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Taking on the Welsh

A combined Irish Fire Services team played a strong Welsh Fire Service team in February, writes Keith Mason.

On 7 February, a strong contingent of players from the Dublin Fire Brigade Rugby Team travelled north to Instonians RFC in Belfast to join up with their NIFRS colleagues to play a match against the Welsh Fire Service.

Both of our teams provided more players than we could field on the day, so as Chairman and Coach I found it very tough to keep our contingent to 11, with quality, committed players not getting their game on this occasion.

Those that were selected did themselves proud, though. Veteran player Stephen Cunningham controlled the game well at out-half, with his experience invaluable in a combined team scenario where neither group were familiar with the other.

Kevin Conroy got over the line for the first try of the game, which was well deserved as he has been committed to the development of this new DFB team and has been excellent in the full-back position.

Our forwards combined well with their NIFRS colleagues, and there was some great ball carrying and support play from Cathal McNally, who consistently brings a level of aggression that the opposition found very difficult to deal with on this occasion.

Matt Crehan paired up very well with NIFRS second row and captain Peter Bradley, winning almost all of the Irish side’s lineouts and stealing a few opposition ones as well.

Stephen Weldon and David Sheridan battled hard in the back row against an experienced Welsh pack, and dogged determination from both limited the damage that could have come from the powerful Welsh scrum.

Brian Tyrell did struggle for pace a little at scrum-half, with slow passes from the base of the ruck putting his backs under pressure, but even though he is clearly not a scrum-half, he battled it out with his head held high. In fact, he held his head a little too high in the ruck and sustained an injury to his ear that required a few stitches! Brian doesn’t ask questions, and when tasked with playing at scrum-half he responded with a nod and a wink, and got on with it with the right attitude.

Stephen Breen and Brian Twamley have also been a great addition to this team. With poor weather conditions in Belfast on the day, the ball rarely made its way to the wing, but as always Stephen and Brian were very effective when it did, and were excellent in defence.

Alaric Collier came off the bench and made some good carries too. Committed to the sport and to ensuring this DFB team continues to grow, he puts his age to the back of his mind and gives 100% at all times.

The game, played in very difficult conditions, was very attritional. The pack worked tirelessly throughout and did well to provide a platform for the backs, who planned and developed some clever moves in the hour prior to the game.

The combined Irish Fire Services team were ahead for almost 70 minutes and had victory in our sights, but a late try for the Welsh, who seemed to find another gear in the closing quarter of the game, proved a tough pill to swallow for the whole team, and in the end the final score was 27-25 to Wales.

This Welsh team are a seasoned group who have been training and playing together for several years, so while for the game to finish the way it did was a little disappointing, the close final score showed that the team we selected is capable of competing against very tough sides.

The long-term plan is for this combined Irish Fire Services team to get together more regularly through training sessions and a few games each year. DFB RFC is continuing to grow, and more players are always welcome and needed. Anybody interested in joining the team should contact me at A Watch, Tallaght.

Special thanks must go to the travelling support from players who were not selected to play on the day, and from those who have historically supported the development of our team and have always enjoyed a trip away.

The team enjoyed the hospitality of the NIFRS team, and we look forward to meeting up with them again soon.

Thanks as always to the DFB Sports and Social Club for their support, Flashpoint Medical Systems for their continued support, and our sponsor Dubco Credit Union.

CERN

Working with the fire service at the international organisation seeking to discover what the universe is made of is a unique and exciting experience, Operational Leader Stephen Gunning tells Adam Hyland.

Scientists from all over the world continue to search for answers to the big questions relating to the fundamental physics of our universe using CERN’s unique range of particle accelerator facilities, but while they push the frontiers of science and technology, their work with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and other unique pieces of equipment couldn’t be done safely without the presence of CERN Fire and Rescue Service.

While most people know about CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research), the LHC and the study of the particles that make up matter, few of us would think about the work being done above and below ground by what is probably the most unique fire service in the world.

Operational Leader Stephen Gunning, who had served for 30 years as a firefighter and senior manager in Scotland, was only too happy to find out about them. “I was leaving the Scottish Fire Service and looking to see what different opportunities were there,” he tells me. “I knew about CERN because I am interested in physics, and I saw that they were looking for officers, so I applied. They needed someone with my skills (in-depth experience in people and asset management, and fore and accident investigation and analysis) and the two things aligned. The opportunity to come and work here was fantastic, to get to learn about physics and see how experiments are produced in such a large international organisation.”

DIVERSITY

CERN’s workforce of over 2,500 staff members and approximately 14,000 users is hugely diverse, and the fire service mirrors this, with ten different nationalities forming the Group. While some fire services around Europe offer secondment, other firefighters, like Stephen, come because of the chance to work in such a unique environment. Contracts are on a five-year basis, with the option to extend that for another three years, and as Stephen says, “our set-up does present a few differences when you come from another fire service”.

He continues: “We don’t have ranks similar to the UK, for example, but we do fit into a similar structure. We have a non-uniformed manager who oversees our group from an organisation perspective, including how CERN operates, and we provide the strategic overview of how to operate the fire service. As one of three Operational Leaders, I am akin to a Senior Officer, then we have Officers, Watch Managers, Firefighters. Because there are only 48 firefighters forming four teams, they do need to change, and this is why we bring people in from different fire services, so we can interchange them based on what we need.”

SPECIALISTS

There are three specialities within the team, Stephen tells me: The technical firefighters with core skills in radiation, chemicals and rope rescue, the safety control room firefighters whose skills are vital as they need to make a lot of immediate critical decisions based on the information they receive, and the ambulance crews, trained to technician level.

“CERN provides different levels of integration and brings people with different levels of experience into the organisation, with huge links to universities because of the mission of pushing international learning and research,” he tells me, “but when it comes to the fire service, you obviously can’t take people in who have no experience. You need to have a minimum of five years’ experience in a fire service, so you must already have the core skills. What you do develop are the specialist skills you need to work here. You bring your set of skills and use them in a completely new environment.”

That new environment includes over 50km of tunnels up to 140metres below ground, and requires unique pieces of equipment and strategic planning. As well as having two fire appliances and ambulances, the crews rely on specialised trolleys that can bring them deep into the tunnels quickly. “A lot of our equipment is stored on trolleys so we can take what we need at any given time,” Stephen tells me, “because we can’t carry all of the equipment at once – it won’t fit. We also strategically locate equipment around the laboratory complex, such as at the LHC area, but the specially-designed trolleys that transport us through the tunnels are a unique aspect to a unique environment. Firefighters who come here will
have never seen anything like this, unless they have worked in a specialist tunnel environment.”

He continues: “To be able to go into the experiment halls and caverns and to see what is being done, and thinking about how you would handle potential fires in these areas, that is unique.

“We also have quite a large area above ground, with lots of standard buildings, but we also have areas that have specialist equipment and radiation requirements. But the dominant risk is underground. You have to think about how you would handle an incident in a tunnel – and we have more than 50km of tunnels in a huge network – you go down a shaft, gain access to a tunnel, and travel along several kilometres underground just to get to a potential fire.”

 

DUTIES

The main call outs for the teams involve responding to fire alarms around the vast complex, which have to be investigated, and medical incidents, and not surprisingly given the enormous amount of energy being used, electrical fires. CERN has its own electrical network and receives 400,000 volts which is reduced and distributed to all of its sites, meaning “there is high voltage all over” as Stephen points out. The levels of radiation used, and the fact that CERN is probably the biggest cryogenics plant in the world and uses the most helium of any organisation (in order to cool the magnets in the accelerators to -271.3C), mean that the crews really need to be aware of the potential dangers.

