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Adverse weather preparation

Acting Assistant Chief Fire Officer Greg O’Dwyer talks to Adam Hyland about preparation for snow, ice and other weather extremes.

In Ireland, we are fortunate that we don’t face the type of extreme freezing temperatures common in other countries in winter. However, we are not completely immune to dangerous adverse weather conditions, and in the winter months ice, snow, and flooding can make the job of the DFB even harder.

It is important, therefore, for the DFB to have not just the right equipment, but the right preparation, in place, in order to be able to respond to emergency calls, no matter what challenges the weather brings. That preparation, as Acting Assistant Chief Fire Officer Greg O’Dwyer tells me, is vital.

“One of the challenges we have with adverse weather such as snow, ice or flooding, is not the hazardous road conditions, but actually getting the personnel into their stations so that we can operate as normal.

“We have developed a DFB adverse weather preparedness plan, whereby we have arrangements in place to provide transport for our fire and ambulance crews where needed. We also make plans and provisions for people to be able to stay back in the station overnight if it is unsafe or difficult to get home.” 

Once in the station, crews also need to adhere to the preparedness plan in order to ensure that each unit and vehicle is capable of safely reaching a call out.

Snow and ice make the job of the DFB even harder.

“With the adverse weather plan we also make sure everybody has tasks they have to tick off to keep each station and each vehicle ready for a call out,” Greg says. “In snow or ice, for instance, that would include keeping the entrance and exits clear at all times for vehicles, and ensuring the right adverse weather equipment is on each engine or vehicle, and paying close attention to the maintenance of vehicles and equipment.”

To prepare properly, each appliance’s heating system and valves should be checked and tested to ensure they will function properly in winter, and further checks should be done regularly to ensure extreme cold has not adversely affected them. The vehicles themselves see adaptations that make it easier to manage adverse weather. In order to handle snow and ice, for example, the right weather tyres are put on vehicles, snow chains go on to appliances, ambulances are fitted with snow socks, and snow shoes go out to all stations.

“Our engines are heavy enough to get a good grip,” Greg tells me, “but we also have 4-wheel drive where possible, plus we have snow chains, so we have good traction. As a result, it is rare for an engine to get stuck. There can be a few instances where the ambulances, despite the snow socks, can get stuck, but not that often.” Ambulance personnel will be given extra overgarments during adverse weather, as well as extra grips or cleats to go over their shoes.

Though the DFB vehicles are well prepared, as Greg says, the introduction of additional 4×4 transport that came on board in September will no doubt prove invaluable, should we see severe, snow or flooding.

“The new 4×4 vehicles are stationed at Tara Street, the OBI and the workshop on Stanley Street, and will be ready to be called into operation as required,” Greg says. “If we do have an adverse weather forecast this winter, we can prepare by getting those vehicles and any extra equipment needed in and centrally locate it before sending it out to areas where it is needed most.

The new DFB 4X4 vehicles.

“Those new 4x4s will of course not only be useful in snow and ice, but in flooding, because they can get through deeper water, as they are fitted with snorkels,” Greg adds.

Having the right equipment, preparation and support vehicles in place is essential as adverse weather arrives, because inevitably there will be an increase in calls, due not only to collisions on the roads, but because the DFB become the only point of contact in an emergency situation.

“Once bad snow comes,” Greg tells me, “there will always be an increase in calls as people dial 999 as soon as anything goes wrong or fails, because nobody else is able to answer or come to their aid. Obviously with the ambulances there are a lot of extra calls as people suffer slips and falls, but other crews see a lot of call outs to people trapped or snowed in especially the elderly or vulnerable, or simply because they can’t get in touch with other services.”

Of course, in extreme snow and ice it can be more difficult to get to a call out, but because it is so important that the DFB does get there, it is simply necessary to exercise extra caution to arrive on the scene safely. If you don’t arrive, you can’t help anybody. 

That caution – slowing down, anticipating increased stopping distances and unexpected actions by other road users – is something all DFB crews can ensure, but there are other factors that can’t be helped. One such factor is other road users who may not have the necessary equipment to deal with hazardous conditions.

“The problem is that while your vehicle may be able to progress, those around you can’t, so you can get stuck behind a long line of traffic,” Greg tells me. “With heavy ice, you often see vehicles on slipways on dual carriageways that have come off the road or jack-knife, and these can cause big tailbacks that block the entire way through, so it can be difficult to progress.

“But as emergency vehicles, we need to get there, and that can sometimes mean having to go slowly and carefully, because it is so important in the end that we do get there.”

Cold weather can definitely take a toll on firefighters and equipment, but with proper preparation, maintenance and awareness, the job of the DFB crews can be made a lot less difficult.

DFB Cycling Club charity sportive

The DFBCC event for prostate cancer joins the Cycling Ireland calendar, writes Brendan Lodola.

Dublin Fire Brigade Cycling Club has held a number of great events over the years, both at home and abroad. The new committee elected in June 2018 has been actively promoting the DFBCC through station visits, information evenings, a beginner’s programme and training days throughout the year. Initial efforts have already seen an increase in numbers to 115 from a starting point of 68 in June 2018.

A calendar of events was planned for 2019 with an emphasis on improving the health and well-being of our members, and to encourage inclusivity amongst our colleagues, and I thought it would be a good idea to have our own Dublin Fire Brigade Cycling Club sportive, registered with Cycling Ireland, which would hopefully become an annual event on their calendar as well as our own. We set a date for 12 May, 2019, and little did we know the amount of preparation that was needed to get this event off the ground.

The hard work started in October 2018 with route planning, risk assessments, event safety statements, management plans, applications, insurance, indemnity letters from the County Councils the route would touch on, event registration including online registration through Eventmaster and Stripe, finance, posters, signage, social media, press, and advertising.

We had great support from our families and volunteers to prepare the registration rooms and all of the other OBI facilities. With the pre-event risk assessment and route signage completed on the Thursday with the help of Joe Kiernan, Derek Walsh and Conor Keegan, and the OBI all set up on the Saturday, it was all systems go for the Sunday.

There was a great atmosphere that morning, with a constant flow of cyclists arriving, building up the anticipation for take-off at 10am. Volunteers were everywhere, which was great to see. We had Liz Hanley with all her registration group, Dave Farrington and his motorbike marshal crew, the crew from C watch from No.4 station, all the road bike marshals from the cycling club, Derek Fox with his crew of APs, drivers for the support cars and appliances, static marshals for the roundabout junctions and food stops, and Mick Whelan doing his thing.

We had no idea of the kind of numbers who would turn up for the event, and were delighted to get a total of 260 registrations with 240 participating on the day.

The event was called “Staying In The Saddle For Prostate Cancer”. With the number of men being diagnosed with prostate cancer growing each year, a lot of those within the DFB, we decided to give all the registration fees to two charities involved in the treatment of prostate cancer: Beaumont Hospital Foundation Rapid Prostate Clinic and Irish Cancer Society Action Prostate. A total of Ä10,555.75 was raised and divided between both charities equally.

The cyclists were keen to get going, and after safety briefings, photos and speeches from myself, then Lord Mayor of Dublin Nial Ring, ACFO John Keogh and others, the Lord Mayor proudly launched the event.

With clear skies and the sound of the DFB pipe band in the air, Superintendent Brian Cullen and his Garda crew, together with the DFB lead vehicle, led us out. An Garda Siochana did a fantastic job of keeping the whole group safe with an escort from the OBI out to the coast road, around the hill of Howth and out towards Portmarnock.

A few at the lead were itching to get going to create a fast time for their 115k, but we had to keep the whole group safe over Howth Head and down to the village first, as the descent was so steep and locals were exiting Sunday mass.

The group then started to spread out and the sportive got into full swing for all the support vehicles, motorbike marshals, road captains, APs and the mobile service vehicle in order to keep the 240 cyclists safe. Both the 50k and 115k routes took us through Portmarnock and Malahide to the first water/ food stop at Swords Fire Station. A big thank you to Greg, Richie and the rest of the lads on duty that day in Swords.

This is where both groups split up, with the 50k group heading back to the OBI via the Malahide road, while the 115k group headed out to the north county to tackle tough climbs through Ballyboughal, Naul, Bellewstown and Ardcath. The 115k food stop was a very welcome sight at the top of the difficult climb at Bellewstown racetrack. A big thanks to Fergus Byrne and his Civil Defence crew for feeding us and for all their help there.

The last two marshals, Mick Whelan and Dave O’Toole, travelled just ahead of the broom wagon with Stephen Dillon and Ian Kelly, as the last 50+ kilometres would bring us to the finish, taking us through Ardcath, Garristown, Killsalaghan to St Margaret’s and home to the OBI. A group including Ginks and Wally had the pleasure of the company of famous Irish cyclist and journalist Paul Kimmage (you might remember his pieces on Lance Armstrong regarding doping on the cycling professional circuit), on the back roads towards Garristown.

Dave Farrington and his crew of motorcyclists did a fantastic job up and down the route, and I also noticed the Cycle Super Store Mobile service vehicle stopping numerous times to fix bikes along the side of the road. I didn’t realise how important this invaluable service would be on the day until I saw what they did. They set up a service station in the OBI for anyone with issues with their bikes before the event. On route, they must have stopped at least 20 times to repair bikes.

