic cutting tool, which was received with great enthusiasm. As luck would have it, that was placed on a tender with the call sign 32 – Rory spent a lot of time on 3-2 based in Phibsborough. That kickstarted a relationship that would last for years, with the Dubliners bringing a gift of equipment each time, including incubators, infusion pumps and even a laparoscopic instrument for keyhole surgeries. Introductions were made with the Chief Fire Officer, they were brought on tours of the fire brigade training college and their museum, and they were made a gift of Russian Fire Brigade china, now on display in the Dublin Fire Brigade museum at the training centre in Marino. Rory’s colleagues in DFB were instrumental in getting them across the continent every year. Alongside an annual bucket collection on O’Connell Street, the Workshop fitted a fire brigade van with a bed, cooker, fridge and portaloo purchased by Rory and Marion, and insured the pair to drive it. “The Chief Fire Officer at the time was great,” he adds. “He couldn’t do enough charity-wise. ‘What do you need Rory?’ he’d say.”

THE QUIET LIFE

The last few years have by no means been easy for Rory and Marion. Illness forced him out of the job he loved in 2009, having been diagnosed with lung cancer for the first time a year earlier – less than a year after he and Marion were married in Wales. Alongside a back operation and pneumonia he suffered a stroke in 2016, leaving him with short-term memory issues. To make matters worse, doctors found cancer in his other lung while undergoing tests. A tough situation that’s unimaginable unless you’ve gone through it, it’s clear that the same black humour that many firefighters use as a coping mechanism helped him through some difficult times – he recalls asking a surgeon during his first bout of cancer to save ‘a bit of meat for the cat’.

“It’s not a death sentence, it’s just a word. And if you can hang onto that it makes it a bit easier to deal with,” he says. “And it’s not easy to deal with because you don’t know if you’re going to survive, you don’t know if you do survive what way you’re going to be after it. But we got through it. We got through it together.”

It’s also clear that his career as a firefighter means a great deal to him. A shelf above his stairs (Marion’s handiwork) is home to a collection of memorabilia including helmets, patches and medals, a selection of statues received on his retirement takes pride of place along the fireplace, while two detailed and colourful statues of firefighters, souvenirs from Belarus, stand on duty in the back garden. There’s also a more unusual item – half of a good-sized rock that was thrown through the window of his ambulance as he and Leslie Crow travelled along the Navan Road one day, narrowly missing his ear.

Rory keeps in touch with old colleagues too – he joined the Retired Members Association last year, pops into Phibsborough fire station every few months for a visit, helps Paul Hand in the museum every Thursday, and is one of several veterans of No. 3 known as the ROMEOS – Retired Old Men Eating Out – who meet up every few months for dinner and a catch-up. These are friendships cemented over decades, between people who often placed their lives in one another’s hands.

“Nobby Clarke, the Crow [Leslie Crow] – Leslie was one of the best firefighters I ever worked with. I trained as well with Paul Hand, the curator of the museum in the OBI. He is one of the hardest working firefighters I’ve ever met in my life, he really is,” Rory tells me. “You’re in situations where your life could literally be hanging on your friendship with somebody else. It’s very much a second family. It was never just a job. You go into it [at the beginning] and it’s just a job, but once you’re there a while it’s a heck of a lot more – it’s a way of life.”

The future is electric

With the number of electric vehicles set to increase on Irish roads in the coming years, Dublin Fire Brigade is training recruits to deal with potential incidents, writes Conor Forrest.

Depending on who you ask, the motoring world is on the cusp of an electric vehicle (EV) revolution. With diesel’s reputation on the ropes, many of the world’s car manufacturers now feature a hybrid or fully-electric vehicle in their line-up. Volvo announced recently that all cars it produces will use electric or hybrid power from 2019. Plans have been made in the UK to ban the sale of diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040, with similar moves underway in France, Norway and the Netherlands. Ranges are increasing, charging times are dropping, and drivers across the world are being offered incentives to make the move. Everything considered, it seems that things are swinging in favour of EVs.