“Generally, and thankfully, we don’t have a lot of large fires here,” Stephen says. “Any fires or safety hazards are identified quickly because of the number of technicians and controls in the experiments. This is because of the way in which the technology is running, the experiments have so much remote monitoring, so if they get a leak in cryogenics, or an electrical fault, they know immediately, because of the in-built safety systems necessary for conducting experiments on such a large scale. There is a very high level of perfection. There needs to be.”

As a result, understanding those risks and the topography of the area are crucial. “It’s really important for us to understand where the risks are in a place like this,” Stephen says. “You need to understand the physics of what is happening here, and know what to do if there is an incident, because the risks associated with the technologies are huge, and every firefighter has to have a very in-depth knowledge and appreciation of the circumstances.

“That is why one of the most important things we do on a daily basis is learn and revise the topography, where we are in the tunnel structure. We also do a lot of visitations to the various departments to keep everybody up to speed on fire safety and risk knowledge, because we have to make sure that incidents are prevented, rather than having to be dealt with.”

KNOWLEDGE SHARING

Stephen says there is a positive two-way sharing of knowledge within the organisation. “The physicists here all know the risks, the machines and experiments are so critical to them, so they are maintained to the highest level,” he tells me. “And scientists are generally open to education from us. There is a balance there, where we ask the questions about physics, and then we teach them about the fire safety and prevention necessary to run their experiments, and we come to an agreement on what is required. These experiments have to go ahead, but there has to be safety and an understanding of operational tactics from our end.”

This exchange of information sees the fire service play an integral role in the planning stage of CERN’s experiments. “We are constantly making sure the fire service here is involved from the early stages, and this is one of the key reasons for somebody like myself coming here,” says Stephen.

“You are able to be involved in the design of the building in which these major experiments are taking place, and that is such an exciting thing to be a part of. CERN works with our group to look at how they can incorporate our input into how we can tackle a fire in these new structures. Normally you have building regulations, and that is true for the most part, but there is no code on how to build complex and sometimes unique experimental structures and equipment, such as the LHC. You’ve got the tunnels and the distances between them, so you have to have some realisation of how you are going to tackle a fire. Fire engineering and tactical firefighting are coming together in the development of these new technologies. If we want something done in the design of the shaft, or want extra fire doors put in, there is an understanding of why that is needed.

“Of course, you will see from any photos of the CERN infrastructure that it is extremely difficult to have compartmentalisation, so you are not in an ideal world, because you can’t stop the accelerator, it has to be continuous, but we are looking at how we can improve and perfect fire prevention and fire management. Fire engineering is an emerging field in this respect: Looking at what the potential fire risks are in a building or structure design, and how we can use fire engineering modelling to assist us in developing our intravention plans.”

Being part of something so interesting is definitely one of the best aspects of the job for Stephen. “It is fascinating to me,” he admits. “You go into these experiment halls and see these huge experiments, but you also get to see how these things start, from very small experiments in a lab that just keep building to an enormous scale. It’s something very few firefighters in the world get to see.

“If people have the opportunity to come here, I would recommend they do. If you want to gain experience working with a major international organisation, a unique understanding of tunnels, radiation, cryogenics, this is the place. We don’t have a lot of operational activity, and that is a good thing. But we are here because of the risk of that.”

If a major incident were to occur, the CERN Fire and Rescue Service has a strong working relationship with the neighbouring fire services in France and Switzerland. “Our primary role in an incident is to give an initial assessment and to prevent it turning into anything significant,” Stephen says. “If we do get a large fire, our French and Swiss counterparts will supply whatever is needed, and to facilitate this we train regularly with these host states, both officers and firefighters.

“It takes up to five years to understand the physics and topography, and the structure of CERN, and to ask another fire service to come here and handle an incident would be difficult, it is too different. So, if we have a large incident the roles change, we oversee the strategic approach, providing the knowledge needed to handle the situation. And we all need that knowledge.

“CERN will handle the incident as much as it can, but is always able to call upon host countries for help. But as mentioned, one of the key roles for us is fast intervention, to resolve the incident quickly, control it, before it gets any bigger.”

DEVELOPMENT

The dynamic nature of the role is mirrored by the constant rate of development at CERN, and while Stephen has been there for two and a half years, he is still excited by events at the organisation.

“There are new experiments being done all the time,” Stephen says. “As we speak, there is a new tunnel being dug out, so the people here now will see this from the construction phase right up to a new experiment being put in place.

“Not every organisation could have as a requirement that you have to stay for at least five years and still get the level of interest we do, and in the next two years there will be a high level of recruitment. Many firefighters choose to bring their families over, because as part of the contract you need to live within the area, but not all do. Some travel back and forth on their time off, but many see it as a chance to have a new experience. They bring their family over, see another culture, put their children into school to learn another language, and get to work in a fascinating environment. It’s a great opportunity.

“Another unique thing about working at CERN is that we sit right on the border, so one minute you are working in France, the next you are in Switzerland, and we are underground within those two countries a lot of the time. Even some of our main buildings are half in France and half in Switzerland, so you cross borders walking across the lobby.”

While the environment may be unique, Stephen is also quick to point out that the job is still very much one of a firefighter. “No matter where you come from, firefighters essentially all do the same thing. Some countries emphasise different aspects of the job, but that is part of the uniqueness of CERN – you get to learn from other firefighters around Europe, and that is just another interesting aspect of working here.”

From Within the Circle

While COVID-19 has put paid to plans, DFB Pipe Band members have been active, and the Band will see many new faces in action soon, writes Secretary John McNally.

Since our last article, the Band have been in a quiet period due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We held our AGM in late November and the new committee was elected with great people on board for the year ahead.

We started the new year with continuing plans for a trip to Savannah, Georgia for the St Patrick’s Day festivities in March. A lot of work was done in the background to plan this trip, with constant communication back and forth across the pond. Unfortunately, at the 11th hour, the trip was cancelled due to COVID-19. We hope to travel to Savannah or elsewhere when the pandemic is over.

We recently received some new uniform clothing from the DFB. Many thanks to Chief Fire Officer Dennis Keeley for kindly donating the items, and to Third Officer John Keogh for organising it.

The Band was given a new home in late 2019 when Third Officer Brendan Carroll kindly designated a new band room in the OBI. The new room is bigger and is easier to access than the previous room, and should make practice and gigs easier for our members.

As mentioned, we have had no gigs since the new year, but having said that, there is always a requirement for solo pipers to play at various events such as the RNLI memorial in Dún Laoghaire in December, the freedom of the city ceremony for Jim Gavin at the Mansion House in January, as well as funerals of retired members such as S/O Bill Murphy, RIP.

Unfortunately, we lost yet another firefighter recently when Dave McLoughlin of C Watch, Finglas, passed away suddenly in early April. Although Dave did not receive the full DFB funeral that he deserved due to COVID-19 restrictions and isolation measures, the DFB nonetheless gave him a send-off that was in keeping with social distancing. Many thanks to Piper Seamie O’Rourke and Drummer Tom McLoughlin who performed at the flag lowering ceremony for Dave at No.3 station.

Also, a big thanks to Pipe Major Mark Toner who played at Dave’s funeral service. While it is never easy playing at a member’s funeral, we are always happy and honoured to take part as a show of support, solidarity and appreciation to the families, friends, and colleagues of DFB firefighters such as Dave. He will be fondly remembered by us all, and the Band send their condolences to Dave’s Wife, daughter, his brother FF/P Paul McLoughlin, Dave’s Mam and his Dad Jack from Dublin Airport Fire Service. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

There is no doubt that when the COVICD-19 restrictions are lifted and we go back to normality that the Band will be as busy as ever. When that happens, you may notice some new faces wearing the uniform, as we have some learners who have transitioned to playing members in recent months. It is great to see new members on board and this is always a positive for the Band, the DFB and DCC. The Band are forever grateful for the support of associate members, DFB management and DCC. Without that continued support the Band could not exist.