It was a tough day in the saddle, but for all those who completed the 50k Challenge and the longer 115k Challenge, there was the reward at the finish line of a tasty meal from Stephen’s Fire House Pizza Ireland, who have been so generous to us over the years.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone from  the DFBCC committee involved in organising this event, especially Liz Hanley, whose experience and hard work across all aspects of the event was invaluable, and on behalf of the DFBCC Committee to thank CFO Dennis Keeley who allowed us the use of all the DFB facilities. Thanks to BTO Brendan Carroll for the use of the OBI, ACFO John Keogh, and Lord Mayor Nial Ring for their support. Thanks to everyone who registered to support both charities and all those volunteers involved, An Garda Siochana, Road marshals, Stephen O’Brien of Fire House Pizza Ireland, Paddy and John Leyden, Robbie Woodhouse and Jason from Cycle Super Store, Dubco, DFBSSC, DFB staff, drivers, Swords fire station B watch, and DFB pipe band members.

Thanks to everyone else involved, and a special thanks to the DFBSSC for their continued and valuable support.

Growing the stress management team

The new CISM team continues to provide support to FF/Ps, writes Adam Hyland.

Our new team is the most diverse we have ever had,” says, S/O Adrian O’Grady, director of the CISM team in the Dublin Fire Brigade and steering committee member of CISM Network Ireland. “It is a great representation of the job, and includes a member of the Pipe Band, advanced paramedics, a member of the retained service, and we now cover all walks of life within the DFB.”

The team of 16, which includes Coordinator Adrian O’Grady and Clinical Director and psychologist FF/P Aidan Raynor, performs what is an integral service to the DFB by supporting their colleagues in times of high stress, and is very highly trained, with each member accredited to the International Critical Incident Stress Federation (ICISF) standards, a worldwide critical body.

“We have to change the team every four to five years to prevent burnout, because they take on a huge load in supporting their colleagues, as volunteers, as well as working the job just like everybody else beside them,” Adrian tells me.

“There is some carry over from the old team, with FF/Ps Michelle O’Toole, Brian Doyle and Brian Gilbert staying on as mentors, but the new team will forge ahead, managing the phones, acting as the first point of contact and helping to deliver our message.”

That message is that Dublin Fire Brigade members can avail of confidential advice and support from highly-trained CISM team members if they are feeling the effects of a trauma incident or stress caused by work or domestic issues.

Set up in 1999 by Mark Brannigan, who recognised that firefighters needed some sort of psychological support because of the traumas faced on a day to day basis, the CISM team has grown in size and importance ever since.

“It was set up in an era when drinking was the alternative, but things have moved on a lot since then,” Adrian says. He took over as coordinator in 2006, and tells me that they have become “a much more professional outfit”, engaging in a number of vital services. “Management has always been very supportive in what we are doing,” he adds.

SUPPORT

“We have three phonelines that we run 24/7, offering confidential advice and support,” he says. “We also offer one-to-one interventions and a listening ear, as well as diffusions – peer support meetings held as soon as possible after a traumatic incident, which are held on-station. We offer debriefings, which is the big psychological support meeting for large groups after a big traumatic event such as a loss of life. We make sure everyone is doing ok in the aftermath, because every individual reacts differently to traumatic scenarios.”

As we speak, Adrian’s colleagues are delivering a lecture to the new recruits at the OBI, and as he tells me, it is important that all firefighters are aware of the supports available throughout their careers, starting at the very start.

“As the recruits are trained, they are taught about what they will see, what to recognise, what kind of incidents may affect them,” he says. “That creates three elements: That they are resistant to trauma when it does come, that they are resilient when it happens and can bounce back quicker than normal, and that if they are affected, that they can recover more quickly, because they can recognise the symptoms. It normalises their reactions for them.

“Also, we give them access to a recognised support with the CISM team, and they can know they can trust us, because we are all firefighters too, alongside them. We’re not an outside agency they don’t know, we work shoulder to shoulder with them. We have qualified peer supporters and if needs be, psychologists and psychotherapists in our group, trained to operate to a very high standard to provide this support.”

FAMILY NIGHT

The recruits are also provided with a family CISM information night, which took place at the end of June, which was supported as always by the DFBSSC, in order to introduce the idea that trauma will be a part of their lives.

“The family night has a few purposes,” Adrian tells me. “Firstly, it warmly welcomes families into the DFB culture, but it also warns them that their loved ones are going to be exposed to trauma, and at times they are going to come home a little bit changed, because it does have a crossover effect, whatever happens in the job, they will bring home with them. Sometimes they will come home angry, irritable, closed off, and when that happens, they need to know what to do, we need to equip families for that eventuality, because our job is frontline, and we can’t hide from that fact.

“It also gives the families room to get to know each other, to support each other, and the camaraderie takes off very quickly from there. It’s been great for training. It’s fairly basic, but we continue with more presentations and lectures for the recruits as part of their training. These are more intensive and help to equip them an awful lot more. We go into specific types of incidents, what kind of thing can affect them, a lot more about the symptoms and normalising them, and who to contact. To get to know the CISM team and what we can offer.”

“The message is ultimately that if they have any symptoms, they should contact us, and we ensure they know how to do that. We also have staff support services with Dublin City Council, and they are available to our members as well. There are things we tell them to look for, based on family discord at home. If they are bringing it home with them, that’s the time to ring us, if they are not sleeping well, if they notice dramatic changes in appetite after an incident, those are the signs, so we spell that out for them.”

STRESS

This continues throughout the career of every FF/P, because the threat of trauma or stress remains very real.

“We try to get around to the stations as often as we can, and our new team is trained to deliver the message,” Adrian says. “We also have posters and leaflets at every station, we have a module on the eLearning platform. The message is constantly going out there, and it reflects in the number of contacts we get. It is constant. One year we got more than 500 one to ones, and this year looks like we will have something similar. It’s busy, but it reflects how busy the job of a FF/P is.

“There’s a lot more shootings, cases of child abuse, a rise in untimely deaths because of the homeless situation, and these are horrific to our members. We have to witness some of those deaths first hand as first responders. It all has an impact, and it is natural to be affected.”

Adrian and colleague FF/P Brian Doyle recently presented their research findings regarding the benefits of the family night and the development of CISM within the DFB over 20 years on the world stage at the ICISF conference in Baltimore. This underlined the importance of having the CISM system in place.

“What our research now shows us is 30% moderate post-traumatic stress in the job. That would be more or less in line with other fire brigades around the world, but it is pretty good when you consider we are an ambulance service as well. The ambulance does add another traumatic level that others don’t have. It’s in line, but it shows we do have the effects of trauma within the DFB, it’s the reality, and we can’t hide from that fact. That reinforces the need for CISM. We need trauma therapists in the future, as do all frontline services, because looking at post-traumatic stress disorder as a disorder of the person is not the way to look at it, it’s a post-traumatic injury, just like a physical injury.”

As well as the three 24/7 phonelines, the CISM team has also been using a CISM alert system designed by Adrian for the last two years. “This is a very important conduit,” he says. “If the call taker in the control room recognises a stressful call, they will send us an alert that we receive on our phones telling us the type of call, the nature of it, and the address. We can know from that the call taker needs support, and what motors or crews need to follow up on the incident. We found that certain calls were not coming through to us, so we weren’t finding out about some traumatic incidents, because the officer didn’t know about it, just the ambulance crew. So that system enables us to be on top of almost all stressful calls. When we brought it in, it was immediately backed up by S/O John Moody and S/O Kevin Finn, and the control room team gave it all the support to run it through the control system. We are the only ones with that system.”

Contact with the CISM team can also be made by officers, who can call after an incident to let the team know of a particularly bad incident, and that a meeting with the crew may be required.

SOCIAL MEDIA

As well as a newly-trained team, the DFB CISM has also launched its own social media presence on Facebook and Twitter.

Under the title of DFB Stress Matters, the Facebook page has grown its reach to 10,000 in the last month. “It’s getting a good uptake,” Adrian says. “Apart from the wellness aspect, we do posts based around education of the job, what it involves, and the risks involved in terms of burnout and trauma, but also emphasise the importance of supporting each other before and after an incident. There is always a psychological side to the messages. It’s educational for the FF/Ps, but also for the public, to show them what the DFB have to go through on a daily basis. We are teaching it to everybody, and opening it up
to everybody.”

On Twitter, the team goes by @Dfbstress, and also promotes the message of wellness and education regarding the job, and the services the group provides.

Apart from that, Adrian is also working with the First Light charity on developing information regarding recently bereaved parents. “We are looking to design a leaflet to assist our members as they manage the aftermath of a child death,” he tells me, “when they have to break bad news, what to do when you have to sit with a parent and wait for other services to arrive, when there is nothing you can do. Because there is something you can do, and we are planning to have a focus group with bereaved parents to see the actions we can take that don’t add to their stress at this horrific moment.”

Meanwhile, the new team will continue to train and refresh their skills regularly, provide support, and help spread the message that
they are available to any DFB member who needs them, whenever they need them.

The 24/7 phone numbers offering confidential advice and support are:

CISM 1: 086 815 0181

CISM 2: 087 210 5276

CISM 3: 086 815 0183

Facebook: DFB Stress Matters

Twitter: @Dfbstress

For further information, see www.cismnetworkireland.ie

The Band in Belgium

Dublin Fire Brigade Pipe Band Secretary John McNally recounts a memorable and poignant trip to Belgium in May.

At the end of May 2019, the Dublin Fire Brigade Pipe Band travelled to Belgium for a series of engagements. Each travelling member was looking forward to the event as this trip was the first one away for the band in more than four years.

