Blog

From within the Circle

Dublin Fire Brigade Pipe Band Major Mark Toner reviews the band’s recent activities.

You won’t be surprised to hear that your band has been extremely busy since the previous issue of Firecall, sliding into the year’s end and a well-deserved Christmas break after an extremely busy 2018.

The band finished off the summer months with a number of high profile engagements. A place at the final of the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Drogheda saw the band once again in the competition circle, taking a solid second place against a small number of similarly graded bands from County Down. Retired member Paul Shannon, one of the band’s earliest members and tenor drummers, accepted the prize on behalf of the band. A good base to draw on and continue to improve, and the experience only adds to future performances.

Immediately after this the band were thrown head first into preparations for the now annual FESSEF celebrations, and once again led the DFB contingent in the march from Parnell Square to Dublin Castle. Our involvement in FESSEF didn’t end there, as we were centre stage in the National Concert Hall for the Emergency Services concert, along with our colleagues from the Irish Prison Service and the National Ambulance Service pipe bands, for what was a magnificent concert. 

As you know, the band is made up of volunteer members, however, this did not detract from the monumental amount of effort and practice required from the playing members, and of course support from our families and friends, in preparation for these high-profile events.

The long hours of preparation during the summer months for these events continued to pay dividends as once again the band were well received on the evening of DCC’s Culture Night in City Hall, where we played to large gathering of locals and tourists alike. 

Tenor drummer Paul Shannon accepts the 2nd place prize at the Fleadh.

This was followed by a number of charity events the band were happy to be a part of. Elements from the band were also part of recent DFB sporting occasions when a piper and drummer led our GAA team onto the pitch in Croke Park in a friendly game against our NIFRS colleagues, and again when our rugby team recently played the Dáil Seanad team in Donnybrook stadium. Proud to help represent DFB on both occasions. 

Requests we try extremely hard to honour are those from our own members and representative organisations. None more so than the biennial DFB Sports and Social club retirees function, this year held in the Castleknock Hotel and Country Club. The band were proud to perform for DFB’s recently retired members at the reception on the evening, many of whom have been loyal supporters of the band over the years. Our own piping stalwart, Paul Byrne, was one of the recipients, and still managed to strike up a few tunes on the evening. Well done Paul, and we wish you a long and happy retirement from all in the band!

We finished off the year with the bands’ AGM, whereupon the current executive of Chairman Paul Keyes, Secretary John McNally and Treasurer Stephen Pender were voted back into place, and a new appointment of Alan Corcoran to leading drummer was made. 

So if you think you have what it takes to become a band member, why not come along to the OBI any Monday night from 1930hrs onwards and earn the right to wear the band’s crest on your shoulder! Beginners are very welcome – and don’t worry, musical ability is not necessary, you’ll be thought and provided with eveything you need! Our door is never closed, so if you are a previous member and find yourself with a little more time than before, we’ll be glad to have you back.

The band can be reached at any time through any band member or by email at [email protected] or via any of our social media pages. It’s your band!

Oireachtas Report

The DFB Rugby Team met an Oireachtas XV in a fundraising game for Suicide Or Survive.

The DFB Rugby Team played out a close-fought match against an Oireachtas XV on 24 November, and though they couldn’t come away with a victory, the real winner was the Suicide Or Survive charity, with much-needed funds raised for them on the day.

Having beaten the Defence Forces and our friends in the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service this year, it was time for the newly-reformed DFB Rugby Team to take on the Government itself at Donnybrook Stadium.

Suicide Or Survive focuses on breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health issues, and ensuring those affected have access to quality recovery services.

As Firefighters and Paramedics, we are often the first help to arrive after a person has, has attempted to, or is thinking about taking their own life. We see first-hand the devastation that suicide or mental health issues unleash on a family. We, too, recognise that under our uniform we are people, and are also as vulnerable as the next person, so this match was an important event.

Before a ball was kicked, bucket collections took place in St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre on 27 October, and in the city centre in November, and this was added to by the donations made at the match. 

Unfortunately, on a cold and dull November day, the combined Dáil and Seanad XV came out on top in a closely fought 7-0 win, with a youngster called Leo Varadkar playing alongside TDs, senators and government officials. Former Leinster and Ireland prop Mike Ross also togged out and played a section of the match for each team, while DFB Tallaght’s Sara Phelan, club captain with Clondalkin, and the Oireachtas team’s Mairead Carty, club captain with Navan, were also notably getting stuck into their male counterparts.