As has been said many times in past articles, we are always here to welcome new members. New blood is vital to ensure that the Band survives into the future.

Whether you are interested in piping or drumming (maybe you would like to try both) the door is always open to new members. So, if you think you have what it takes (or would like to give it a try), why not come along to the OBI any Monday night from 1930hrs and learn a new instrument?

Beginners are very welcome and musical ability is not necessary. We would also like to welcome previous members back as well as people who may already have piping or drumming experience. You will be given top class instruction by our two world class instructors Dave Rickard (Bagpipes) and Ciaran Mordaunt (Drums).

The Band can be reached at any time through any band member, social media or by emailing: [email protected]

Making Waves

FF/Ps Rachael Lee and Tom Healy were part of a three-person team to make Guinness World Record swim of the North Channel.

Having broken the world record for the fastest relay swim of the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland last July, DFB FF/Ps Rachael Lee (Phibsboro) and Tom Healy (Dún Laoghaire), along with their sea swimming colleague Ronan Joyce, received their official certificate from the Guinness World Record organisation in March, as verified by the Irish Long Distance Swimming Association.

The trio, known as the Ocean Breakers, became the world’s fastest one-way three-person relay team to swim from Donaghadee, Co Down, to Portpatrick in Scotland by completing the 34.5km swim in nine hours and 20 minutes. The previous record was set in 2012 when US relay team The Machine Men finished the course in 10 hours and 18 minutes.

FF/P Lee said after the swim, which they attempted in an effort to raise awareness of sea pollution: “It took us to the absolute brink of our capabilities, both mentally and physically.”

Speaking days after receiving the official recognition for the World Record, FF/P Lee, who already holds the record for the fastest solo crossing of the English Channel, told me: “It’s a great achievement. I mean, there are people who have Guinness World Records for the number of Malteser they can fit in their mouth, so there are loads of different records you can have, but because this was such a tough swim, and because we trained really hard for it, we are just so proud. To get the record certificate and the plaque was just brilliant, we are absolutely delighted.”

That training involved not just staying supremely fit, but getting used to the extremely cold conditions. “Ordinarily we would swim in water of around 14-16 degrees, but we knew for this one the water would only be around 10 degrees,” FF/P Lee tells me. “So, we trained in water of around 12 degrees. It was tough going because you can’t wear a wetsuit for these record attempts, so we just had to get used to swimming in such cold. It’s just a matter of sucking it up.”

The swim itself proved to be, as expected, extremely tough both physically and mentally.

“Your body will quit once your mind tells it to,” FF/P Lee tells me, “so if you can keep your mind going, your body will follow. We just had to tell ourselves to keep going. Also, we’ve all done big swims before, so we knew we could do it, and we were working with a great team, we were sponsored by Kingspan and the EPA, so we had a lot riding on it and didn’t want to mess it up. That and the slagging we would have to deal with if we didn’t succeed.”

With FF/P Healy starting the relay, the team took three turns each to swim with two-hour rests on the safety boat in between.

“Tom went first because at the time he was the strongest swimmer and was coping better with the cold,” FF/P Lee says. “That meant him having to dive in off the boat, swim around 400 metres to the start of the race, then get up on a rock and dive in from there.”

The cold provided an obvious but serious challenge. “It was very hard to do because you do slow down in the cold water,” FF/P Lee says. “Your muscles get cold and stiff, and it’s very hard to swim in such hostile water.

The necessary support came from safety paramedic FF/P Kevin Conroy from D Watch in Finglas, as well as FF//P Lee’s mother, both of whom were of great assistance throughout the endeavour.

“It was great to have them on board the safety boat, and you really do need that support,” FF/P Lee tells me. “When you get out for a two-hour break you are shaking horrifically, it was like having a seizure, uncontrollable shaking for at least an hour,” FF/P Lee tells me, “which makes you even more tired than you were. You had to try to warm up, get something to eat into you, and then it was time to get back in the water again. That was very tough.

“You are so cold that you need somebody to dry you, because you are too cold to do it yourself. You need help getting clothes on, even to hold a cup of tea for you because you are shaking so much, and even to just put an arm around you to try to get a little bit of warmth into you.”

Calm waters turned very choppy as the swim went on, but having taken three turns each and upon reaching the nine-hour mark, FF/P Healy dived in for the final 20-minute stretch, with FF/P Lee and Ronan Joyce joining him for the last five minutes so they could finish the swim together, knowing the record time was in their sights.

“We knew we were close to the record and that the pressure was on,” FF/P Lee tells me. “When we were coming to the end FF/P Conroy was screaming encouragement, and although we were so cold, we were very focused.”

As well as the freezing water, FF/P Lee says that the hardest part of the swim was the sheer amount of Lion’s Mane jellyfish they encountered, which meant countless painful stings. “I knew there would be a lot of them,” she says, “but I can’t get over just how many thousands of them there were. It was horrific, I’ve never experienced anything like it. The guys in the boat were blowing a whistle and telling us to swim right or left to try to avoid the jellyfish, but sometimes you just can’t. When their tentacles are down it’s fine, but when the sun is shining, they go belly up and the tentacles just come at you from all angles. The water is 400 foot deep, and it is just a dark abyss below you full of these evil creatures. You are getting stung over and over again, but you just have to keep going and not let them stop you. A lot of people don’t finish the swim because of the jellyfish, or end up in intensive care, so we are delighted to have come through it.

“To have done it with my husband Tom and our best friend Ronan, with the support of my mother and our colleague Kevin, that just made it great.”

Next up for the trio is an attempt at the world record for the fastest relay crossing of the English Channel in August.

Retired member profile: Adrian “Aido” Sutton

Adam Hyland talks to retired D/O and Fire Prevention Chief Adrian Sutton about his life in the DFB.

Anyone watching TV or taking a bus in the 1990s might find Adrian Sutton familiar, as he made regular TV appearances to talk about fire safety and was the face of posters for the National Safety Council’s campaign to promote awareness around the importance of smoke alarms.

Adrian was a Sub Officer in Tara Street when, in 1992, he was asked to take part in a photoshoot for the poster campaign. “I got an awful lot of slagging about that,” he admits, “but it came about when the Assistant Chief asked if anyone had a young child they could use in a poster campaign for the National Safety Council. I had a niece, who was about five at the time. Next thing, a photographer arranges for me to call to him for a photoshoot.

“The lads were slagging me when they saw the posters because they said they had never seen me so dirty in all my working life, but it was actually make-up and a smoke machine used to create the effect. The lads also knew I had no problem firefighting, and I used to give as good as I got by telling them I was paid a fortune for it, and was getting royalties every year because they were still using the image. It just took off – it was on all the billboards and sides of buses. That was 1994 through to 2008, when the National Safety Council disbanded. So, they got great mileage out of that.”

JOINING

Adrian had been in the DFB for some time by then, having joined in 1982. “We were the first class to have to do the aptitude test,” Adrian tells me. “But 22,000 people applied for the job, and we sat a paper test, similar to the one done online now. I was in the Civil Service, in the wages department of the P&T, so I was quite good at figures, and that helped me. Obviously, they couldn’t take so many people, but in the end, they took 48 and I was on the panel.

“I was delighted, because I had an uncle in the DFB as well, George Sutton, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He was an S/O in Finglas in the 1970s, and I loved sitting in the fire engine, as all children do, when I visited, so I knew I wanted to join.”