The technology has actually been around for quite a while. The first electric vehicles appeared in the 19th century and we’ve been using them ever since – milk floats, forklifts, golf carts and bread delivery vans to name a few. So perhaps it’s fair to say we’re coming full circle rather than witnessing the advent of a completely new technology. In Ireland we’re a little behind the curve – carrots to encourage EV ownership are minimal compared to some of our European counterparts, and just 3,000 or so have been sold here over the past few years.

“That’s going to change dramatically. The analogy I would use is when we were all driving petrol vehicles and the road tax situation changed, with road tax based on CO2 emissions, so everyone swung across to diesel,” explains FF/P Richard Hunter. “In the next two to three years you’re going to see a big swing from diesel to electric.”

EDUCATION

Richard’s background is in the motoring industry, having worked for Renault Ireland before joining Dublin Fire Brigade 15 years ago. With a deep-seated interest in EVs, he contacted his old employers when these vehicles first landed on Irish shores at the beginning of the decade, requesting information regarding their safety.

“As a brigade, we have to be proactive rather than reactive. We have to understand the technology, how it’s coming, how it’s changing,” he explains. Such understanding must be fluid, necessary due to the rapid pace of change within the industry. The last few years alone have seen huge strides made in lithium-ion battery technology, with manufacturers decreasing charging times and increasing range – key factors for consumers hesitant in getting rid of their fossil fuel transportation. Better range, lower prices and a wider variety of Government incentives such as free tolls and parking will see the number of EVs sold here spike in the coming years, and Ireland’s emergency services have to be prepared.

Above: Recent training in Clonmel, Co Tipperary for the National Fire Directorate. Photo: Richard Hunter. Main image: Renault’s range of zero emissions vehicles. Photo: Renault Marketing 3D-Commerce

The end result of Richard’s fact-finding mission was an emergency response guide to safely dealing with EVs involved in road traffic collisions (RTCs), which has been taught at training programmes in Tipperary for the National Fire Directorate and has been part of the curriculum for new DFB recruits over the past five years. DFB’s EV course is focused on making firefighters aware of the ins and outs of the average EV, tackling urban myths and educating firefighters about how these vehicles work, such as their silent nature (no rumbling engine) or how to recognise an EV (blue-tinted lights, ZE – Zero Emission – badging throughout, and the absence of a tailpipe). “Straight away, even if you haven’t done the training course, something is going to be telling you there’s something a little bit different about this car,” says Richard.

There are several differences in the way firefighters approach the scene of an incident involving an EV when compared to a standard ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) car. If the vehicle is on fire, once it’s extinguished they still have to consider the lithium-ion battery and the bank of cells inside – this has to be cooled as otherwise it could reignite. Recovery, too, is different – the likes of the AA deploy specially-trained personnel to recover damaged EVs. And if the damage is severe, there are even more factors to take into account.

“If the vehicle has been catastrophically damaged where there are exposed cables or if the electrolyte [inside the battery] has leaked, it’s explosive, it’s quite toxic. It’s all about recognising that – the electrolyte has got a glue-like smell,” Richard explains. “And how do you deal with electricity? You don’t take any chances whatsoever. There are electrical gloves, standard operational guidelines, and those copy and paste across to an EV when you’re dealing with exposed wires. It’s just thinking outside the box. You’re not looking at a fuse board now, you’re looking at a car on the road, but the principles are the same as regards your safety.”

The instances of catastrophic destruction are thankfully quite rare. In reality, as Richard agrees, EVs are often quite safer to deal with in the event of an incident. There’s no tank full of volatile fuel waiting to ignite, and there are less moving parts in the absence of an engine – power is provided via one or more motors. While EVs are in use by the likes of Dublin Port Tunnel, Dublin Port Authority, Dublin Airport and Liffey Valley Shopping Centre, alongside private early adopters, for the moment the chances of running into an EV-related RTC are relatively rare given the small number of them on our highways and byways. Still, DFB is ensuring it’s prepared for the day that petrol and diesel cars have a competitor with much greater volumes on the road. Richard is keeping on top of the latest developments, aided by Renault Ireland who supply electric cars for the purposes of training and keep DFB up-to-date with where the technology is progressing – the French company has made its own investment in EVs with the Twizy, Zoe and the Kangoo Z.E. van.