Initial contacts were made between DFBPB Drummer Tom McLoughlin and Belgian firefighter Carl Verstrepen, and a short time later, the DFB pipe band committee began planning the trip, booking flights, hotel rooms and transport.

At 5am on Tuesday, 28 May, 25 of us met at Dublin Airport, with the group comprised of 21 playing band members and a colour party made up of three student pipers and retired firefighter and DFB museum curator Paul Hand.

After a short flight, we touched down in Brussels Airport, where we met with some of Carl’s colleagues before we were quickly on our way to the beautiful town of Ghent, our base for the next few days.

We settled into our hotel, which was right in the square next to the beautiful 89-metre-tall Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, completed in 1569.

There was no time to waste as we needed to practice as a whole band, ensuring our instruments were both working and tuned after the flight. Our unannounced practice in the square went down very well with locals and tourists alike, who seemed both surprised and delighted with the early afternoon impromptu entertainment.

Next we were all aboard our coach and heading into Brussels, where we stopped off for lunch before our first official engagement. We travelled to the beautiful Brussels suburb of Uccle, to the official residence of the Irish Ambassador to Belgium, Helena Nolan. 

Ambassador Nolan was hosting a dinner for the outgoing British Ambassador Alison Rose, and the DFB Pipe Band was invited to play at the event. The band played on the lawn and entertained the crowd of diplomats and ambassadors who really enjoyed the music. This was followed by a presentation to Ambassador Nolan of a letter from then-Dublin Lord Mayor Nial Ring, Dublin crystal from Chief Fire Officer Dennis Keeley, and crystal from the band itself.

Ambassador Nolan presented the band with a framed photo of the famous Belgian statue Manneken-Pis, wearing an Aran sweater Irish costume.

Following some light refreshments, the band headed back to Ghent and finished off the night with some ceol agus craic.

Early the next day, we were back on the coach for the hour-long trip to visit the scenic town of Bruges. We took time for a canal boat tour with all 25 members on board, which is probably the best way to see and hear about the town and its history. Some of the more energetic members decided to climb the 83-metre Belfry of Bruges, while others relaxed in the sunshine enjoying the famous Belgian beer.

Then it was time to head back to base in Ghent and head out for dinner in the local Irish bar of Patrick Foley’s, where the band played a few tunes late into the night.

Following breakfast, the band loaded the coach with uniforms and instruments before setting off to our next stop, Flanders Field American Cemetery near Waregem. This cemetery contains the remains of 368 American soldiers who died, and commemorates 43 who are missing from battles at the location in the latter weeks of World War I, many in the last few days of the war.

The rows of marble white crosses are a stark reminder of the ultimate sacrifice theses very young men made in ‘the war to end all wars’.

Our next stop was at the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Mesen. This is a beautiful war memorial to the soldiers of the island of Ireland who died, were wounded, or are missing from World War I, during Ireland’s involvement in the conflict. A 34metre replica round tower stands tall there, and is made from the stone from a former British Army barracks in Tipperary and a work-house outside Mullingar.

The tower was unveiled on the afternoon of 11 November, 1998, by President Mary McAleese, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, and King Albert II
of Belgium. Here, Piper Paul McNally played a lament while Barney M
ulhall informed us about the history of the area and the Irish soldiers who died there.

We then headed off to the town of Ypres in West Flanders. Following a short break for a quick tour and some refreshments, the band warmed up. To the delight of the large crowds gathered, the band played and marched through the famous Menin Gate in Ypres. Menin Gate is a war memorial to the soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I, and whose graves are unknown. The memorial marks the starting point for one of the main roads out of the town that led Allied soldiers to the front line. On behalf of the band and Dublin Fire Brigade, Piper Barney Mulhall laid a wreath at this iconic location.

The DFB Pipe Band were very grateful for the hospitality shown by Carl and his colleagues during the trip, and we returned the favour in August when they came to Dublin to visit.

If you would like to join the band or have a chat about it, drop down to the OBI any Monday night from 1930hrs and give it a go! You don’t need any musical experience and we will provide the tuition and equipment.

Our door is always open to new members and past members also. To get in touch with the band, contact any band member or email: [email protected]

Yours in music,

John McNally, Dublin Fire Brigade
Pipe Band Secretary

Stars & Stripes

The DFB’s 4th of July visit to Southampton, New York, was a huge success, writes Adam Hyland.

The time finally came in July for the Dublin Fire Brigade to fly out to the Hamptons in New York to celebrate the 4th of July with their US counterparts in the Southampton Fire Department. And what a trip it was.

The group for this much-anticipated trip consisted of 38 members.

“It was a very diverse group,” DFBSSC committee member and co-organiser S/O Declan Rice says. “We opened it up to all DFBSSC members, and we had people from all ranks, from Assistant Chiefs John Keogh and Greg O’Dwyer all the way down to the newest FF/Ps coming into the job, so we had a great spread of ages, a great spread of stations represented, and everybody bonded really well.

“The possibility of the trip was first raised over a year ago, but when Southampton FD came over for St Patrick’s Day, we got to talk to them in detail about it and saw that it could be a reality,” Declan says. “From that moment onwards, planning was non-stop.”

HOSPITALITY

From the moment they landed until they got back on the plane home, the DFB group enjoyed amazing hospitality from their hosts – something everyone was eager to mention.

“The thing that stood out was that it wasn’t just the firefighters in Southampton who did everything for us and were extremely welcoming throughout the trip, it was their families too,” Declan says. “But also, the greater community of Southampton made us feel so welcome.”

This hospitality extended to a full itinerary of activities. Upon arrival on 3 July, the group was escorted by fire engines to their lodgings at Stony Brook College and then Southampton Fire Department to a rapturous welcome.

A sombre note was rung as the group honoured the memory of retired FF/P Gerry Sweeney, whose funeral was taking place back home.

A VALUABLE GIFT

There were a few official greetings to be made, and formal presentations, including an Irish flag gifted to the DFB by Joe O’Dea and the Southampton Fire Department. The flag, which Assistant Chief Fire Officer John Keogh received on behalf of the DFB, was first flown outside the old Hotel Commodore on 42nd Street in New York to greet Eamon De Valera on his State visit in 1948, and was flown every year on St Patrick’s Day thereafter.

Joe O’Dea’s father was a native of County Clare and followed the career of De Valera, who represented Clare in the Dáil after 1916, and managed to purchase the flag in the 1970s when the hotel closed its doors, to honour his father’s memory. Proud of his Irish heritage, Joe O’Dea felt it would be fitting to give the flag to the DFB, in the hope they could give it a suitable home.

This was just one example of the incredible generosity and warmth of the people the DFB met on this trip.

“I was honoured to receive the flag and framed document detailing its history,” A/C/F/O John Keogh says, “and to give assurances that it will hold pride of place in the DFB museum.”

He too was overwhelmed by the welcome received from the Southampton FD.

“My abiding memory of the trip was the hospitality of our hosts,” he tells me. “Their generosity had no bounds. We had a ball. Good company, good craic, and plenty of laughs.”

THE 4TH OF JULY PARADE

The main event, of course, was the unforgettable 4th of July parade to celebrate American Independence Day.

Because of his military background, Sub Officer Brian Gunning was tasked with organising the DFB’s role in the parade, at which they would march alongside the Southampton FD.

“We are used to formal parades for things such as St Patrick’s Day and for funerals, but when we went over there it was less formal, and it suited the spirit of the occasion,” he tells me. “We were marching in our uniforms, but that was the only formal part of the trip. There were so many people coming up to us and saying thanks for being there. At St Patrick’s Day, you have barriers all along, keeping people back, but there were no barriers at this, so it was really welcoming. For me, the highlight of the entire trip was the parade, it was a real eye opener.”

On top of that, DFB managed to win top prize in the Fire Department Marching Unit competition, outshining their hosts.

FUN AND GAMES

Apart from the parade, the trip also included many other events and outings to keep the group entertained.

“As a sports and social club, we wanted to make sure we took part in a range of activities,” S/O Rice tells me. This included a shooting competition, which the local police arranged at their training grounds, a sea swim relay competition, a softball competition, and the parade competition. “There was a lot on to keep us all occupied, and to have some friendly competition with our hosts, and I’m happy to say we came out on top in most,” he adds.

“They did have a bit of an advantage in the softball, but it was the only competition that they won,” Declan says. “It’s good that they won something, so it wasn’t a whitewash.”

Among the activities were two golf outings, which Sub Officer Brian Gilbert recalls as his favourite memories of the trip, and with good cause. He and the rest of a DFB team were brought to Southampton Golf Club for what was billed as a mini Ryder Cup, which the ‘European’ team won.

“It was great fun, and there was a fair bit of heckling and banter, gentle words in their ears – hope you don’t mess up this shot, and all that,” he tells me. “That was a great day, and we are already talking about the rematch when they come over here next time.”

SHINNECOCK HILLS

The golf didn’t end there for Sub Officer Gilbert though, as he was unexpectedly invited to play at the prestigious Shinnecock Hills course, home of the 2018 US Open and a course where all of the world’s greats have played, courtesy of Chief Alfred (Alfie) Callahan, who is a member.

“Myself, Barry Wilde and Damien Nolan jumped at the chance – to play somewhere like that was an absolute dream because you just don’t get the chance to do that. The three of us were like children jumping up and down.”