Adrian was assigned to C Watch in Tara Street, but after a year he went to Finglas station, then to Phibsboro in 1984, where he stayed until 1992. He completed further training and got promoted to Sub Officer that year, when he returned to Tara Street to work on C and D Watch. He was soon on the move again, becoming an S/O at North Strand in 1996, then on to Kilbarrack as S/O on B Watch until 2004, when he again returned to Tara Street as D/O and Head of Fire Prevention.

“I definitely did the work in my time,” he tells me. “I took the calls in the control room, went out to countless RTCs and fires, and I got a commendation from the Chief in the early 1990s for saving a family of three from a fire on Camden Street.

“Back then, every weekend you were pulling people out of vehicles. That was tough. There was no counselling or CISM. We would all come back to the station and talk about the experience, but we were only human. You just had to get on with it. You get hardened to it, when you see it so regularly. Having said that, there was also great satisfaction in doing your job, especially when you saved a life.

“My son Richard (whose recent marriage is featured in our In Brief section) would agree with all of this, as he is also a firefighter in Finglas, and I’m very proud to have a third generation of DFB members in the family.”

FIRE PREVENTION

Adrian’s move into Fire Prevention came when a panel was set up looking for a D/O and Fire Prevention Chief to manage fire regulations in building citywide, and to promote awareness. “I was relatively young, only 44, so I didn’t think I had much of a chance,” Adrian tells me. “There were 15 people going for four positions, and there were a lot of senior firefighters who had been in charge of high-profile incidents, so I thought I would never be able to compete. But I made number two on the panel, and with two slots available, I went straight in.”

The new role brought a lot of changes for Adrian. “You were working on your own a lot,” he says, “which I found difficult at first. The shift was different too – three days, three nights, three days off – so it was hard, but it was a good job. Dublin city and county has such a huge Fire Prevention department, and a lot of that is down to the changes made after the Stardust. We worked three weekends in the month, because back then it was mainly the weekend when things got busy. Nowadays, the city is buzzing every day of the week, but there is still the same shift there, so it was difficult to work those hours later on.

“It was a big change, but Jim Fleming had been there since 1982 and he took me under his wing and taught me everything he knew. Pat Fleming was my chief, and he also taught me a lot.”

Adrian was given Foxtrot District – a huge area to look after. “I got the chance to go back to college to do a Postgrad diploma in fire safety practices in Trinity in 2007, and the following year I went back to do a diploma in health and safety,” he says, “and that really helped me, because it meant I could both talk the talk and walk the walk.”

The role involved looking after some 3,000-4,000 buildings, inspecting pubs, clubs, hotels, hospitals, residential homes, nursing homes, as well as concerts and matches. “I had a very good relationship with all of my clients,” Adrian says. “At the end of the day, fire prevention is very simple. You go into a building and see how many fire escapes there are, how many extinguishers, look at the alarms, ask how many people are trained up, and then tell them what they need to do. Managers need to know these things, because in the end it is their responsibility. They might not know all the legislation and codes, but if you tell them, and they do what they are told, then that is the job done.”

Some inspections came about when firefighters would call in regarding a site they had been to, and some of the conditions and lapses in fire safety were hard to believe, Adrian tells me. “One time there was a fire near Croke Park and we ended up taking 175 people out of a three-storey building. It was wall to wall mattresses, because they were all sleeping there,” he says. “We had to close the premises, and in the end, we put a stop to an unsafe practice.

“We also did a lot of fire safety talks at residential homes, schools, etc, spreading awareness around Halloween and Christmas, and did a lot of TV work. I was on The Afternoon Show a lot, talking about the dangers of bonfires, Christmas tree lights, overworked plug sockets. We had a film crew with us in 1998 who shot a half hour programme, so it was good media coverage. Then there were those posters. I think we got the message of fire safety and prevention across very well.”

Because he came up through the ranks, Adrian felt that his position as Fire Prevention Chief was respected. “I knew what I was talking about, I had taken people out of fires,” he says, “and that is important, and is something you see in the DFB, the top people in the job have all come up through the ranks. You can’t buy that experience.”

BUSY TIMES

The work involved in keeping Dublin’s buildings and citizens safe has grown immeasurably over the years, according to Adrian. “My claim to fame was that I retired in 2015, and they had to take on five D/Os to replace me. That’s not true, of course, but they did have to take on five people because of the amount of work that now needed to be done. In the year before I retired, I was asked to inspect every single nursing home in Dublin. That’s a big job, and a depressing job, but also a very big responsibility. But I did it, and other projects like it. I had my phone on 24/7, but I could never turn down a request, and it never bothered me. I was there to help, that was the job.

“You had to prioritise, because there were never enough days in the week,” he tells me, “but having said that, there wasn’t any part of the job that I didn’t like. It is hard on your family when you work a lot of weekends, but my uncle retired as a D/O, so I wanted to get to that rank too.”

Overall, Adrian very much enjoyed every aspect of his career. “Fire prevention was great,” he says. “Showing people what they needed to do to make a building safe. It was enjoyable to have people listen to you and take your expertise on board. But it was also great to work as an S/O with a great bunch of lads.”

RETIREMENT

Adrian retired in 2015, when he was 55. “I could have stayed until 65 as an officer, but I decided to leave when I did because I had my health and a good pension. I do miss the call outs though, when you had to get hands on, which I did less of as I moved up to D/O. Of course, a call out at 3am in the lashing rain wasn’t great, but that’s what you were getting paid for. I don’t miss the weekends, or the night shifts, but I do miss the camaraderie, and I got great satisfaction in helping save lives.”

Life now is still busy, but in different ways, for Adrian. As well as working a couple of days a week in fire consultancy, he and his wife Caroline breed racehorses from their holiday home base in Wexford, they travel to their house in Nice several times a year, and daughter Carol has three children – Olivia, Katie and Sam – who keep Adrian busy too.

“I have also organised the Annual Deceased Member’s Mass for the last 11 years. I took over from Jim Fleming when he retired, and when I retired the Chief asked me if I would continue to do it, and I also run the Chief’s retired member’s party every year. The lads all really enjoy that. The banter and slagging at that, and in the job in general, is unbelievable. I think that is all part of the job. You have to be able to give it and take it. It’s all part of being in what is a really great job, and it keeps me in touch with the DFB.”

Back in Action

The DFB GAA team’s trip to New York was an enjoyable but poignant event.

October saw the DFB GAA team rekindle their friendly rivalry with the Fire Department of New York, with 39 members travelling to the US to take on their FDNY counterparts in a match at Gaelic Park. The visit included a lot of action both on and off the pitch, with the feedback from the trip extremely positive, and following its success, will see the FDNY visit Dublin in 2021.

The tie’s origins came out of the idea of solidarity and brotherhood within fire services worldwide, Senan Moylan, a Sub Officer at Tara Street station, tells me. “After 9/11, the then Lord Mayor of Dublin, Michael Mulcahy, thought it would be a very good way of offering support and showing camaraderie to have the DFB and NYFD teams meet up and play,” he tells me. “The trophy is called the Lord Mayor’s Trophy, because it was his brainchild. The NYFD have always had a GAA team and it is quite strong, and we first managed to visit them to play a match in 2002.”

That visit was followed by trips in 2004, 2006 and 2008, with the FDNY coming to Dublin in 2003, 2005 and 2007, before the financial crisis in 2008 made it too difficult to finance. “That meant interest died off again for a few years,” Senan explains, “but last year, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service somehow managed to get the use of Croke Park to play a match to commemorate 100 years of their Fire Brigade Union. They asked us to play, which was great, but they also invited a few of the NYFD team to come over for the event, and during the course of the evening, their main organiser, Battalion Commander from the Bronx, Eddie Boles, asked if we would be interested in coming over again in 2019.”