The DFB and Oireachtas XV teams.

The game, which was free to attend, kicked off at 11.30am, and was ably overseen by referee Su Carty, the former player, coach and now IRFU representative to the World Rugby Council. 

Played over four quarters, there were a few other rule variations that allowed for team switches and for veterans to tog out and be a part of what was a day of fun and fundraising.

The only scores of the closely contested game came when the Oireachtas XV managed to notch up a converted try by captain Senator Neale Richmond before the close of the first half, with the DFB team coming close to parity a few times but unable to break through themselves.

After the game, a reception lunch took place in Old Wesley Clubhouse, with politicians, senior DFB officers and family members all coming together to raise awareness for mental health wellbeing and suicide prevention.

DFB Rugby Team Chairman Keith Mason said: “It was a really enjoyable day. In the end, the score didn’t matter. What was important was to keep the charity in mind, raise money, and have some fun. 

“We got to play a good game, got together as a team, and kept the social side of our club up, but the main focus was to raise money for this great charity.”

The DFB Rugby Team would like to thank all who took part in this important fundraiser, including the Dáil and Seanad team, our own players, ref Su Carty, the fans, the DFB Sports and Social Club, sponsors on the day Sky Ireland, the High School Rathgar for supplying us with new Gilbert balls, Ken O’Dwyer of Flashpoint Medical Systems for supplying water bottles and cones, the fundraisers and volunteers from Suicide Or Survive.

If you wish to support Suicide or Survive you can do so by going to www.suicideorsurvive.ie/how-to-donate/

Station profile: C watch Phibsboro

On a cold December day, C Watch in Phibsboro show Adam Hyland around.

The day was dull when I went to visit Phibsboro Fire Station recently, but the same could not be said of life for the crew of C Watch here.

As part of Charlie District, Phibsboro station is tasked with handling calls from the north inner city to north west Dublin, providing support for both the Blanchardstown and Finglas stations, so they can expect to be faced with a range of incidents and challenges.

“A normal day isn’t really a normal day, because no two days are the same,” Station Officer Kevin Sheehan tells me. “Some days you can see RTC after RTC, depending on the weather, but we can also see days where we get a lot of calls to the local homeless hostels, where we see the effects of the major drugs issue in the north inner city. We can be extremely busy with overdoses, dealing with unresponsive patients who are still breathing and require a paramedic response. We can do five or six of those calls in a day.”

Because of its location, Phibsboro Station can also respond to river rescue call outs as part of a normal Pre-Determined Attendance from HQ, but the number of specialists in C Watch also means they are in high demand for other incidents.

SPECIAL SKILLSETS
Kevin, who moved to the Phibsboro Station from the OBI in September, and Johnny Eastwood, are both advanced paramedics, and this results in the crews being called out frequently to serious incidents.

“With both of us here there is an extra workload, because paramedic ambulance crews can and do call for an advanced paramedic back-up, and if that’s the case then the truck gets called out. One or the other of us will be called out, because of the skillsets we bring to the incident.”

The Phibsboro crew also includes the DFB’s high line rescue specialists, which again means C Watch are in high demand. “The rescue truck has all of the high line gear for rescues from height – cranes, towers, etc – but we have the only lads here who are trained in this,” Kevin tells me.

“Those calls aren’t that common – usually protesters who have climbed on to a building, or people threatening to jump from buildings – but it is great to have the resources at our fingertips.”

Although the station has been around for a long time and hasn’t seen much in the way of renovation (apart from new gates), it serves the crew well, with the large yard perfect for drills, and the rec room and mess are both cosy and relaxing places for C Watch to unwind. A walk through shows that when able, the crew are relaxed, happy to talk and joke. A welcoming and laughing Mark Keogh takes a moment away from making a cup of tea to pose beside the many badges from other fire departments on display, then the newly-erected Christmas tree.

One unique feature at Phibsboro is the Garden of Reflection, which is also used as a place to unwind. Built by the crews here, it honours DFB members lost over the years, and is always immaculately maintained. “It’s a nice place to go, especially in the summer, and just sit and gather your thoughts after a busy day,” Kevin notes. “In a very built up part of the city, it’s nice to have a secluded and quiet area with a nice water fountain, a few fish, where you can sit and enjoy the peace.”