A shot he puts “down to luck” saw Brian land a par three on the notoriously difficult 11th hole, which he says he will remember forever, but the experience of playing this course will stay with him too.

“Walking around the clubhouse, there were loads of photographs of golfing greats such as Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods, and to be in the same locker rooms those people used was a great experience. It was a real once in a lifetime opportunity. I’d like to thank the committee for organising the trip. Dan Fynes, Declan Rice and Simon Finglas organised everything so well. Thanks too to Jason Poremba, who brought us out to Southampton Golf Club, and to Alfie for bringing us to Shinnecock Hills.”

It wasn’t just those who walked in the same footsteps as Tiger Woods who enjoyed the trip.

“While a lot of planning was involved, there were a few surprises too,” S/O Rice tells me. The 4th of July parade itself was one of those surprises.

“Towards the end of their parade, they stood on each side of us and we marched through their ranks, with them saluting us as we marched through,” he says. “I have never seen it done before, and it was one of those memorable moments. It went down so well we are going to rob that idea off them and try to replicate it if we can when they next visit!”

Another surprise was a visit to a traditional American carnival on the invite of the nearby North Sea FD. Attractions at the carnival held as a charity fundraiser included a softball dunking pool, and when Assistant Chief Fire Officer Greg O’Dwyer volunteered to sit in the dunking chair, everybody wanted to have a go, and helped raise a lot of money by buying more than a few shots.

“Fair play to Greg for doing that, and for the North Sea FD for bringing us down there,” Declan adds.

There was of course a fair amount of celebration and revelry involved. “Late finishes, let’s put it that way,” Declan says. “But our hosts were great in this too, and always made sure that we all got home safe.”

“We will be hard-pushed to match them next year,” he adds. “They keep raising the bar.”

MORALE BOOSTER

The trip was enormously successful, with every member who went echoing this sentiment, but it also underlines the importance of the DFBSSC’s work in providing an outlet for DFB members.

“There will be a lot of interest in the next trip because this one brought a lot of craic back to the job, and increased morale a lot,” Declan says. “Even for St Patrick’s Day next year, all of the members on the trip are now enthused to do more for people who come over, because they have seen the benefits of it from the other side.

“We are hoping to make a trip abroad every other year. We don’t want the craic to stop, we want to build it up, and trips like this really do help with that.”

Station Profile: C Watch North Strand

The crew of C Watch in North Strand take time out to talk to Adam Hyland about the comings and goings at their station.

There was a buzz around North Strand fire station when I went to visit C Watch on a sunny July day. Acting Assistant Chief John Keogh and Third Officer Brendan McNicholas had both come to the station and were talking to S/O Ronan Magee and D/O Noel Cunningham, preparing to give a send-off to FF/P and former Dublin GAA star Gerry Hargan after his 34 years of service with the DFB.

Other FF/Ps were bustling around in anticipation, giving a sense that everybody here has a deep respect for the senior members, and for all the crew.

North Strand is an old station, built in the early 1970s to replace Buckingham Street and has hardly changed since then, and while senior members have served here for many years, the demographic at C Watch is changing, with a lot of fresh blood introduced. That’s noticeable when the crew and other visiting FF/Ps gather to bid a fond farewell to Gerry.

S/O Ronan Magee, who has been with North Strand C Watch for four years following many more as S/O across many stations and watches, agrees.

CHANGES

“We are fortunate to have a crew with a varied range of service and experience,” he tells me. “Unfortunately, in the recent past we have lost some very senior members of the crew through retirement, and this has been a significant loss to both the watch and to the DFB. Newer staff have brought with them a broad skillset acquired from recruit training. This technical knowledge has enabled them to develop aptitudes in firefighting that can only be cultivated with practical experience. It takes time for newer staff to get into the culture of the station, but I find more experienced staff are always helpful in getting them familiar with how things work.”

As a result, the camaraderie is very good, and a lot of that is down to the crew being able to work well together and share experiences in a collaborative and informative manner. This casual engagement provides a platform for tacit information sharing, which S/O Magee tells me is an area he is very interested in and is a well studied means of learning. “Storytelling – anecdotal storytelling – about incidents or call outs, is a very worthwhile way to pass on information, and thus aid learning,” he says. “So, whilst camaraderie and teamwork are core values we are proud of, they serve another function in the educational field, even if the crew might not realise it.”

CHALLENGES

Teamwork is a necessity in a station whose operational district covers a wide geographical area reaching from the north inner city to Howth and the southern borders of north county Dublin, and the North Strand crews also works closely with its neighbouring Delta District crew based in Kilbarrack Fire Station.

C Watch’s 15-strong crew is equipped with two water tenders, an ambulance and the Tunnel Response vehicle.

“The Tunnel Response vehicle definitely brings in extra responsibility for the station,” S/O Magee tells me, “and the area we cover includes sites that present significant risks. The Port Tunnel is one, but there is also Dublin Port, Croke Park, and the 3 Arena to name a few. We dedicate a significant portion of training time preparing to deal with incidents at these locations.

“We conduct familiarization visits to Croke Park in advance of major events. For the Port Tunnel, we train in a cooperative manner with organisations that oversee the operation of the tunnel and conduct frequent exercises to ensure we are prepared for any emergencies. Almost all crew members are trained up to turn out on the tunnel response vehicle, whilst a couple of the more recent recruits are awaiting training to bring them up to speed.

“We also spend a significant amount of time training and preparing for incidents at Dublin Port. The effective management of such incidents requires a specific skillset that includes specialist knowledge of its unique water distribution systems and the dedicated appliances assigned to deal with incidents there.

“When it comes to operational readiness,” he adds, “we have to pay tribute to the C Watch crew for their enthusiasm in training and their willingness to keep themselves up to date with new and existing skills. The risk profile of the area provides challenges in maintaining operational readiness, but my fellow officers and firefighters make it an enjoyable station to work in.”

TRAINING

D/O Noel Cunningham talks about the same challenges and risk areas around the station’s location.

“Dublin Port is definitely the biggest risk for us,” he agrees. “We have oil and chemical plants, so if anything goes wrong, we need to be prepared to
deal with that. We have to be ready for any incident so we have pre-designated routines.”

As mentioned by CFO Dennis Keeley in our last issue, the DFB are looking into the possibility of building a new station at North Strand, but this may take time, and for now C Watch works well with the current facilities.

“We are in a fluid position at the moment because we don’t yet know what will happen regarding a new station,” D/O Cunningham says, “so we have to adapt to that. We don’t have training facilities here, but we are very near the OBI, so we can avail of a lot of their facilities.”

He also comments on the fact that these are not the only changes the station is seeing, reflecting on the demographics of the personnel too. “There have been a lot of younger recruits coming into this station as older firefighters retire, so the demographic has definitely changed,” he tells me, “and that represents its own challenges, because they don’t have that on the ground experience, but we compensate for that by conducting a lot of training exercises, while we also transfer them up to Kilbarrack to get them skilled up there.

“At the end of the day though, we are here to serve the people of Dublin, like every other DFB member, and C Watch at North Strand do it very well.”

Talking to some of the younger crew members after the presentation to Gerry Hargan, it is obvious that they get on very well, and are fully appreciative of the fact that they are able to avail of the experience of more senior members.

“We are all sad to see Gerry Hargan go,” FF/Ps Enda McKenna, Pat Trapp and Tom Larkin tell me, “and we’ve lost other senior men over the last few years – a former colleague, Jim Byrne, passed away last year just after retirement, which was very sad – so the watch is changing with a lot of new blood coming in, but it is all very positive, the atmosphere is always good.

“We have a great crew, and we have a very good reputation. It’s a great place to work.”

9/11: A firefighter’s story

Former FDNY firefighter Tiernach Cassidy talks to Adam Hyland about surviving 9/11, honouring his colleagues and sharing his experiences

Most of us can recall where we were when the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001, but for FDNY firefighter Tiernach Cassidy, the memories of that fateful day will stay with him forever.

Stationed in downtown Manhattan, he witnessed the tragic events of the day unfold, and was one of only a handful of survivors from a squad that rushed to help as the Towers crashed to the ground.

Tiernach was part of Engine 3 in Chelsea, Lower Manhattan, but due to an injury he had sustained on a previous call out, he was assigned to light duties closer to the World Trade Center on Lafayette Street, between Spring and Prince Street. That morning, he had just arrived to begin what he thought would be another normal day, when events ensured it would be anything but.

“I got to work at 8.30am that morning and started to head up to the roof to have my first cup of coffee,” he tells me. “From the top of the building you could clearly see the World Trade Center, and it was a nice view to relax to before starting work. But that morning, the roof was packed with people. The first plane had just hit the North Tower. Everyone was asking: ‘What do we do?’ but we were told to stay where we were and await further instruction. We just didn’t know what had actually happened.

“Between us, looking back and forth from the rooftop to the TV in the fire house, we saw the second plane come in and hit the South Tower. At this point we all realised that this wasn’t an accident, we knew that this was an attack.”

With all available resources at 1st Division already sent to respond to the explosion in the North Tower, Tiernach and his colleagues knew they needed to help and rushed down the stairs. When another six-man team boarded their fire truck, Tiernach and a few others jumped on too, and headed to the site.

“On our way, the first tower was coming down, and we actually drove through the first collapse cloud to get there,” Tiernach tells me. “I used to live in that part of Manhattan, so the whole way down there I was telling the guys that I knew where to go, that I knew the area like the back of my hand, but suddenly it was unrecognisable, so we parked the rigs on Liberty and Broadway, and we started to work in groups to try to find survivors, because we could hear mayday signals.”