Senan and the others didn’t hesitate. “As soon as we spoke, literally in the dressing room after the game, we got everybody together – it’s difficult to get us all together because we are spread across all stations and Watches – and we arranged to deduct some money from wages to save towards the trip. That gave people an incentive immediately. It was a small enough amount, with a larger deposit in January that sealed your place on the trip.”

With everyone on board, plans could begin in earnest, and the trip was extended to take in the 9/11 Memorial Parade. “We wanted to make the effort to go to the parade, because it is a unique occasion and a lot of the lads wanted to see it,” Senan says. “We were in full uniform, and the whole thing was very impressive.”

The extra day also meant the team could play a warm-up match before facing the FDNY. “We went up to Rockland GAA in upstate New York – a very impressive GAA grounds – and they gave us a tough but very enjoyable game on the Thursday,” Senan says. “It was great to blow off the cobwebs before the big game on Saturday. A few of the lads struggled, but it was a great occasion and they looked after us really well. We had a few speeches and we gave their manager a small plaque to show our appreciation for their time and for taking care of us so well.”

EXCURSIONS

Apart from taking part in the 9/11 Memorial Parade, the GAA team were shown tremendous generosity by the FDNY team, who brought them around to see the sights, including the 9/11 Museum, plus more than a few local hostelries.

“A lot of the lads went to see the NEW York Giants play, and the NYFD organised the tickets. The rest of us met up with them afterwards and had a great evening,” Senan tells me. “Even the hostelries around Times Square where we were staying, a lot of them are Irish-owned, and they looked after us really well. A lot of lads went and did the usual sightseeing in their free time, but overall, we were looked after so well. We were picked up from the airport, brought on excursions, brought to the game. It was the first trip for some of the lads, and it was definitely an eye opener for them, and they are determined to look after the NYFD when they come over here next.”

I have to thank their GAA President Billy Nolan, and both Eddie Boles and Barry Annette, for organising everything so well. The organisation for the match and our excursions on the trip wouldn’t have been possible without them. We hope to repay their kindness when they come over here in 2021.

THE BIG GAME

The main event, however, was on the Saturday at Gaelic Park, and it turned out to be a very close game. “It was a very hot day, and they had a very good team out for the occasion,” Senan recalls. “We had pulled away towards the end of the match, but maybe a few managerial decisions meant they got a very late goal to level the scores. It was good because we didn’t win, we didn’t lose, and we all enjoyed it. We told them we would like them to keep hold of the trophy, and invited them to come over to us in 2021, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.”

Though previous matches here have taken place at Parnell Park or Senan’s local club St Vincent’s in Marino, there are hopes that this time they might be allowed to play at Croke Park. “That will take a lot of work, but it would give them a lot of incentive to come over,” Senan says, “and there was a huge response to the game against NIFRS last year, so we will have to wait and see. It would be a great occasion for them to come over and play on the hallowed turf, and for us to take back the trophy!”

ABSENT FRIENDS

Before both games, a minute’s silence was held in honour of S/O Adrian O’Grady, a stalwart of previous trips with the GAA club who was scheduled to take this trip before his passing away. “Our PRO from previous trips, D/O Paddy Rogers, unfortunately passed away in 2016, and another stalwart of the trips and the GAA team, a good friend of mine Robbie Kane, passed away in 2015. I know both of them would have been on this trip,” Senan says,” but this trip was dominated by the absence of Adrian O’Grady, there’s no other way of saying it.

“A lot of the NYFD lads were very appreciative of the situation, and some of them knew him very well. I knew he was really looking forward to the trip, because I had spoken to him just a couple of nights before. He was to be our PRO for the trip, was going to do the speeches. Then we got the news the night before the trip.”

As with the match at Rockland, a minute’s silence in honour of Adrian was held, with both sides wearing black armbands. Adrian’s Number 8 jersey he had worn as captain of the team on the 2002 visit was laid out in the centre circle, with a framed picture of him being included in all of the team photos, and a small video was recorded to mark the occasion.

“We just had to mark the occasion for Adrian, because so many lads knew him very well, including myself,” Senan tells me. “I would have played against him when I played for St Vincent’s and he played for St Anne’s, before we even joined the Brigade. So, I knew him quite well, through both the GAA and the job.

“Adrian was a mountain of a man, and not just because he was brilliant at his job. He was so well respected, and he is an awful loss, not just to the lads he worked with in his station in Tallaght, but to the DFB in general, because he did so much work in the background with CISM. He will be sorely missed.

“As soon as we got over there, we got those pictures of him framed and brought them with us everywhere we went. He was with us in every group photo, both literally and metaphorically, in that he was in all of our thoughts throughout the trip.”

IMPORTANCE

Trips such as this are of vital importance to the DFB GAA team. “They are very important,” Senan agrees. “It was a great way for the lads to get to know each other, when ordinarily they wouldn’t get to see each other because they are on different Watches in different stations. We had retired members on the trip, a good few lads who are new to the job, so there was a good range, including a father and son, with Vinny and Conor Carton getting to play together, and everybody got on really well. Some of the lads who had never met before came back as best friends. The craic and camaraderie were brilliant, and I have to say it was as good a trip as I have ever been on with the DFB.

“I got messages of thanks from everybody when we got back, with a couple of the lads saying it was the best six days of their lives, so that was great to hear. But it is also important to have trips like this because it provides something different, it gives people something to look forward to.”

SUPPORT

While each member of the team paid for their six-day visit, Senan is also grateful to their sponsors, who helped to make the trip so enjoyable. “The support we received from our sponsors DUBCO and Cornmarket was great, but particularly the support from the DFBSSC,” he tells me. “The committee gave us a generous grant, which helped make the trip much more enjoyable. We wouldn’t have been able to do as much as we did without their support, so I am very grateful to them. We hope it continues!”

Station Profile: A Watch Dolphin’s Barn

The crew of A Watch Dolphin’s Barn grab some time between call outs to talk to Adam Hyland about life at their station.

To say that the crew of A Watch in Dolphin’s Barn were busy when I went to meet them would be an understatement, and it was only by good fortune that I arrived just as D/O John Rogers returned from a call out.

“This is a very busy station,” he emphasises, “so there isn’t much time to dwell on anything because we are all in and out all the time. But the entire crew are more than happy to be so busy.”

It’s easy to believe, with the alarm going off frequently during my visit, but D/O Rogers finds some time to talk about life at one of the oldest fire stations in the city.

He has been D/O here since 2015, having come from Donnybrook where he was stationed since 2009.

The station has two fire engines, an emergency tender, an ambulance and a D/O’s vehicle with command unit, with 15 crew plus himself, an S/O and two Sub Officers, working with 13 members every day and 12 at night.

“We have a good mix here,” he tells me. “A lot of very good senior personnel here, and they give the younger ones the heads up on how things work best. If the younger crew members need help with anything, they go to the senior members, and there is always a very helpful atmosphere.”

CHALLENGES

Working well together is necessary, as the crew covers a very large area stretching to Lucan, Rathcoole and towards Blessington.

“There are a lot of industrial sites around here, as well as three major hospitals nearby. These bring their own challenges. The industrial sites could have chemicals or can present HazMat scenarios. The readiness always has to be there. We can’t always know what is in some buildings until we get there. We do have pre-fire planning, but going to those sites can present unforeseen challenges that we need to be ready for.

“With the emergency tender here, we have to serve the entire southside of the city,” D/O Rogers adds. “We can be sent anywhere, and they can be very busy, especially around the M50 motorway and South Circular Road.

“Having said that, our location is good for access, and the canal nearby means we can practice swift water rescue drills, and have an SRT Instructor in Don Kinsella.”