“EVs are around a long time and I think they’re going to be around for a lot longer than the combustion engine,” Richard says. “European and in fact worldwide manufacturers have decided electric is the way forward. We have to be proactive rather than reactive in how we’re dealing with the technology. It was important that it was recognised within the brigade that this was a change, and they have embraced it and moved forward with it very quickly.”

On parade

We look back at the annual FESSEF parade in Dublin city last September.

The annual Frontline and Emergency and Security Services Éire Forum (FESSEF) parade took to Dublin city’s streets once more last September, with around 1,000 emergency services personnel marching from Parnell Square to the grounds of Trinity College. A fantastic display of uniformed personnel, marching bands and gleaming machinery, the procession attracted large crowds of admirers along the parade route, led once more by members of An Garda Síochána on motorbikes and bicycles and passing underneath the national flag held aloft by two DFB appliances.

The marchers included Irish Army veterans, members of the Irish Prison Service, Dublin Fire Brigade (including the Pipe Band), An Garda Síochána, the National Ambulance Service, the Civil Defence, the RNLI, Order of Malta and more. “Frontline workers are out there to serve the public and that’s what we do as an organisation – always have and always will – and that’s what all the other services do as well. Days like this are always very positive because it creates more interagency activity and cooperation and it fosters one-to-one relationships when required,” Garda Chief Superintendent Kevin Gralton said at the launch of the event.

The parade concluded at Trinity College Dublin where a static showcase had been underway since earlier that morning. Various demonstrations were on view for the public milling around, including CPR, bomb disarmament, highline rescues and first aid. “It went really well and it’s building up,” explains DFB Third Officer John Keogh. “It’s an opportunity for the emergency services to be seen by the public all in the one area – the police, fire, ambulance, all of the volunteers who you are relying on to come together and help out in times of emergency. It’s a good showcase for the voluntary organisations and the emergency services to come together. To see us in a more social aspect is a big advantage and the kids get quite a kick out of it.”

There are other benefits for DFB and its colleagues in emergency response, including the chance to meet people and develop relationships, which could prove advantageous in the event of an incident. “The more and more that you meet these people, when it comes to a real event you know that you might recognise a face or you might know them by name,” T/O Keogh explains. He also makes the point that, as a national organisation celebrating national emergency services, the possibility of moving the annual parade outside Dublin on occasion should be considered. “Let the people in Cork, Limerick, Kilkenny, Killarney etc. have the parade down through their town to show what the emergency services are doing,” he adds. “There can be too much focus on Dublin at times – it would be nice to see it expand out around the country.”

DFB’s colour party. Photos courtesy Trevor Hunt and John Keogh

ORGANISATION

The organisation of DFB’s involvement each year is no simple matter, with myriad tasks ranging from organising the flags to recruiting the colour party. Without volunteers, T/O Keogh notes, it simply wouldn’t happen. Twelve off-duty firefighters gave up their free time to march with each of the station flags, along with the Pipe Band and Dublin Fire Brigade flags; Ken Reynolds and Brian Campion volunteered to spend the day manning DFB’s presence in Trinity College, while Ger Corcoran and Declan Rice, C watch No 3, organised the colour party. The four appliances there on the day were all operational, ready to leave the parade in the event of an emergency. “We were quite prepared in the middle of the route if they had to drive off left or right and go to an incident,” says T/O Keogh. “It would show the 24/7 operation that DFB provides. The 999 ethos is that whether you’re having your dinner or you’re in a parade, if you have to go to an incident you just drop everything – the emergency event takes precedence.”