Tiernach and his colleagues rescued the few injured firefighters they could find and took them back to Broadway, before making their way back to the site of devastation.

“It was then that the second tower started to collapse,” he recalls. “We were right under it at this point. I remember the pancaking sound, but it took a few seconds to realise what that was. It seemed like time froze, but when I looked at the guy I was with, a lieutenant called Danny, we both realised it was the tower coming down. We ran back to our rig, he slid under it, and I opened all these compartment doors to build a little box for myself, to protect myself from whatever came down, and waited for the impact.

“After what seemed like forever, there was total silence, until all of a sudden, I started hearing the chirping of alarms. These were the sounds that our helmets emitted if we stopped moving for 30 seconds. The noise was coming from all around me.

“When the dust settled, I realised that, miraculously, me and the guys with me were still alive, and I was able to make out objects in the distance. We got up and went back to work, trying to find our friends who we knew were in there.”

While the emergency services did their best to clear the city, and as civilians fled, for Tiernach the next few hours were spent helping crews put out fires and searching for his colleagues and other survivors.

“Myself and Danny found ourselves in the very centre of the collapse,” Tiernach tells me, “and we were both tied off with lifesaving ropes, taking turns going into holes and looking for people. As I was holding the rope taut, Danny signalled that he had found people, and it turned out that there were 13 survivors. He signalled for help and when the rescue squad came in with stretchers, it was remarkable that nobody needed them, because everybody was able to walk out. It was unbelievable to come out of that pile.

“When I reached my hand down to pull the second guy out of the hole, I recognised him. He was Mickey Cross, a friend of mine from before we both went into the fire department. All he came out with was a scratch on his nose, and the first thing he did was ask me for was a cigarette. I was like: ‘Are you kidding me?’”

That initial success was sadly not to be repeated, much to Tiernach’s disappointment. “When we took those survivors out, I thought there would be hundreds more of them in the cavernous spaces of what was left of the World Trade Center. But there were none.

“In the immediate aftermath, just like in any accident, my first reaction is always to go and help. I saw it happen right in front of me, and I knew that hundreds of guys I worked with, and thousands of civilians working in the buildings, needed help, and in the back of my head, I assumed that almost everybody survived. I knew there would be a few fatalities, and a few injuries, but in my mind, I was thinking that there were so many people in there who needed help. ‘We are strong people, we will be ok,’ I was telling myself, because the reality was just incomprehensible.

“Of course, in the aftermath I was devastated to discover the amount of fatalities, but in the beginning, I was still thinking that if I just pulled back a rock, there would be 100 people sitting there saying ‘Oh thank God’. It didn’t work out like that.”

In total, 2,996 people lost their lives that day, including 72 police and 343 firefighters.

“Every fire house lost men,” Tiernach tells me. “From my own Fire House, Engine 3, we lost three guys from the truck, the chief and his aide, five good friends and colleagues. The fire house I was on duty with that day, lost almost everybody. The time that it happened meant there was a changeover of personnel. I would get into work at 8am, and the guys who would be finishing up on night duty would hang around and have breakfast, so we would have a double group in. When a major event like that happens, everybody wants to stay to help out, so not only did 20 Truck and Squad 18 lose their original six guys on the engine, but they had an additional six who had stayed and gone out with them. So, each squad lost 12 guys.”

Steel Skeleton of World Trade Center Tower South (one) in Ground Zero days after September 11, 2001 terrorist attack which collapsed the 110 story twin towers in New York City, NY, USA.

Before 9/11

Despite the tragic events of that day, Tiernach is adamant that he “couldn’t imagine doing anything else” in what he still considers “the greatest job in the world”. Being a firefighter was one of the only things he had ever wanted to do. “As a kid, I decided that I either wanted to be a cowboy, an astronaut or a fireman. Those were my dreams,” he tells me.

“I didn’t have the schooling to become an astronaut, and I can’t ride a horse, so I became a fireman.”

He had been working in the restaurant and bar scene, “just like any good Irish-American lad would do”, and had waited patiently for six years for his call up after passing the written exam, before he was eventually sworn in on May 17, 1998. He was assigned to the same neighbourhood where he had tended bar, and one of the first fires he attended was in the bar he had been working in. “I’d been working there so long I don’t think anybody believed I was due to join the Fire Department,” he says, “but when I walked in and the manager saw me, he said ‘Holy shit, it’s Tiernach’. He invited us all in for a drink after our shift.”

Engine 3 in Chelsea covers the area from 28th Street to 14th Street, but also goes city-wide as a high-rise unit, covering any building over 80 foot, so Tiernach gained a lot of experience responding to a variety of calls in a busy neighbourhood, but his job changed dramatically after the World Trade Center attacks.

Ground Zero

On that first day, immediately after the attacks, Tiernach and his colleagues continued to search the area around the South Tower, without success, until reports came in to clear the area around Tower 7, which was on the verge of collapse. Following that, he continued to work through to 2am, when a relief squad was sent down.

“At first, I still had no thoughts of impending doom, because I thought we would find a large group of people alive,” Tiernach tells me. “After the first two weeks of digging and searching, people started talking about other scenarios, collapses at mines, and how long people could live without food and drink. But in the days that followed, reality started kicking in. Once we passed the point of no survival, we went on to recovery work, and that went on for a year or so after that.”

Crews altered between one month on operational duties and one month working at Ground Zero.

“I remember weeks after, the trucks would come in and dig out piles, and we were just looking for remains, just looking to give closure, to find some trace of a person. It is sad to think that we were just trying to find a piece or scrap, and thinking that was once a person you talked to. It really made you feel small.”

A permanent reminder

Tiernach’s tattoo depicting the two World Trade Center towers, smoke, an angel and the names of his fallen colleagues from Engine 3

Tiernach says that his memories of that day will never fade, but he wanted to make a gesture to his fallen colleagues, and forge his own personal memorial to his friends at Engine 3. The result is a beautiful and poignant tattoo covering his entire back.

“After it went to a recovery effort, me and a lot of other active firefighters wanted some type of memorial to remember it by, so a bunch of us went to the local tattoo parlour, and walked in asking if we could get a group discount,” Tiernach tells me. “Firefighters are cheap!”

He continues: “For me, when I was on the roof of that building on Lafayette and saw that second plane come in and hit the South Tower, that image is still in my head, and I swear to God, I could feel the loss. To explain it is hard, but the emotion was so real. So that is what I put on my back – the towers, the smoke, an angel, and the names of the guys just from my firehouse, because unfortunately, I couldn’t fit everybody.

“It was therapeutic,” he says. “I went to, and still do go to counselling for this, and my counsellor said it was a form of pain therapy. Tattoos don’t feel good, if they did everybody would have one, but when I was getting this done, I don’t think I felt any pain at all. It took nine months from start to finish, going every two weeks, but I needed to do it, to remember and honour my friends.”

Tiernach is glad that he did it for another reason too. With regular sessions at the tattoo parlour, he became friendly with the receptionist, Christina. They are now married, with two children, Lucas, 15, and Isabelle, who is nine.

Once the recovery operation was wound down, the FDNY started to hire again in order to replenish its ranks, with a huge number of applicants looking to honour the city’s firefighters by taking up the mantle, and Tiernach found himself in an unexpected position.

“I still felt like the new guy,” he says. “I had only been in three years, there were guys with up to 25 years who I had listened to. But these new guys looked at anybody who had survived 9/11 as the senior guys. For a time, there was a lot of rebuilding and teaching the new guys the way I had been taught by the guys prior to me, which is how the fire department should be, and how it continues to be today.”

“It was a learning experience, especially for guys like me, to take the new guys under our wing, and still make the job a great job to be in.”

Tiernach’s tattoo

The Irish connection

As his name would suggest, Tiernach has a deep connection with Ireland, but in the past few years this has been strengthened by a surprising turn of events. Born in New York to Irish parents, as a child he moved to Dublin with his father for two and a half years before returning to the States, and until 1985, returned every summer to spend his holidays with his 18 uncles and aunts, and countless first cousins he likened to brothers and sisters.

It wasn’t until he was 17 when his mother revealed that he had an older brother in Ireland. “This is another crazy story all of its own,” Tiernach tells me. “My mother broke down one day and told me she had a baby when she was 19 or so. There always seemed to be a weight on her shoulders, but she never gave so much as hint about anything until that day.”

Having a child out of wedlock in 1950s Ireland meant Tiernach’s mother had to give her baby up for adoption while she worked in a convent before being shipped off to America. It was there that she met her husband, and soon Tiernach arrived on the scene.

“I had no idea about my brother Gerry, who is 12 years older than me,” he says, “and I never thought he would track us down. It was funny: When I found out at 17, I wondered how many times had I passed him in the street when I was visiting Ireland? Did I ever meet him? Stuff like that.”

Years later in Ireland, Gerry traced his mother through adoption and church records, and relatives, before finally getting in touch with her via a third-party.

“They started out writing letters,” Tiernach tells me, “before we arranged to meet. I remember picking my mother up to meet him at the airport. There were hundreds of people coming through customs, and I immediately picked him out. We don’t have the same physical stature or anything, but just like that, we just knew who the other was. My mother says we are like two peas in a pod. Nobody out here can fathom the story.”