FITNESS

Another alarm goes off, with a crew dispatched, and S/O Monaghan runs past me in the yard saying “I told you we were busy”, before D/O Rogers takes me to the newly-renovated gym. “It is used quite a lot. There’s a lot of interest in fitness among the crew,” he says.

When the weather is good, the crew can also avail of the handball alley in the yard. “There’s always a slagging match, but it’s good natured and always a bit of fun,” he says.

UNIQUE ASPECTS

D/O Rogers and S/O Monaghan both point out that Dolphin’s Barn is the only station in Dublin without a fireman’s pole, because they are a single-storey building. Later in the mess, a few crew members get to talking about this, with thoughts turning towards what was here before. There are a few theories, before conversation returns to banter.

As we walk through the station, D/O Rogers shows me the memorabilia cabinet full of articles and artefacts, with a screen showing a slideshow of call outs and past members, before we come to the garden. Built in memory of FF Brian Dempsey, who passed away in 2003, a memorial axe was more recently placed there to commemorate Ian “Frodo” McCormack from B Watch.

Another wall is adorned with pictures of former colleagues, including D/O Terry Potts, whose son Lorcan is on A Watch. Speaking about carrying on family connections, D/O Rogers tells me that his own son has been in the DFB since 2016. Many of the crew have family members in the Brigade.

ENJOYING LIFE

“I love coming to work,” D/O Rogers tells, “and I love being kept busy. We also have a very good crew. Whether they are going to a fire or an RTC, they work hard. You need that. They are all very good firefighters, and very good people.”

The mix of seniority and youth is evident when I meet the crew in the mess, as is the high level of joviality. Though many of them have served for more than 20 years, it is noticeable that new recruit Liam Redmond, who started two months ago as one of the nine members of Class 1/2019 who went operational after pass out, fits in as one of the team, giving as good as he gets. Jokes fly about his father being Driving Instructor Mick Redmond, which is ramped up when Mick shows up with the new command unit vehicle.

As crews return from call outs, other members of A Watch file in, including Conor Mackey, Dermot Murray, Sub Officer Nicky Farrell, Kevin Maher, Paul Donnelly, Don Kinsella, Padraig McConnell, Lorcan Potts, Mick O’Connor, Chris O’Reilly, Anthony Duffy and Mick Redmond, each with a joke to tell about their colleagues.

Over a quick tea break, they continue to swap quickfire jokes about each other – being so busy means it has to be quickfire – because there isn’t much time, as another alarm goes off and the crew get up to leave once more.

More than happy to be so busy.

Keeping Things Moving

The DFB’s Service Support Centre plays a pivotal role in making the DFB operational 24/7.

When people hear garage, they think of a small workshop, but this place is much bigger than that and has a lot more roles than just fixing and maintaining vehicles,” A/D/O Martin Cooke explained to me on a recent visit to the Stanley Street site. “That’s no small task in itself, given that there are 115 vehicles in the fleet that need to be maintained and serviced, but we are more than just maintenance: we supply an extensive and comprehensive service that enables the DFB to keep moving on a daily basis. That’s why we are now called the Service Support Unit, rather than the garage.”

As he showed me around the massive store rooms, workshop, decontamination unit, laundry and pharmacy, that point became clear, and while civilians may not even know the place exists, the sheer volume of work done here may be news to some DFB members too.

A few months later, Third Officer John Guilfoyle, who has been overseeing operations here for five and a half years, echoes the thoughts of A/D/O Cooke as he too shows me around. “There is so much to cover here. People joke with us that we do nothing down here. They don’t see it, but they don’t complain about the service support, and that’s a compliment for us. DFB members arrive into their station and have everything they need, everything is working. From our point of view, if we are doing our job well, we usually hear nothing. In many ways it’s the unglamorous part of the operation. The key to it is planning and supply change management, but it’s a very broad role.

“Part of my brief is to oversee logistics and equipment. Our principal function is to offer the support services required by operations – that includes the fleet, equipment, buildings overseen by property maintenance manager Andy Kavanagh, and the maintenance and compliance of our equipment: All the supports that keep the operational show on the road. Our vehicles cover 1.7million kilometres annually, with our ambulance service alone covering in the region of 90,000 calls across 12 ambulances, and those 12 cover 1million kms. Our fire fleet do roughly 35,000 calls, and they would cover about 800,000 kms per year. So, it’s a big operation in terms of fleet.”

Third Officer John Guilfoyle oversees operations

THE FLEET

While routine checks are done on all vehicles at their stations, the ambulances are brought into the garage weekly, while the fire fleet are brought in every three months, and with more than 4,000 routine repairs done every year, managing this involves a huge amount of planning.

“We have a fleet inspector, who makes out a structured fleet management plan, and that is structured across the fleet annually,” T/O Guilfoyle tells me. “On top of that, all our HGV vehicles undergo CVR testing. In terms of activity, on average we cover around 4,000 non-scheduled repairs that are booked in on a daily basis. If crews at the stations find anything wrong, they report it to us through a central reporting system that comes in here.

“We also manage and maintain in the region of 12,000 pieces of operational equipment, ranging from hydraulic gear to general firefighting tools, hoses, pumps, all the firefighting and EMS gear. Some is done in-house and some by external contractors, which has to be compliant because it is life-critical safety equipment.

“It’s a huge operation that involves a structured plan dictating key performance indicators and key activities we must complete. I have a reporting system that is fed in through the staff here, so at a management level I can see where we are in terms of maintenance, certifications, etc.”

While the amount of work done is immense, there is a relatively small team, all of whom play a pivotal and mostly unseen role for the DFB.

“We have an inspector, five mechanics, a D/O, and five people in our equipment section, so it’s a tight little operation, despite its size,” T/O Guilfoyle says. “We also have two admin staff here looking after accounts and vehicle records – Altona and Noleen – and an accounts section in Tara Street, working in the background, processing more than 2,500 supplier payments and purchase orders per year in the required prompt fashion, and monitoring expenditure. That’s a key function that is often overlooked too, but they are key.”

STORES

Keeping track of the numerous comings and goings of equipment, vehicle parts, stock and consumables would be almost impossible without the proper systems in place, and T/O Guilfoyle shows me around the store rooms to show how this is done.

“We have seen a major increase in the use of IT, which helps produce a lot of management reports and data, which enables us to structure the service in terms of having the right equipment in the right place at the right time,” he tells me. “Our asset management system also helps us to plan in terms of replacing assets, and this also manages testing, servicing, etc, flagging what tests are due and giving us structured reporting. So, if you have 12,000 pieces of equipment, we can key in end of life data, and that enables us to form a strategic five-year plan to see what is coming up this year, next year, etc. If we can project that, we can project the financial requirements. So, certainly, IT plays a big role now.”

Asset Manager A/S/Off Paul O’Toole shows me that is involved. “We take each piece of equipment as it comes in and scan it so that it is added to the system,” he says. “All information about that piece of equipment can then appear on the system – service dates, end of life, any repairs – and the system is automated with colour coding to tell us when it is due to be serviced, replaced, etc. This system, which T/O Guilfoyle brought in a few years ago, is critical to how we operate now.

“Each serial number and code is unique to each piece of equipment, and this is an essential tool to have because we need to be able to monitor all information regarding each piece of equipment in order to ensure they reach safety compliance and are fit for purpose for our members.”

EQUIPMENT

As we walk through the vehicle parts stores, we are met by A/S/Off Stephen McMenemy, who is in charge of equipment maintenance. “Stephen is what we like to call our quartermaster,” T/O Guilfoyle says. “If he is having a bad day, I am having a bad day, because he is key to the operation working.

“When the crews check their equipment on the road or at the station and make out their list of what they need, they send it in by email so that we can get it ready. Stephen deals with all of the stores and stock, and requests for equipment. There’s a balance between having all of the equipment that is needed, and not having too much that it has to be disposed of. It’s a fine line.”