In 2017, FESSEF organisers added an extra day to the calendar of events, with a concert held at the Pro-Cathedral the evening before the parade. Featuring the musical talents of the Dublin Fire Brigade and National Ambulance Service Pipe Bands, as well as the Garda Band, tribute was paid to colleagues who lost their lives in the line of duty, including the crew of Coast Guard Rescue 116 and Garda Tony Golden. The Midlands Prison choir leant their voices to the evening, as did a section of RTÉ’s Philharmonic choir. Ticket sales from the event raised funds for Bumbleance, the RLNI charities, and O.N.E. (ex-service personnel). From DFB’s perspective, the Pipe Band put hours of practice into their performance, working with the National Ambulance Service Pipe Band to ensure both were playing at the same pitch, alongside several practice sessions with the Garda Band on timings. The DFB Pipe Band’s last collaboration with the NAS was playing with Andri Rae in the 3Arena; this was the first time the three principal response agencies in Dublin played as one.

“The concert on the Friday night was a huge success,” T/O Keogh explains. “By all accounts, from the people who were at it and paid their money, the show was a spectacle for them and spectacular in so many ways. Hopefully that will continue to build up over the years and get better and better.”

Track success

Above: Eithne with some of the other Irish athletes.

Among the thousands of competitors at the 2017 World Police & Fire Games was Dublin Fire Brigade’s Eithne Scully.

The World Police and Fire Games (WPFG) is basically the Olympics for emergency services personnel, attracting around 10,000 entrants every two years. Organised by the California-based World Police & Fire Games Federation, athletes participate in a wide variety of events ranging from badminton and baseball to soccer and stair races. The WPFG began life back in the swinging sixties when a police officer in San Diego developed an idea to promote physical fitness and well-being among law enforcement officers. The California Police Olympics were first held in 1967, and their success in the proceeding years led to the foundation of the WPFG during the 1980s, open to serving and retired firefighters, police officers, customs and excise personnel, and prison officers. The Games have run every two years since San Jose in 1985, hosted in cities around the world including Belfast in 2013. On a global scale, the Games attract the second largest cohort of athletes after the Summer Olympics – no mean feat.

RUNNING SOLO

Though Dublin Fire Brigade generally has a strong contingent at each Games, last year advanced paramedic Eithne Scully from D watch Dolphin’s Barn was the sole representative in Los Angeles. Eithne has competed in five Games so far having first attended Quebec in 2005 with 20 colleagues – she was instantly hooked. Travelling to LA on her own was by no means a deterrent.

“Because I’ve been at five Games now I have friends that I meet up with over there. When you get to the track you meet the same group of people, the Americans, the Germans, the Brazilians – there’s a whole gang there that you recognise,” she tells me. “The atmosphere is fantastic. Despite being there on my own from DFB, everybody is just really encouraging, clapping and encouraging everybody else. Everybody has got a common background.”

After the opening ceremony on August 7th in the Coliseum the Games kicked off, with athletes from across the globe going head-to-head in 56 events. Eithne competed in the 10k cross-country (individual and team), 800m, 1500m, 5000m and 10000m races, alongside the 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m relays – she discovered several years ago that relay teams can be entered into on a pool basis, and so the same team of Eithne and female colleagues from London Metropolitan Police, Trinidad & Tobago Fire Service and Puerto Rico Fire Service have competed together ever since. Eithne also tackled the taxing stair race (individual, women’s team and the mixed team) held in the AON Centre in downtown LA, one of the Games’ tougher events.

Eithne Scully

“It has 64 floors with 1,377 steps – give or take a few. I can’t say I was counting!” says Eithne. “There are two sections in the stair race – you can choose to do it in firefighting gear or without. I chose to do it without as you have to take your own gear and the BA sets are provided at the venue. I met two of our colleagues from Dublin Airport Fire Service who competed in full gear and had fantastic times. The tallest building I had completed a stair race in prior to this was 30 floors so I did not relish the thoughts of 64. However, as it turned out, it was my best performance to-date.”

Despite attending on her own, Eithne took home a medal haul worthy of a larger DFB contingent. Gold medals were awarded for the 10k crosscountry, 4 x 100m relay, 4 x 400m relay, the women’s team stair race and the mixed team stair race. She also earned a silver medal for yet another climb of the AON Centre in the individual race, and a bronze medal in the 800m.

“I was delighted!” she says with a laugh. “I was glad that it did work out well because I thought that it might be quite embarrassing to come home with nothing! Usually the swimmers attend and they’re fantastic, so they always come home with rakes of medals. I was glad that I was able to represent the fire brigade well and come away with something.”