Tiernach and Gerry have been “trying to catch up as much as possible” ever since, he tells me, with Tiernach visiting Ireland as much as he can. He transferred out of Engine 3 three years ago, moving out to the east end of Queens, “closer to home and a bit quieter than it was in the city”, before he left the FDNY on medical grounds. “As of last year, I am officially done,” he tells me, leaving him time to spend with his family, visit Ireland, and share his stories.

“It is definitely therapeutic to talk about it, and definitely don’t want to keep it bottled up,” he says. “I have plenty to tell and can go on for hours about what happened on 9/11, and. I would love to share my experience. The next time I am in Ireland, I would love to share my story with any fire service. That would be an honour for me.”

If you would like to arrange for Tiernach to talk at a station about his time in the FDNY, contact the editor for details of his next visit.

North Lauderdale Fire Rescue Department, Florida

International station profile

Battalion Leader and Chief of Emergency Medical Services Bill McGrath talks to Adam Hyland about life as a Firefighter/Paramedic in this small city in south Florida

The St Patrick’s Day Parade hosted guests from the North Lauderdale Fire Rescue (NLFR) this year. Along with many from the neigboring cities of Plantation and Margate, NLFR enjoyed the hospitalitiy of the Dublin Fire Brigade, which Battalion Leader Bill McGrath describes as “unbelievably great”.

North Lauderdale is a small city in south Florida, populated by less than 50,000. Its Fire Rescue Department has 45 full-time personnel working across three stations. The city lies within Broward County, which has 16 fire departments and around 90 fire stations; crews can be called out to any incident within this larger area.

“The way our county works,” Bill says, “is that we have a Closest Unit Response, so it doesn’t matter which department you work for, if your unit is closest to an incident, you go. We all have the same dispatch too, which makes it easier. It is fairly unique, and while it is not a perfect system, it does allow each city to have its own designated fire department.”

Similar to the DFB, personnel are trained as both firefighters and paramedics. With rescue units and ambulances, Broward County also has specialist teams such as HazMat, water rescue, and two helicopters.

This makes for a lot of county call outs (around 250,000 annually), but the majority are EMS calls, rather than fire.

“We tend not to get too many big fires because the threat of hurricanes means we have very stringent building safety regulations. We have them, of course, but not as many as other areas such as New York, Boston or even Fort Lauderdale,” Bill says. “There is a relatively large population, but apart from single home fires, there is not a large number of big fires, because of that building construction.”

The second reason is the population of the city and county.

“South Florida has a lot of elderly people and retirees, and there is a big focus on their patient care, and the majority of what we do is medical. Our budget is funded quite a bit by EMS,” Bill says. “Our part of Florida is very advanced in terms of facilities, with three trauma centres and eight stroke centres.”

Diversity and geography

The diversity and surrounding geography provides many challenges.

“We have everything, our city is very diverse. There are a lot of family homes, with a lot of children, so there are a lot of child emergencies, and South Florida has a lot of water – it is surrounded by canals, it’s got the ocean, everybody has a pool – so water plays a part in many incidents we attend.”

The city has a diverse population, with a large number of people from Jamaica and Haiti.

“We are unique in our county in that there are people coming here from all over the country and beyond, so we have multiple languages,” Bill says.

“We have people in the fire department who speak creole, or Spanish, so sometimes there can be communication challenges, but it is important that the personnel in the department reflects the community.”

Apart from many EMS calls, a challenge for NLFR is the hot south Florida climate, which Bill says can reach over 110 degrees farenheit.

“Our firefighters can get very hot, very quickly, and overheating is a real danger, even without a fire,” he says. “We need a lot of hydration for our own safety.”

With the fire and ambulance services, NLFR also plays an import part in their community, including awareness campaigns and programs for schoolchildren, such as their Fire Explorer program.

“We bring schoolchildren aged between 14 and 18 to our stations twice a month, where we do training with them,” Bill tells me. “They learn how to be a firefighter, and they are even involved in competitions against other schools. We then look to them first when we are hiring, and train them to be full-time firefighters. They sign up from school, and we provide a career path for them.

Survival training

“We also do a lot of CPR training, with a big focus on survival, and people being able to perform CPR. All of our city employees are trained in CPR,” Bill tells me. “We also have a Stop the Bleed campaign, which teaches people how to apply tourniquets and basic first aid,” he adds. “Unfortunately, that has become a necessity with the number of violent incidents and tragedies we have seen recently, such as the Parkland shootings (in which 17 students and teachers were victims of a mass shooting in February, 2018), and the Fort Lauderdale airport shootings in 2017 (in which five people were killed), both of which we had to respond to.

“All of our personnel now have to carry bulletproof vests and Kevlar helmets,” he tells me. “If we have an active shooting to attend to, we put on our bulletproof clothing and go in with the police. We are not armed, and our job is to evacuate victims, while the police protect us.

“It’s definitely something that firefighters did not sign up for, but unfortunately it is part of our job now. We can’t wait outside when a shooting happens while the police try to clear it, because unfortunately people will die from their wounds. We need to go in, so we don our protective gear and go in.

“We train with the police in order to do this as well as we can, but unfortunately it has become pretty common, it’s just the way it is now. Everybody expects it.”

Bill tells me that there are some great sides to the job too. “The most obvious positive is the personnel. We have fantastic firefighters and paramedics, and because we are small, we are very tight-knit, and we do everything together, in and out of work.

“We are a real community,” Bill adds, “and the fact that 13 of the 16 departments in our county are in the same union means that we are united as one.”

He thinks well of Fire Chief Rodney Turpel, who has been with the service for 30 years.

“He is a huge proponent of ours,” Bill says. “A lot of people want to go and work with a bigger department, but they stay because of the personnel and the Fire Chief. Plus, it’s also a great place to live and work.”

Admiring the DFB

North Lauderdale Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Bill McGrath presents a gift to CFO Dennis Keeley ahead of the St Patrick’s Day Parade

Having visited the OBI and the DFB Museum on his Ireland visit, Bill is keen to talk about his department’s museum, which he says was established by Fire Chief Turpel.

“Younger people weren’t necessarily realising the sacrifices older firefighters made, so he wanted to make sure that was kept. To treat firefighters with respect.”

“Our department only started in 1973, so we are still a pretty young fire department, but the county has been operating for many years and the museum was Chief Turpel’s own personal project,” Bill says. “He reached out to a lot of older retirees, got hold of a lot of older pictures, and developed the museum. We have a lot of people who will come by and take a look at the books and pictures depicting old personnel, old fires, so it is a good response. He wanted to make sure the younger generation appreciate the history of the fire service, especially our fire service, which seemed to be losing touch a little bit.

For Bill, this is important, and he wants his department to learn from the DFB when it comes to forming generational links and connections with the history of firefighting in Broward County.

“I saw the DFB Museum, and loved it. You have a lot more history than we do, but even talking to DFB personnel, they told us so much from the history of the DFB, and we are trying to do the same thing, to instil that pride, that ownership of the history and the people who came before us.

“You have a lot of personal history too, with generations of the same family being part of the DFB, and that is something we would love to replicate.”

“We have a long way to go to match the DFB, but we have the right people.”

Southampton FD, New York

International Profile

Matt Shimkus of the Southampton Fire Department talks to Adam Hyland about life as a volunteer firefighter in this beautiful part of Long Island

Last March, firefighters from the village of Southampton on New York’s Long Island journeyed to Ireland, to participate in the St Patrick’s Day Parade alongside the Dublin Fire Brigade.

One volunteer firefighter was Matt Shimkus. “Last year was awesome,” he says. “It’s a beautiful country, the hospitality was amazing, the welcome we got from the Dublin Fire Brigade was great. Everybody we met and talked to was interested in knowing where we were from and what we do.”

Southampton FD‘s volunteer members give their spare time, ensuring this affluent area is covered in case of fires and emergency situations.

Established in 1881, the department has four stations, 145 volunteers, three chiefs, 15 officers, and five companies — Agawam Engine, Agawam Hose, Southampton Hose, Fire Police and Hook & Ladder – and covers the village of Southampton and outlying districts. A Rescue Squad, Water Rescue squad and Rapid Intervention team are specialties within the department. Owned and funded by the village of Southampton, they respond to 1,100 calls per year on average.

“We live in a great spot, and we work together well as a team to do what we do for the people we serve.”

Being a member

When not firefighting, Matt is a teacher, but as he says, “we have a wide gamut of volunteers”. This includes police officers, plumbers, business owners, contractors, landscapers and more. They sacrifice time, responding to emergency calls day and night.

“Everybody has their own commitments and has different amounts of time to give, and others are more able to undertake ongoing training to develop different skills,” Matt says.

A volunteer department where everybody has day jobs means response protocol is different than the DFB.

“Every member has a pager, and when a call comes in through the normal 911 dispatch, whoever is able to go responds,” Matt says. “We have several members who have a lot of flexibility and are able to respond from their jobs.

“The response protocol is usually that we head to the station and respond from there, but we also all carry our equipment with us, so if we can’t make it to the station on time, or if we are in the area, we can also make our way to the scene. But the main aim is to get the truck out of the house and respond as a team.”

Matt with Dan Fynes at the St Patrick’s Day Parade 2018

Challenges

The area covered by the department includes commercial and residential areas, with many large, valuable estates , which Matt says “can present challenges in themselves”.

The summer months bring great challenges due to location of Southampton and population growth.

“The response time for leaving work, getting to the fire house, getting the truck out and responding to the fire when the population has suddenly multiplied, can certainly be more challenging than at other times of the year.