A/S/Off McMenemy tells me that like with any major operation, logistics is hugely important. “This place makes sure that everything is 100% all of the time, that every vehicle has everything it needs on it, from a crowbar right up to essential lifesaving equipment. We have a very good stock management system called Imprest Stock. It’s like a minibar in a hotel, when you take something off the shelf it is recorded on the system, and it works very well because we have never run out of parts.”

PHARMACY

Moving into the main warehouse, I see the shelves are filled with everything from stretchers to HGV wheels and pallets of water, but to the side is the new dedicated pharmacy run by FF/P Ken Kelly, which distributes controlled medications to the ambulance crews.

“In line with Clinical Practice Guidelines, there are more drugs a paramedic can use, so we have quite a lot of medications in the supply chain that have to be managed, and that has a lot of requirements in terms of dates, storage, etc,” T/O Guilfoyle says. “The medicines have to be kept separately from other supplies, with some of the medications stored at specific temperatures. Shelf life has to be strictly adhered to, so again everything is put onto a management system by Ken, which also keeps track of what is coming in and going out.

“He receives all orders for medication and makes sure there is nothing on the list that they are not authorised to have, so it is an important part of the job.”

A/S/Off McMenemy adds: “The pharmacy is really well run, and it has to be. Everything needs to be in the right place and records need to be kept immaculately. Ken is great at that. He set it up in 2018, and has been working wonders ever since. When he is off, we have to try to keep to his high standards, which is a tall order.”

GARAGE

We go down to the garage workshop, where the team are busy running checks on a HGV, and while foreman Fran and John “Horace” Fitzgerald oversee things, mechanic Keith Lambert is pushed into frame for a photo. “Keith is a top mechanic,” S/O McMenemy tells me. “We still call him the apprentice because he is the newest here, even though he has been here a good few years now. He and the other mechanics have to work to very high standards, and you can see that it is a multi-faceted job they have.”

PPE

Maintaining equipment includes all of the DFB PPE gear, and T/O Guilfoyle tells me that they now have one of the leading PPE management systems in Europe. “We have a database that tells us what we need to know about every garment – where it is, what conditions it has been subjected to – and we do the washing and maintenance here at our dedicated laundry facility to ensure they all comply to the standards in place for structural firefighting PPE.

“We encourage our members after any heavy-duty incident to send their PPE back. Everybody has a spare set, so for their long-term health we don’t want people wearing smoky gear. It gets a certified wash, dry and inspection. Our expert in garment care from Hunter’s, Tatiana, is the external contractor for this part of the operation, and she individually inspects every garment. They are all sent back out within two days, ready to be worn again. We process, clean, inspect and repair more than 2,800 sets of PPE every year.”

DECONTAMINATION

Also on site is a decontamination unit, where ambulances can drive in and have the vehicle and crew cleaned thoroughly. While the vehicle and every part within it is sterilised in a two-hour process, personnel take turns to move through the unit and disrobe, shower, and change one by one in a warm, sterile and private cubicle. Anything that can’t be cleaned is disposed of.

“We have never had anyone actually get contaminated, but rather than taking the chance of someone bringing contamination back to their station, or even the psychological side of it, we go through the procedure carefully,” A/S/Off McMenemy tells me. “The fact that it never happens only goes to prove that it is 100% effective.

“Ambulances also come in on a scheduled basis from each station for a deep clean done by Noel Donovan, who is very thorough, taking two weeks to clean every single part.”

While there is so much to do here, the Service Support Centre is seeing an increased workload as new vehicles, equipment and management systems come on board.

CONSTANT IMPROVEMENT

“As well as advancements in our PPE, our drug storage, and monitoring of our equipment, which has been completely updated, we have a continuous cycle of improvement, which we are constantly reviewing. That includes environmental issues, so one of the things we are looking at now is the removal from our supply chain of PFOS foams, which can be environmentally damaging, so we have a two-year cycle where we want to compare it to more environmentally-friendly firefighting foams, which is a big step. That would require taking in every firefighting vehicle, looking at the foam delivery system and calibrating it for an environmentally-friendly foam. This would require a lot of technical work.

“Then we have the new swift water rescue equipment, and this year we have brought in some new vehicles. We have introduced a new Tunnel Response Vehicle, three new Class B fire tenders, we are introducing three new D/O vehicles, a new paramedic vehicle and 4×4 vehicles for challenging weather conditions, so it has been quite interesting, but busy.”

With the increased use of IT, constant modernisation and a dedicated team, the Service Support Centre is able to manage all of this work, which is in itself a remarkable achievement.

The sheer number of responsibilities are a major challenge, but are also rewarding. T/O Guilfoyle says that keeping everything in service operational within financial constraints is difficult. “We need to have a good logistical and financial plan in place,” he says, “but we have a well-oiled machine, and the most rewarding thing about the job is knowing that we have played our part in keeping the operational show on the road.”

The Great Whiskey Fire

A Forgotten Calamity

DFB historian Las Fallon talks to Adam Hyland about his new book on the Great Liberties Whiskey Fire of 1875.

Among the strange and eye-opening stories that lie within Dublin Fire Brigade lore, the fire that threatened to destroy a large part of the south inner-city in 1875 when a whiskey warehouse suddenly began throwing flaming liquid into the streets is probably one of the strangest. Stranger still is the fact that many elements of the story have remained unknown, but in his latest book, DFB historian and former firefighter Las Fallon has pieced together the events of that night. The Great Liberties Whiskey Fire details what happened, and the repercussions from a bizarre incident when burning whiskey flowed through the Liberties, much to the delight, then dismay, of the citizens of Dublin.

“The story of the whiskey fire interested me particularly because it happened in my area,” Las tells me. “I was a firefighter in Dolphin’s Barn for 30 years, so the Liberties area was just down the road. I had fought fires on those streets, and knew the area.

“I’d heard of the whiskey fire before, but it was one of those stories that had grown legs over the years, so I had sort of written it off as an exaggeration. But the first mention of it I read was in Tom Geraghty’s work on the history of the Dublin Fire Brigade, and all of a sudden, I realised, oh, this did happen, and it was on the scale that people had told me about.”

With his interest piqued, Las started researching and found old British newspaper archives containing illustrations to accompany the reports.

“Once you see the illustrations depicting the scale and madness of the incident, I got very interested,” he tells me. “These images were not favourable to Irish people, and even though there was probably some exaggeration, not every one of these newspapers could have been exaggerating the incident, so I began to see how big the story was. It was essentially the largest fire in Dublin in the 19th century in terms of the area affected, in financial terms, and in terms of loss of life. I started looking into as many records as I could, anything I could get my hands on, and slowly started to gather the story together.”

THE STORY

The story itself is a remarkable one. On 18 June, 1875, a huge bonded whiskey warehouse in the Liberties area containing at least half a million litres of whiskey owned by Dublin’s major distilleries, suddenly erupted in flames, sending burning whiskey flowing into the streets. The fire quickly spread along the narrow roads and alleyways, igniting buildings and sending the city into a panic. Locals, however, ignoring the obvious danger, saw their chance to enjoy a free drink, and reportedly began scooping the whiskey up into whatever receptacle they could find, or simply drank it straight from their cupped hands. Word of this sudden bonanza spread as quickly as the fire, and soon the streets were packed with people, increasing the danger and adding to a scene of mayhem.

Responding to the fire were just 15 men from the then newly-established Dublin Fire Brigade, led by their Fire Captain, Robert Ingram. Aided by 150 policemen and 200 soldiers, their actions and quick-thinking helped quell the fire and save the city, but not before 13 people had consumed lethal amounts of spirits.