There is rarely much peace and quiet though, as Kevin tells me. “Your day is normally set out for you, punctuated by call outs. Mornings see daily checks on equipment that can go on until 11am, then you have duties throughout the day. The afternoons are usually spent doing exercises or drills, or familiarisation, because there are so many new builds going up. For instance, the student accommodation in Phibsboro, and then Grangegorman is huge as well. Just getting familiar with that, even just driving around to learn the layout and access to hydrants.” This rising population in this area also adds to the workload for C Watch.

“The high density of the area increases risk factor – Grangegorman has 6,000 people there now, for example – so you have the added risk of high-occupancy apartments. You have to be very careful when you go into those places,” Kevin says.

Despite being so busy, all of the crew seem in good spirits and enjoy a lot of banter that shows how well they obviously get on. That becomes immediately evident when members of the crew return from a call out to find me taking pictures of Kevin, James Courage and Ger Corcoran as they check equipment, and are only too happy to get in on the act and joke about the worthiness of each other.

High line operators Alan Brady, Keith Wilson and Dermot O’Reilly are also keen to provide some pictures, and go back up the training tower to, literally, show me the ropes, while Richie O’Sullivan is “busy hiding” from the camera.

A GREAT TEAM SPIRIT
On any given day, there are usually 13 crew members, as well as the DO and Kevin, and they range in age and years of service. “Paddy Dunne is here a long time,” Kevin tells me, “and he is due to retire in March 2019. We also have to give a hat tip to Gerry Sweeney, who is unfortunately out sick for a long time. He is sorely missed in the station because he really is the life and soul of it. He’s a great guy. He is due to retire soon too. Mark Keogh is probably in 25 years now, so he has given great service too.

“Then we go all the way down to lads who are only here a couple of years. We have two young lads in their 20s – James Courage and Daniel Simpson – both good guys. Even though they are no longer recruits, we still call them that, and will keep doing that until someone newer arrives.” Despite their varied experience, C Watch get on very well with each other, and work together exceptionally well too, as Kevin tells me.

“The camaraderie here is fantastic, and the entire crew are genuinely great. Nothing is ever a problem to them. The Open Day we ran in November, for example, was done just among the on-duty staff at the station, and they were all happy to do it. Anything you ask to be done gets done without any issue.

“They keep the place well, nice and tidy, but particularly on scene, on the fire ground, nothing is an issue. You ask for anything to be done, or for a piece of equipment to be retrieved, there is never a question, it is just done.”

That work ethic and camaraderie remains strong, despite the fact there has been a lot of changes in personnel over the last few years. “In the last year alone, we have had three lads come in from other stations, as well as two recruits, to replace lads who were promoted from here, and we have a new recruit joining us for his first shift on Christmas Eve night, so welcome to the Fire Brigade! But the camaraderie has always stayed strong, and everybody gets on really well.”

The Open Day Kevin mentions was organised to raise money for the Movember charity campaign for men’s health, and C Watch in Phibsboro is very much the HQ of the Frontline Mo Bros, the group set up and captained by firefighter Jonathan Forbes to help raise funds and awareness for male cancer and mental health issues.

“Johnny does get help from a few regulars, but he almost single-handedly set that up and runs the show, and he does an amazing job of it,” Kevin tells me.

Many of the C Watch crew were sporting impressive moustaches on the day, grown out over the course of the month of November, and to see them freshly shaved required a second look to recognise some faces I had previously met. Hundreds of people showed up for the Open Day, and for C Watch, being part of the community is very important.

“The door here is always open and visitors are always welcome,” Kevin says. “Obviously it depends on our schedule, but if someone passes by with their child and they want to have a look, if they want a picture taken or anything, we would never turn them away.” I’m delighted to say that spirit included my visit, so thanks to all at C Watch Phibsboro for showing me around.

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.

Simulated terror attack exercise

The DFB took part in a major simulated terror attack and mass casualty training exercise at DCU on November 16.

The inter-agency training exercise, Operation Barracuda, was led by An Garda Siochána and involved specialist response units, the Defence Forces, the National Ambulance Service, as well as recruits from the Dublin Fire Brigade. It was designed to test the capabilities of first responders in the event of a mass casualty incident or terror attack, with the focus on saving saveable lives. The assailants and victims were played by 50 recruits from the Garda college at Templemore.

In the real-time tiered response, the simulated operation began when the Garda control centre received a 999 call at 7pm reporting a road traffic collision at DCU campus. Local Garda units responded first, and quickly determined that mass casualties were involved.

Crews were mobilised from the OBI to attend, but within minutes it was elevated to a major emergency when a number of “assailants” primed their car with explosives before getting out and stabbing and shooting people on the campus. A second call for ERCC Communications and Mass Casualty Units was then made.