THE SOCIAL SIDE

Despite a busy timetable with five days of events, Eithne had plenty of time to explore her surroundings, something she tries to do at every Games. A trip to the famous Santa Monica beach with a colleague from New York City Fire Department (FDNY) was an enjoyable break between races, while a friend from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) brought them on a tour of one of the city’s training centres as well as a trip through Beverly Hills. “That’s the plus of being at a few Games – you get to know people,” says Eithne. “There were other people that we would meet up with for dinner – 8 or 10 of us would meet up in downtown LA every couple of nights for dinner and have a night out. It’s [a] social [event] as well.”

The date has already been set for the next Games in Chengdu, China in August 2019. Eithne is looking forward to the date, having decided several years ago that she would continue competing in the Games as long as she is healthy and able. With support from the Sports & Social Club in securing her entry fee, and no signs of slowing down, it looks like there will be at least one person representing DFB on the world stage, though hopefully numbers will grow over the years.

“I wish to thank you for all your support – it is fantastic to receive such encouragement when you are over there,” Eithne says. “I also wish to encourage anyone who is thinking of participating to go for it and start saving now. China in 2019 may be out of reach for a lot of people but Rotterdam will be hosting the Games in 2021, and it would be great to have a DFB team travel and participate.”

Station profile: B watch Donnybrook

The home of hazmat response for Dublin Fire Brigade, Conor Forrest took a trip to B watch Donnybrook, headed by S/O James Bissett.

The risk factors faced by the crews of Donnybrook fire station are quite varied, thanks to their location in the heart of Dublin’s southside. Clonskeagh Hospital and The Royal Hospital Donnybrook lie to the west, the RDS to the northeast and UCD due south. Alongside high-rise buildings in nearby Ballsbridge and new apartment blocks in Dún Laoghaire, there’s also the sea to contend with a little more than 2km away. And then there’s the Aviva Stadium, the Covanta Plant in Poolbeg, the nightclub hub of Harcourt Street, and a wide range of private and nursing home accommodation scattered throughout the district. All-in-all, an interesting mix.

During my recent trip to No 1, Station Officer James Bissett was on duty – the last time we met was just before Dublin GAA won the first of what would become a treble of All-Ireland Championship triumphs. S/O Bissett (a former Dublin footballer himself) moved from North Strand to Donnybrook two years ago and is celebrating his 30th year in the job this year. S/O Bissett adds the Luas and the DART to Donnybrook’s considerable list of responsibilities and highlights the station’s expertise in hazardous substance response. Once a call comes through, a special appliance is dispatched from the station carrying a variety of hazmat response gear including a decontamination tent, a sealed hazmat suit, and additional oxygen tanks in the event of an extended delay.

“We respond to any chemical incident – the crew are all trained in all aspects of hazardous substances and decontamination,” S/O Bissett explains. The first step is identifying the chemical involved, via the control room or through an on-scene examination. Once they have a name or code, it’s a matter of double checking the required response parameters contained in a reference book or laptop – whether the chemical is corrosive, poisonous or flammable, which firefighting medium should be used, or whether the immediate area should be evacuated – among other concerns.

“The areas we would cordon off would depend on wind direction. When we’re going to a chemical incident we’re looking at the wind direction – the way we approach it is uphill, upwind. It could be a vapour, it could be airborne, it could be a liquid,” S/O Bissett tells me. “Arriving on-scene, the first thing you have to do is identify the substance, then stand back and say ‘what does this substance do, how do we deal with it properly?’ It’s about getting all of that information and making a plan as to what you’re going to do.” But hazmat response doesn’t just concern itself with the chemical – crews who have already arrived on-scene might have been exposed without the necessary protective gear.

“Local management is very important when you get there,” he adds. “The problem is that when you get there the people that are involved in it may not be wearing any respiratory protection and they’re caught, and you may have to go and do a snatch rescue. [Then] the decontamination unit comes into play. It could be mass decontamination depending on where it is and how many people have been affected. Every incident is different.”