“Because of our location, we see more emergency calls related to the water in the summer, as we cover Shinnecock Bay, and respond to emergencies on the beaches, but then the warmer weather can also result in brush fires, so we cover those events too.

“As a result, no two days are ever the same, but we do a lot of training and drills so that we are ready for whatever we encounter, it’s just a matter of being prepared for any eventuality.”

Successful response isn’t possible without cooperation with other area departments.

“Most of the time when we respond to a call, we will call in a neighbouring department to assist,” Matt says. “They may also go to our fire house while we are out at a fire, so that they can respond if there is another call out. There is a lot of teamwork and collaboration between us. We do the same for them, so we call them, they call us, and we all work well together.”

“We are never satisfied with doing a good job, we are constantly asking how we can do it better, how we can do the best job possible for our community.”

Community

Southampton Fire Department’s Juniors program is notable. Local youths get involved, helping foster the spirit of volunteering. In 2003, Matt was Captain for the first year before Juniors took on running themselves.

“In the Junior program, local children aged 12 to 18 can participate and take part in firefighting and emergency roles through drills and training,” Matt says. “They are structured just like one of our companies – they have their officers, they run their own meetings, and they have their drills similar to ours, using the same equipment. It’s obviously on a smaller scale, but they are still a very useful part of the community, and really learn what is needed for firefighting. Then hopefully when they turn 18, they might consider joining our department. There are about eight members of our department now who were Juniors.”

Community makes the Southampton FD effective, and why many locals volunteer their time to maintain village safety.

“It sounds cliched but we truly are family here,” Matt says.

“Who you are, where you come from, what you do, doesn’t really matter, we know we can’t do our job without the guys standing beside us.”

Given they were thrilled to partake in the St Patrick’s Day Parade last year, it’s no surprise there’s half a dozen Irishmen in the department, with both year-round and seasonal availability. They will be accepting the DFB’s invitation to return this year.

“We will be coming back for St Patrick’s Day again, with 15 to 20 volunteers coming over to be part of the parade,” Matt says. “We are looking forward to it. Dublin is a great city, everybody is so kind, and I am sure it will be awesome again.”

That invitation, Matt says, will soon work both ways. “We have extended an invitation to DFB to come out to Southampton for our 4 July celebrations. I’m working closely with Dan Fynes to make that happen, and all of us at Southampton FD are working on the plans to welcome them over.”

It may be busy, but the Hamptons on the Fourth of July will be an experience.

The Italian Job: Part III

It is always the same story when a group of firefighters go on a cycling trip to Italy, so much to see and so little time to do everything, writes Brendan Lodola.

It’s been two years now since my last article about our cycling trip to Tuscany, the heart of the Italian countryside. We left this beautiful part of the world in 2016, refreshed from the hours of great banter and camaraderie with a group of great people, and exhilarated from being immersed into a haven of spectacular scenery. We had said goodbye to a favourite place in the world, but we knew we’d be back!

We were only home a couple of weeks when cycling firefighters began texting, saying how much they missed the whole experience already. It was time to start thinking about our next cycling adventure in 2018, The Italian Job Part III.

I can’t continue without refreshing you, the people who read the last article, and informing the people who have never been, of the wonders of Tuscany. A region of vineyards, cypresses, olives and ancient stone hamlets. Row upon row of vines stretched out on either side of us, soaking up the warm autumnal sun, beneath a bright blue sky. Terracotta roofed villas and heavenly hilltop sandstone villages, with their narrow streets, rising up from the landscape, enticing us to a challenge of cycling up to them. And believe me, they were a challenge! 

But it’s also a cyclist’s playground. It’s not for nothing that the Giro d’Italia, Italy’s annual road cycling race, passes through here. Tuscany is mostly a hilly territory, with plains concentrated mostly along the rivers and the coast. For cycling fans, this means putting yourself to the test on the same hills and slopes many cycling legends trained on, including Bartali, Cipollini and Bettini. Tuscany is in fact a land of cyclists and wherever you choose to pedal, you’re likely to cross paths with many other two-wheel aficionados.

And that’s why we were going back! After a long year of training, anticipation and organisation, at last the time had arrived. The Italian Job III was about to commence!

We flew out from Dublin on September 24 and over the next five days we would take in the four corners of Tuscany, stepping in and out of the 2019 Giro D’Italia stage 3 route, touching parts of the Strada Bianche professional route. 

We arrived safely at Norcenni in the afternoon and got everyone settled into the Villino. The bikes would be delivered that evening by Gippo bikes, where we would size and check them for our first spin early the next day to San Gimignano, before we went down for dinner. It’s a pity we didn’t have flash lights by the time we were finished! 

After freshening up, it was great to be greeted so warmly by Claudia, Paolo and their staff at Ristorante Vecchio the first evening. There were different feelings up and down the table, with belly laughs and stories from our past trips coming from one end, while at the other, a sense of trepidation with what they were about to put themselves through. They had nothing to worry about, or did they?

Bright and early on a beautiful Tuscan morning, we were awoken by some Pavarotti in the air from our trusted driver Dave Fitzgerald. He was up at the crack of dawn with the van stocked up ready to keep us fed and safe. We headed down for a feed of continental breakfast and some true Italian espresso before we got onto our bikes for the first of our four days of cycling.

Another beautiful adventure was about to begin. This almost magnetic wonderland that keeps us coming back every couple of years looked just as we left it. 

San Gimignano

The beauty of this itinerary includes long stretches on country roads in heartwarming sunshine. Pleasant surprises are bound to happen. While thinking you will never make it up these hills, you then feel a huge sense of achievement when you look back at what you have done, or find yourself surrounded by the largest sunflower field you have ever seen… every day brings something different.

In the company of this mixed group of personalities, the Norcenni to San Gimignano cycling tour would prove to be probably the toughest day of our cycling trip in Tuscany. We would certainly feel the pain from this first day, with a distance of 140km round trip and its relentless rolling hills throughout of over 3000m of climbing, while experiencing an exhilarating exploration of the scenery and flavours of the region. We set off and stopped in Montefiorale for a group photo. 

But it wasn’t long before we had our first casualty on a steep climb out of Montefiorale to Certona. Everyone regrouped at the top, but we were missing one: Mick Whelan with his big thighs proved too much for his bike, as his chain snapped while climbing a 15% grueller. 

We needed our transport department CEO Charles Fitzer Bronson to come to our rescue, but where was he? Our communications officer Liz Hanley called him on the phone while I headed back to see where Mick was, only to startle him when she suddenly shouted “Car up!” to warn others of a vehicle approaching.

Four of us waited for Dave and the rest headed off to the next town, where they would enjoy a coffee and croissant in a small town called Valgondoli. Dave O’Toole did the business on Mick’s bike. The five of us hit speeds of up to 80k pushing hard to catch up with the leaders. We got our bearings, checked the bikes and set off for our halfway stop for lunch in San Gimignano. 

We travelled through Vico D’elsa and Certaldo, some of the Giro d’Italia 2019 stage 3 route, which starts in Vinci (birth place of Leonardo Da Vinci) and ends in Orbetello (an ancient Etruscan settlement).

It wouldn’t have been right not to travel on some of the fierce gravel roads of the Strada Bianchi that kill your wrists and rattle your legs. This brought back memories of the 2016 trip where we hit the gravel roads for a bit longer than was planned. But I assured everyone this was a short flat couple of kilometres on the white roads which was greeted with a few expressions of “thank  f#@k for that”.  

It has to be said that this was a tough leg of our first day, with some good steep climbs through the ancient hilltop villages. But this route was also showing us the landscape of vineyard-covered hills and sunflower fields, with the amazing medieval architecture of the town of San Gimignano waiting for us in the distance.

After strolling through the city streets and enjoying a very well-deserved lunch at Piazza del Duomo, we picked up our bikes and started the “laborious” part of the day. With four big climbs before lunch, we would now encounter the next five hills of the day. One in particular would prove to be the one where we would lose a few people, or they just decided to sit in the sun instead. 

It was a race against time to get home as the sunlight was fading with a gruelling last two climbs on very tired legs up to Ponzano and out of Greve. We made it back just before dusk with 140k and 3000m of climbing.

Of course, if you’re going to be riding your bike, you need to fuel your body – and traditional Tuscan fare won’t disappoint. Our second four course dinner of carpaccio, zucchini, insalata condita and gelato for dessert would just be the trick for the next day’s spin to Arezzo.

Arezzo

Another glorious day greeted us as we set off en route to Arezzo with a few tired and heavy legs feeling the pain already, and we hadn’t even left Norcenni yet. But everyone was in great form, and why wouldn’t they be? This was going to be a straightforward spin. A bit of a climb from when we got out of Figline Valdarno and flat until Arezzo. But a certain person thought she would tell us we were going the wrong way, and we listened. So, we ended up on the route we were due to go home on. But it got us there in the end. Arezzo is a lovely place – nice lunch in the Piazza sitting in the sun. 

After the break, we once again set off on our bikes and cruised through the vineyards of Chianti Classico, stopping for photos several times and once for a rejuvenating snack to give us a bit more energy with 19k to go. A local suggested a different road to a few of the lads and against our better judgement we headed back following signs for Montevarchi and Figline Valdarno, but it transpired that the route was a little longer than planned. Tom Clare said we were now 30k into this 20k route home!