As gunfire erupted, the DFB and NAS crews were tasked with the rapid extrication of further casualties, and to take cover in safe areas.

Blanchardstown Station Officer Mark Fay is also a recruit course trainer at the OBI. He was Initial Incident Commander at Operation Barracuda, tasked with the role of liaising with the other agencies and coordinating the emergency response from the DFB. For him, the way the operation played out was realistic, and a useful training exercise for the DFB recruits.

“When we arrived, we were told that there were still active shooters in the area, so we were prevented from going further into the campus by the Armed Response Unit and Garda officers, which is realistically what would happen. For us it’s about working in a safe area. We wouldn’t be sending a crew into an area that wasn’t cleared.

“Some of the lads found it hard that we had to hold back,” he added, “but to make it as realistic as possible, we had to wait for the other agencies to make the area safe for us to do our job.”

The recruits were given no advance warning of what they could expect from the exercise, but Mark was happy with how they handled it. “They did very well,” he said. “It was a bit daunting for some of them because it was the first time they had to work with another agency, but they triaged every casualty. 

“It was a good incident for the recruits to see what they could expect,” he added. “From what we saw, and regarding our role in it, it was a success.”

As the exercise continued, one of the assailants was shot dead before the two remaining terrorists retreated into a building and shot more casualties, taking a number of hostages.

The Garda Armed Support Unit moved in, while a joint DFB/NAS team of paramedics established a Casualty Triage and Clearing Station in an adjacent building, where they could remove and treat casualties it was possible to save.

As fire erupted in the main building, armed gardaí stormed the area, shot the assailants and retrieved the hostages, before DFB firefighters were allowed to enter to extinguish the fire and remove casualties to paramedics.

As members of the Defence Forces Explosives Ordnance Disposal unit dealt with the booby-trapped car, DFB and NAS paramedics continued to triage, load and transport the “wounded” to hospital, and after an hour, the exercise was wound down.

Although performed in real time, each agency had prepared for the training exercise individually, starting with desktop scenarios and building gradually to the operation itself.

Greg O’Dwyer, Senior Fire and Emergency Management Officer, was involved with the operation from the start and acted as the DFB’s lead in its planning and preparation.

“We started planning in February, and had a workshop that included a full scenario briefing,” he said. “After that we had monthly, then bi-monthly planning meetings and in the run up to the operation we had weekly meetings to go over what was going to happen. In September, we had a tabletop exercise that went through the full inter-agency involvement, before it became a reality in November.”

On the night itself, he and the Chief Fire Officer Dennis Keeley acted as narrators for VIPs and media present to witness the events unfold via security cameras and the various comms, and he was keen to see how inter-agency cooperation would work.

“There were two key purposes behind the operation,” he said. The first is to test inter-agency communication and coordination. How we take the 999/112 call details and how we share that information with each other, ensuring that responding crews have the best information possible. Then ensuring that any further information coming from the first responders at
the scene, is also shared to all responding agencies. 

“The second is to test each of the agencies’ individual preparedness for such an event, their procedures for dealing with it and the coordinated incident command system, ensuring a safe and efficient response and scene management.”

Greg also thought the exercise went very well.“The real takeaway for the DFB was how well we worked together with the HSE’s National Ambulance Service. Obviously, we needed a lot of coordination and on the ground organisation between the two agencies,” he said. “In a mass casualty incident, your training is important, but so too is coordination in trying to get through all the casualties, and bring them to safe locations for treatment. If such an incident was to happen today, after that exercise I would be very confident we would work very well to get the best possible outcome.

“Of course, we could have more personnel on hand, but with what
we had on the night, and what we have to work with, I think we are very well-prepared.”

Testing skills: Mass casualty training

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

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

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

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

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

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

ORGANISATION

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

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

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

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

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

Trainees in action.

LESSONS LEARNED

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

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

Syria to Swords

Above: Joanne Doyle with crew members in Swords.

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

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

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

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

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

Joanne Doyle

BACK TO THE BOOKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BACK TO WORK

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

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

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

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

High standards in safety

Health and safety

Above: DFB’s management team with the certificate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A tall order

Above: D/O John Rush

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

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

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

INSTRUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

Retired member profile: Rory Mooney

Above: Marion and Rory.

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

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

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

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

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

Rory’s collection of memorabilia.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE QUIET LIFE

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

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

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

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

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