The Hazmat Support Unit.

AGE AND INEXPERIENCE

Understandably, given the risky nature of responding to chemical incidents, training is a key part of the job for those stationed at No 1. That’s augmented by words of wisdom between the senior and junior men; the former willing to share what they’ve learned over decades of work. Ex-Defence Forces soldier Ben Wedick is the station’s most senior man on B watch, a 20-year veteran of Dublin Fire Brigade. Following two years in Townsend Street at the beginning of his career, he transferred to Donnybrook and has been here ever since. Five years into his career he began driving, starting with the old white ambulance which you could drive then with an ordinary car licence. Enjoying it, he progressed to driving the motors, getting to know the area quite well in the intervening years. Ben explains that he’s happy to pass on his own knowledge as he remembers what it was like to start out in the job.

“I began here as a junior man for about five or six years – it was quite a senior crew here which I learned my trade from. You just watch and you listen instead of jumping in and saying things. It was one of the better moves of my career. Since then a lot of junior guys have passed through here, and I hope I have instilled a bit of my knowledge into them. I’ve worked with a lot of good officers such as Stephen Brady, the ex-Chief Fire Officer – he was my S/O when I came here first,” he says, adding that the banter is what he enjoys most about the job, although once the bell goes that all changes.

“When we have to go out the gates the banter stops. We’re as professional as any guys I’ve ever worked with,” he stresses. “Everybody brings their little bits and pieces to the role. Tom is an ex-nursing student, I’m an ex-military man but I’m also an electrician. A lot of the lads are well clued-in with life skills that they bring to the fireground whenever we have to.” Ben also mentions that there’s a great community spirit in No. 1, aided by the fact that the crew all enjoy playing sport, from five-a-side matches against Townsend Street after the night shift to an occasional game of golf, not to mention an annual trip away together in summer or at Christmas. “I’m the oldest firefighter and it makes me feel young having young [people] like Tom in his mid-20s coming in. Because I never grew up myself!” he says with a smile.

Crew members Tommy Byrne and Ben Wedick.

TEAMWORK

‘Tom’ is Tommy Byrne, relatively fresh from the OBI having graduated with Class 1/2017. Tommy’s background is in nursing, having studied the subject for three years in college before the chance to join DFB came up, something he believes gave him an advantage when he applied last year. “I always had an idea that I wanted the medical side of things, helping people in any way I can. I went with nursing and I was going into my final year when this came up. I went for it not knowing if it would go my way or not, but at least it would be experience for the next time it came around – I would be well prepared. Things luckily went my way and I ended up getting in, but it meant I had to put the nursing degree on hold,” he explains. Tommy is barely six months into his new job, by now part and parcel of the crew on B watch having been welcomed into the fold from the beginning – older crew members like Ben have taken him under their wing, showing him the ropes. Though he hasn’t attended any major incidents as of yet, he has very much experienced the differences between a simulated scenario in the OBI and the real thing.

“The ones I have been at, they are a lot different than [the exercises in] training. But that’s the job, you came in, you did all the training for that, and you’re with colleagues who have years of experience in dealing with this,” he says. “All you do is if you’re not sure, look to them, and they’ll point you in the right direction and make sure you’re doing the right thing. You adapt, you bring in whatever skills you have – you’re part of a team that all have different skills, different qualities and you come together and make the situation work.”

The benefits of working as part of a cohesive team are something that Joe Brennan, another of the station’s long-serving crew members (now in his 11th year in Donnybrook), can attest to. A second-generation firefighter following in the footsteps of his father Brian, who was stationed in Dolphin’s Barn for 30 years, Joe played hockey at an international level both before he joined the job and in his early years. These days he’s still involved in the sport as assistant coach to the Irish women’s team, something he tells me wouldn’t be possible without the support of his colleagues. “Both the guys I work with and management are really supportive of me,” he explains. “Even now I’m involved as the assistant coach for the Irish women’s team and they’re still so supportive in helping me try and represent the fire brigade.”