We made it back early enough to go to the pool though, where our transport CEO Fitzer gave a few of us a pool aerobics session. You can imagine the sight, a gang of hairy firefighters with the farmer’s suntan/milk bottle bodies splashing about, while the bronzed Italians lay around looking on, saying, “Mama Mia, the Irish are back!”

Siena

Day 3 and everyone was up early again, with breakfast and a few espressos on board. There were a few tired bodies, so the original planned route of 145k with 2500m of climbing to Vinci was changed to bring us to Siena instead.

We set off in the direction of Greve again, up to Ponzano this time with a pic opportunity of the Chianti Classico icon at the top of the hill overlooking the Tuscan countryside of rolling hills and cypress trees.

It was an eventless cycle to Siena, but this allowed us to observe the breathtaking scenery on the way. It sees you cycle on peaceful country lanes, through an endless panorama of vineyards, olive groves and centuries-old stone farmhouses, stopping at sleepy villages to refuel tired bodies.

This time the sun was splendid in the Piazza del Campo (home of The Palio di Siena horse race) compared to the lashing rain we had the last time we were here. There was a bit of a wait for a table for 19 people as you can imagine, while a couple of the highly-strung Italian waitresses had a go at each other over the seating arrangements. We were big business.

The race itself, in which the jockeys ride bareback, circles the Piazza del Campo, on which a thick layer of earth has been laid. The race is run for three laps of the piazza and usually lasts no more than 90 seconds. It is common for a few of the jockeys to be thrown off their horses while making the treacherous turns in the piazza, and indeed, it is not unusual to see riderless horses finishing the race.

On the way back our navigator was bringing us back down some Strada Bianchi again. There were a few comments under breaths, something about never buying a Garmin! So, we just decided to put in the shortest route back to Figline Valdarno. It was the shortest route back alright, but no one told us about the 20k climb and some other unexpected hills that threw a few people into a hypoglycemic slump. 

The group split up with a few going a little bit wrong, but Dave Fitz was on the scene. Fitzer is the calming element of the team, offering reassurance every step of the way. He will encourage you to do your best at whatever speed you need and, when you’re done and can’t do any more, he will just try to feed you. But he will just as easily pack up your bike and converse with you while trailing the group in the support van and making sure everyone is back safely. 

Another successful day, followed by more lovely food washed down with some hearty wine.  There had been a lot of talk at the table regarding the last day going up to Fiesole, as this was a short but severe climb into the town.

Fiesole

After discussing the route the night before, a decision for the group to split for the last day was made. We all started off together and set off for Fiesole outside Florence and split as agreed in a town called Reggello. This was so everyone could cycle at a comfortable pace. Directions were given, but within 2k the new navigators were coming back towards us the wrong way. “How could that be?” I heard from the following group, with a few giggles thrown in. Dave Doyle got the lead group going again and pushed it hard to the food stop. The pack got a bit panicked and pushed on after him. We agreed to meet Dave Fitz at the end of a descent near Carbonile, where he would set up camp at the bottom of the hill for us to refuel. But that wasn’t good enough for Feeder Fitzer. There were a few locals out for a cycle, minding their own business, so Dave invited them in for a few sandwiches. They politely declined, once, but when Feeder Fitzer used his charm, they couldn’t resist. 

I remembered this route from when we were there in 2014, and it was one that was talked about with great anxiety and anticipation. I think the fear of God was put into poor Miriam! But as it turned out it wasn’t as bad as expected, although it was good to see the finish.

When we reached the top, the Italian Fire Brigade were parked, as if it was planned and they were waiting for us, so a photo opportunity presented itself.

We continued on through swathes of woodland, draped over hills overlooking the city of Florence, with the Duomo towering over the city. Not bad, I thought. Not bad at all.

On reaching Fiesole, we refuelled and continued on the road and cycled down the hill only to discover that Liz had the key to the van in her pocket. Dave Doyle volunteered to cycle back up the 5k hill, giving the rest of us a chance to have another rest.

We navigated through Florence – not an easy job. We didn’t cycle across the Ponte Vecchio twice this time, but we passed the Ufizzi and the Duomo on bikes, and made it through the city safely. 

Back at the ranch was another pool opportunity. The bikes were due back and Mick used his negotiating skills to avoid a charge for a supposedly damaged one. It was time to ready ourselves for a night on the tiles, but instead of visiting Figline, we stayed on site, where we had the best meal of the week, washed down with some well-deserved wine and beers. Having met the barman earlier in the week, we were served until the early hours and had a ballad session for good measure.

This Italian experience certainly didn’t disappoint. The only regret was having to leave this inspiring place. For the soft curves of the roads, the never-ending hills, the gruelling gravel roads that shake your bones. For hilltop medieval villages in the distance, the bicycles that got us there, the wind in your hair, or just on your head! For the food at the stops, the sweat-soaked jerseys that grate your skin. For the bulging eyes on the hills, the sweat that drips, the digging deep, the happy red faces at the top, for the one who tears away, for the one who catches up. For the buzz at the dinner table, for the wine tasting and sight-seeing. 

For the laughter, for the sore legs the next morning. For the scream of the brakes on the descent, the rattle of the gears going uphill. For the aroma of the Chianti air, the sound of the crickets at night, the first espresso of the morning. For the climbs – oh the climbs– bloody climbs! – that never end – that we really love. For the bruschetta drizzled with garlic and olive oil, for the cappuccino at Greve. For those who couldn’t sleep the night before Fiesole, for those who couldn’t sleep at all because of the caffeine intake, for those who had to push uphill, for those who climbed like a butterfly, for those who were out of breath, for those who called for their “mamma”. For those who asked on the hills, what the [email protected]#k am I doing here?

For those who pushed it hard, for those who took it easy, for those who took the wrong road, for those who found a friend, for those who couldn’t take any more, for those who gave their smiles freely. For those who had their chamois cream at hand, those who whistled their way downhill, those who did it in pain, for the race to the finish line, for a cheeky smile, for a glass of wine. For those who had been waiting a year, those who had been waiting two, for those who have good legs, but especially for those who have a good heart. I hope you enjoyed the Chianti hills of Tuscany.

New Recruits Join the DFB

Following a passing out parade at the end of 2018, 27 new recruits have joined the DFB.

On a freezing day at the end of December, 27 recruits officially joined the ranks of the Dublin Fire Brigade at a Passing-Out Parade at the OBI.

Following 25 weeks of rigorous training that began in June 2018, Recruit Class 1/2018 received their scrolls and graduated with the knowledge and specialist skills that equips them to work alongside their firefighter and paramedic colleagues at stations across the city, with many starting their first shift over the Christmas period.

The recruit class went through a total 29,120 work hours to complete the courses involved. That training included three weeks of basic, a three-week breathing apparatus course, one-week Pump Operator course, a two-week RTC course, a one-week Hazmat course, a practical week and two weeks of drill and pass out preparations, while there were also 12 weeks of paramedic training to receive a Level 7 Diploma from the Royal College of Surgeons.

The course was led by Course Director A/D/O Mark Fay, Assistant Course Director A/D/O Joe Mangan, five syndicate instructors – S/O Cormac Cahill, S/O Paul Duffy, S/O Ray Martin, S/O Terrence O’Brien, S/O Troy Taylor – as well as two Assistant Instructors – Acting Sub Officer Paul Greene and Acting Sub Officer Alan Walsh. In total, 57 specialist instructors assisted on the course, with external instructors from An Garda Síochána, Coast Guard, Luas and Dublin Tunnel Commercials.

The class was made up of 25 males and two females, ranging in age from 21 to 37, with ten of the class transferred from the Eastern Reginal Control Centre and one recruit coming from the Defence Forces. They are: Gemma Kiernan, James Meehan, Stephen Cullen, Alan McCarthy, Amy Hyland, Darren Brierton, Niall O’Brien, Stephen Cleary, Alan McGrath, Christopher Humphries, David Lawlor, Eoin Cooley, Tom Byrne, Conor Daly, Declan Walsh, Diarmuid Kelly, Jamie Ennis, Sean McBride, Matt Crehan, Andrew Connolly, Gareth Carberry, Christopher Parkes, Gerard Kavanagh, Robert Kelly, Mark Losty, Shane Walsh, Dylan Moore.

The day itself was kicked off by the DFB Pipe Band before the Recruit Class performed a march in the drill yard. Both Lord Mayor Nial Ring and Chief Fire Officer Dennis Keeley addressed the class before making a parade inspection, and then it was the turn of the 27 recruits to perform a foot drill demonstration.

This was followed by a number of other demonstrations including a ladder rescue, hazmat, RTC, fire and EMS, and given the time of year, these took on a festive slant, with the recruits tasked with rescuing one of Santa’s elves from a number of dangerous situations, which kept the many family and friends present entertained.

It was then on to the business of presenting the scrolls, with the Lord Mayor presenting a silver axe to Best Recruit Matt Crehan.

In his address, CFO Dennis Keeley said: “Dublin Fire Brigade has been providing Emergency Fire and Rescue Services to the citizens of Dublin City and County for over 150 years, and ambulance services for over a century. The history of our service is interwoven with the history of the city itself. We are very proud of our longstanding service, but it also imposes a duty on us – a duty to uphold the traditions and standards of our service. 

“Every recruit here today is following in the footsteps of a long line of first responders who have carried the badges of their fire service with pride and honour. You are entrusted with that duty, and I am confident you will carry it out faithfully. I have no doubt that you will continue to deliver a first-class service to the citizens of the city and county you serve.”