The story has never been fully told, until now. Las was approached by Micheál Ó Doibhilín of Kilmainham Tales, who had seen Las talk on the subject, and suggested he put pen to paper and write a book about the fire.

RESEARCH

The timing was also perfect for a book on the whiskey fire, with the rejuvenation of the whiskey industry in the very same area of Dublin city taking hold, but while more material was coming to light, there were still many problems in finding all of the details regarding the fire and its aftermath.

“One of the big problems I had was that I knew 13 people had died, but I couldn’t find any trace of them,” Las says. “I went to the register of deaths, but unless you know the name of the person who died, you won’t find them.

“I went into the national archives, got the coroner’s records for Dublin, but nothing was coming up. I did find a report of a woman who had died of alcohol poisoning a few days after the fire, so that was a starting point. Eventually I turned up five names, all of whom died in the same way in the immediate aftermath of the fire.” 

The information that could be gathered showed that Dublin at the time had a thriving whiskey industry. A change in the licensing act in 1823 meant that distillers only had to
pay tax on their whiskey when it became available for sale, rather than when it was first barrelled, and this opened up the market to commercial bonders who would store the barrels for the distilleries.

Lawrence Malone quickly became the biggest name in the bonded warehouse business, establishing a huge storage warehouse in the Liberties. “There were others, but Malone was the biggest,” Las tells me, “and while he created an industry in Dublin, he also created a ticking timebomb. There was now a huge amount of flammable liquid in one huge building, sitting behind narrow city streets, without any provision for fire safety.”

The cause of the fire remains unknown, but what is strange is that the first reports describe it as a major fire bursting through the roof of the warehouse, some 30-foot high. “It must have been burning for some time before it got to that level, but nobody reported smelling smoke, nobody saw anything, until it was fully developed,” Las says.

MAYHEM

When the fire was reported, the Dublin Fire Brigade (which consisted of just 23 men, 15 of whom were available including Fire Captain Robert Ingram) arrived within ten minutes, and when the Police got to the scene, “they obviously got a sense of not just what was happening, but what might happen, because they sent for massive reinforcements of 150 men,” Las says. “Two premises were on fire, flames shooting into the air through the roof, flammable liquid was flowing out under doors and through windows, blue flames flowing down the streets. It’s the worst of two possible calamities – a flood finding its way under doorways and into houses, into every crack and crevice and down every street and alley, and it’s also burning as it goes. They couldn’t put water on it because it is already liquid, so it was like petrol. There’s also a very steep drop on those streets.”

Soldiers – some 200 – were also sent for. “Soldiers were important because they could help with salvage, but also man the pumps so the firefighters could use the hoses, and control the crowds, which was becoming ever-more important,” Las tells me. “Some soldiers arrived armed and threatened a bayonet charge on a group of citizens who attacked them as they tried to guard 60 barrels of whiskey that had been salvaged.” The utter chaos of the scene is hard to imagine, even with the vivid illustrations of the day.

“There were 13 deaths, but not one of them was caused by fire itself,” Las says. “They were all to do with the madness that took hold. Some of the stories were very sad, but some of them were also bizarre. My favourite is the house where there was a wake going on. The people there put themselves at risk to save the corpse, but they only save him enough to make sure he doesn’t burn, before they all run back to get themselves some free whiskey. I like that because it is just so human.

“The madness started early, as soon as it became clear that this was whiskey flowing down the street. The thing was that it was a mixture of whiskey, immature spirits, probably some brandy and wine too. The sight would have been unusual. People wouldn’t have seen this type of flaming blue liquid before, like the flames on a lit Christmas pudding, but on a massive scale.

“Buildings started to burn with proper fires as well as this burning liquid fire, and a tannery went on fire. At the time, many people kept pigs to supplement their family income, while there were also a large number of stables in the area, so when the fire broke out, there were animals everywhere, pigs, dogs, horses running around.”

SAVING THE CITY

Captain Ingram came up with an ingenious idea, Las tells me. “He realised that he needed something to slow the whiskey fire down, and soak it up, something organic. That’s when he decided to use the holy trinity of ashes, tan and manure, because that’s what was available. It was a poor area, so there were a lot of tanneries around. It was brilliant thinking. A hundred years later they would have fought the fire with foam, which is organic too, so using what was available, he was a hundred years ahead of his time.”

Ingram’s actions were successful, managing to first block and then extinguish the many fires that had been caused by the flaming blue liquid. “Had they not contained that fire, it would potentially have flown to Christchurch and could have destroyed a huge area. In theory Christchurch itself could have been in danger,” Las says.

 

A FORGOTTEN STORY

Though the DFB had saved the city, the story was very quickly forgotten about, even to this day, and as Las explains, there were many reasons for this.

“In the immediate aftermath of the fire, Dublin became a laughing stock,” he says. “There happened to be a huge number of British and American journalists in town to cover a rifle match in Sandymount, and they were witnesses to this bizarre event. The press wanted local colour, and the scenes they saw were gold to them. You couldn’t make it up. There was no point in writing about a big fire in Dublin for American or British readers, there were big fires everywhere, but the story of Irish people running around, the streets in flames, scooping up and drinking whiskey off the road had been played up by the British and American press.”

Because of this, the Irish press quickly began to play the incident down. “There was a sense of embarrassment,” Las tells me. “We made eejits of ourselves, had fulfilled every stereotype. Within days the papers were talking about the great law-abiding citizens. On the night itself you couldn’t move for the amount of people trying to get to the whiskey, but suddenly the story was changed and they were all law-abiding citizens who came to offer assistance.

“The whiskey industry, which was huge, didn’t want the story to be of people drinking their product and dying. So, they used their influence to play it down. Social norms at the time also meant that poor people were considered as lesser, so 13 poor people dying was quickly forgotten. If the fire had been at Merrion Square it would have been a different story.”

Nevertheless, some important legacies did arise out of the incident. “Fire safety and the fire brigade having a role in it were still 100 years away,” Las says, “but this made the distillers aware of the fragility of their product. They started to set up fire brigades of their own within the distilleries.

“The major legacy is that this fire happened only 13 years after the establishment of the Dublin Fire Brigade, and there were still a lot of people in the city who didn’t understand why Dublin needed a full-time fire brigade. It was seen as an unnecessary financial burden. But all of a sudden, they realised that but for the fire brigade, there would have been a major incident that could have destroyed a significant part of the city, and the businesses within it. So, in a way it was the incident that justified the fire brigade. It was the fire that showed their importance. They saved the city.”

CAPTAIN INGRAM

The loss of 13 lives is obviously tragic, but to some degree the fate of Captain Ingram is also tinged with sadness. Though he was the father of the Dublin Fire Brigade, his legacy is almost forgotten. “Ingram died in 1882, and he just seemed to slip by in the history of Dublin,” Las tells me. “There is no statue, nothing to commemorate him, there is only one, blurred photo of him – which is strange given that he lived in a time when photography was becoming established – and his grave is an unmarked patch of dirt in Mount Jerome cemetery.

“He was promoting a fire service that the business people of Dublin didn’t want. It was for the benefit of everybody, but not everybody was paying for it, is how they saw it, and so he fought an uphill battle to have the organisation recognised, and his own input acknowledged. I hope this book can bring him and his contribution to the fore for historians and the people of Dublin alike.”

The Great Liberties Whiskey Fire by Las Fallon is available online from www.kilmainhamtales.ie and from Teeling’s Distillery and the Irish Whiskey Museum. Kilmainham Tales is an innovative publisher of academically rigorous but affordable and easily read books covering the period during which Kilmainham Gaol was in operation (1796 – 1924). Listen to Las talk about the fire on the Three Castles Burning podcast here: https://tinyurl.com/s9gtvb2

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.