Joe’s role is one of the most important in any station, having taken over the running of the mess almost a year ago. When I arrive he’s in the middle of preparing for lunchtime, the extractor fan running at full speed, hobs burning brightly, and food moving through a conveyor belt of efficiency from preparation boards to storage plates.

“My dynamic in work has changed a little bit now because I’ve taken over the mess for the last year,” he says while manhandling a large frying pan. “I enjoy coming out of my comfort zone, being under pressure. I love meeting people in work, I love the characters in work – that’s what makes the job, the characters. The unpredictability of what’s going to happen in the job is great, dealing with the public, helping people. I love coming into work – there’s a great sense of camaraderie in this station.”

A lens on life: Greg Matthews

Retired Station Officer Greg Matthews spoke about his career in Dublin Fire Brigade and his passion for street photography.

Retired Station Officer Greg Matthews has undoubtedly led an interesting and varied life. Born in 1961, the middle child in a family of five, he grew up in Ballyfermot and followed a path as a motor mechanic before pursuing his childhood dream of becoming a firefighter. Now that he’s retired, he spends his time pursuing several hobbies, among them street photography.

“The fire brigade was something that I had always longed to get into, something I thought would be a great job to do,” he explains. Greg was one of 42 firefighters in Class 1/1985, the first class to experience training in the then brand-new O’Brien Training Institute in Marino, which he describes as a ‘new dawn’ for Dublin Fire Brigade. Over the following 25 years he would work in every fire station across the job on A, B and C watch, and earn promotion first to sub officer and then station officer, the latter something he wanted to achieve since his first day. “To become a station officer was my ultimate goal – I didn’t really bother going for promotion after that point,” he explains with a laugh. “I was happy to reach that point.”

Greg Matthews

As we chat, Greg reminisces about a fulfilling career that encompassed a variety of strands. He recalls working in the ISO section at a time when DFB was striving to achieve the quality mark for its fire and ambulance services (something that had never been achieved before); earning a Guinness World Record as part of the team that beat the Germans’ distance in pushing a pump for 24 hours; and coming full circle as he returned to the OBI to mould several classes of recruits (he was also chosen as one of the brigade’s first swiftwater rescue instructors, a clear source of pride). “I completed two batches of recruit training, back-to-back, which is very difficult to do as an instructor. Training recruits is probably one of the most challenging things you can do but it is also one of the most rewarding – you are given seven guys fresh in off the street and you have to turn them into firefighters six months later,” he says. “It’s great to see recruits who I trained are now sub officers and station officers and they’re training recruits. I get a great kick out of that. There can’t be anything better than to think ‘There’s a guy that I trained and he’s reached a very high standard’.”

NEW ADVENTURES

After a busy career, Greg retired from DFB in 2010 on medical grounds, having developed a problem with one of his hips from running marathons. At the time, he explains, he was relatively happy to leave, feeling that he had made a significant contribution to the brigade over those years and feeling ready to explore other avenues of interest with his newfound free time. His first port of call was yachting and he earned a licence as a day skipper following a number of sailing courses. Next up – photography.

It was something that had lingered in his mind since he was a child – his father would bring home The Irish Press and Greg would comb the pages examining every detail of renowned photographer Austin Finn’s black and white photos of ordinary Dubliners going about their daily lives, even cutting them out for inclusion in a treasured scrapbook. Over the proceeding decades Greg would take photos now and then – perhaps on holiday – and people would comment on how they were a cut above the norm. Curious as to what separated his creations from others, he decided to do a photography course with Dublin Camera Club (where he met his partner Trudy). Though he struggled with the technical side of photography – exposition, shutter speed, focus and more – it gave him the freedom to create better images and bring his mind’s eye to life. Clearly he’s got a flair for it, having been named Irish Street Photographer of the Year in 2015 (as well as winning Street Photograph of the Year), with an exhibition of his photos held in Filmbase in Temple Bar that same year in memory of his late father. His increasing profile has also resulted in numerous invitations to speak at camera clubs around the country, sharing the lessons he has learned behind the camera and on the streets.

Shot for the most part in black and white, Greg’s photos tell a story, capturing intimate moments in time that might otherwise go unnoticed – a family enjoying a picnic on the beach in Bray, an elderly couple making their way over Dublin’s Ha’Penny Bridge, a man cycling through Glasnevin Cemetery. His style is quite artistic with many of his photos reminiscent of a painting; candid images of ordinary life inspired not only by Austin Finn but also Henri Cartier-Bresson, considered a master of street photography. Greg is reluctant to pigeonhole his work into any one category; instead he follows a few simple rules that guide the sights on his lens.

“Though I call myself a street photographer, it’s very hard to define what street photography is. For me, my photography is capturing people going about their daily lives,” he explains. “The person doesn’t know that their photograph is being taken. There has to be some point of interest in the image, there has to be something happening. A lot of people… they just think it’s photographs of people walking on the street and for me it’s not that.” Greg’s photos are bolstered by the fact that his subjects are unaware they are being photographed, displaying real emotions rather than a hastily assembled smile. A lot of his shooting is done from the hip, pointing and clicking the shutter through a café window or while stopped in the middle of a footpath. In the first few years the loud click from his Canon 5D Mark II would give the game away, so he took to coughing while he pressed the shutter to mask the sound, or would wait until a bus passed by on the road. He eventually opted for a Fuji X-T1, a much quieter, more discreet option that allows him to blend in a bit better with the crowds.

“As soon as you hit the shutter they look and they know – the moment is lost,” he says. “A lot of the time when I’m out doing my street photography I try to blend in and look like a tourist. If I’m walking down Moore Street and the dealers are looking at me I just look back at them. I find if you’re trying to be too discreet people are wondering what you’re at.”

Patience is the name of the game for Greg, who spends hours on the streets of Dublin observing life as it passes by and waiting for the right shot to enter his frame. Take Temple Bar Lady, his award-winning photo of a solitary woman walking along an empty laneway in Temple Bar. Having found the location, Greg repeatedly returned in search of the perfect canvas free from crowds, delivery vans or dustbins awaiting collection. A bit of luck, too, has its role to play from time to time. Having lined up a candid shot of one of Dublin’s characters, Greg surreptitiously pressed the shutter just as the man yawned. The result is a fantastic image of life’s mundanity – the ‘open’ sign in the background complementing the open-mouthed focus. “You still have to be there to get it,” he adds.

Greg’s photo of Martin McGuinness

And then there’s the ability to react to your surroundings, to recognise the potential for a fantastic shot and to take it without missing the moment. One of those moments arrived at Greg’s feet (literally) in 2016, during one of the 1916 commemorative events in Dublin’s Merrion Square. Hearing a commotion behind him, Greg turned to see Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams in attendance, surrounded by crowds taking photos. With Adams out of reach and McGuinness close by, Greg quickly dropped to his feet and pointed the camera towards the sky. When McGuinness passed away in January 2017 the resultant shot went viral – from a profile picture for Sinn Féín’s Mary Lou McDonald on Facebook to being blown up and displayed at McGuinness’ month’s mind in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

“I knew the shot I wanted to get when I saw him. If I had kept it at eye level you would see hundreds of people behind him,” says Greg. “It’s obviously one of those photographs I’m proud of because it has become iconic. It’s a real moment in time photograph. That’s the way I think of it.”

I ask Greg about what draws him to the streets with his camera in hand, what motivates him to seek out the candid moments that have become his signature, to stake out a location for hours in search of the perfect shot. “When I’m out taking photographs I can get lost in my own little world, I don’t think of anything else,” he says. “I think that’s what I enjoy about it. I’m in a different world when I’m taking photographs – the normal world disappears and I’m in a bit of a dreamlike state. All that I can think of is the camera, the photograph and the end result.”

Before I leave, our conversation turns once more to the time he spent with Dublin Fire Brigade – the fact that he treasures those years evident by the smile on his face and the pride in his tone. Greg singles out the comradeship in the job as one of the highlights, getting to know the individuals on your crew and how best to work with them.

“I’ve had a brilliant and varied career in DFB,” he adds. “For me, it was all about being in the right place at the right time and never refusing to take up any role that was offered to me. There was never a day that I didn’t look forward to going in.”