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Retired members: Harry O’Keeffe

Harry (bottom row, far left) and his colleagues in DFB.

Conor Forrest caught up with Harry O’Keeffe, a former firefighter who spoke about his career with Dublin Fire Brigade, his role as a special service man, as well as his efforts to improve the workplace for his fellow firefighters.

One hundred years ago, a small group of men and women marched out on the streets of Dublin, Enniscorthy and Meath to proclaim an independent Irish Republic. It was an event that would change the course of Irish history, though perhaps not exactly how Padraig Pearse and his comrades in arms would have imagined. It was also the year in which Dublin Fire Brigade’s oldest firefighter was born, three days after rebel leader James Connolly was executed in Kilmainham – one Harry O’Keeffe.

To say Harry has led an interesting life would be something of an understatement. Born in 22 Holles Street in May 1916, he grew up alongside the new State that had its origins among the ruins of Dublin that year. His childhood was a happy one, with a loving family, and among his earliest memories is attending the State funeral of Michael Collins, perched on his father’s shoulders at the age of six.

In those days, jobs were scarce, but he managed to find employment in his early teens, first with Cantwell and Corcoran, which produced soft drinks, where he was interviewed by union leader Jim Larkin about the company’s employment policies. That was followed by a stint with the Grand Canal Company, and then the Calendars Overhead Cable Company – Harry cycled every day from Boyne Street to work in Drogheda, beginning at 4am and camping out during the week as the work moved further from home. Wicklow became a fond destination during his teenage years, particularly Kilmacanogue, and he often cycled there on his own or with friends to a cottage they had rented on the side of the Sugarloaf. Among the first group of girls invited to the cottage was one Teresa Maxwell, his future wife.

Harry was presented with several tokens on his 100th birthday

Onwards and upwards

Having trained as an electrical and mechanical engineer in his youth, this stood to Harry when an opportunity to join Dublin Fire Brigade arose, halting plans to move to Canada with Calendars. From many hundreds of applicants, only six were ultimately successful – including Harry. The manner in which he secured his job was perhaps an indication of the impact he was to have on DFB. “I was up in Castle Street, I went in before a few men, one of them was the young chief, Comerford. He was doing most of the speaking and he was summing me up,” Harry tells me. “When he was finished, I said ‘do I get the job?’ ‘Do you get the job? We’ll let you know in due time’.” This, however, was an unacceptable response in Harry’s mind. “Says I, ‘I’ve waited a long time to get this far, and I’d like to know where I stand.’ So he talked to the other men and said ‘Well O’Keeffe, you can take it you’ve got the job,” Harry recalls with a smile.

He began his new career in 1938, under the command of Major Comerford, an ex-Irish soldier, and later under Captain Diskin following the untimely death of the former. “Him and I got on pretty well together,” Harry says of Major Comerford. Harry spent the majority of his DFB career in Tara Street as he was what was then known as a ‘special service man’ – because of his electrical knowledge, he was tasked with maintaining and servicing the old fire alarms on the street, which operated before the introduction of telephones.

It was this role that prevented him from travelling to Belfast during the Blitz in 1941 – despite volunteering to travel – as he would have been difficult to replace should the worst happen. Among the many stories from Harry’s career with DFB, that of his role in the bombs that dropped on Dublin during World War II stands out, particularly those that fell on the Terenure area in South Dublin early in the morning of January 2nd 1941. That story was captured in The Bombing of Dublin’s North Strand: The Untold Story by Kevin C. Kearns, as explained by a colleague of Harry’s who joined DFB at the same time, Paddy Walsh.

“This bomb hit the end of a terrace of houses, at the back garden. Made a crater in the garden and the house fell in, but not much fire. They were up-market houses, a place where there was a Jewish settlement. A woman was trapped there, in her bed. The roof had collapsed down and the joists were all criss-crossing on the bed,” Walsh recalled. “Now I was just five foot nine but another lad with me was a hardy fella, Harry O’Keeffe. So we got in and everything was in a heap, the front of the house was still intact, but the whole back was down. There was one joist holding most of the roof still on. So he got down on his hunker, if you like, and held it. Then he says to me, “I’ll hold that and give you time to get in.”

Harry O’Keeffee (seated)

Changing times

Workers’ rights were extremely important to Harry, and he expended great effort in agitating to improve the position of firefighters in Dublin, quickly developing a reputation as a force for change. When he first joined the fire brigade, firefighters brought food with them to work. However, noting that their counterparts in the UK and Northern Ireland had modern catering facilities where Dublin did not, Harry took the cause to City Hall, fighting long and hard for a mess to be provided for the stations.

“It was disgraceful the way the Dublin Corporation treated the working men that had to be fed. There’s not a place in the world that has their staff in but they make some provisions to feed them. I took it up to City Hall and I had a row with one of the officials there,” he explains. That particular official had the temerity to enquire as to whether the firefighters would like their daily dinner at the Gresham Hotel. Harry struck the table and said he would get the men to fi ll their larders with tinned food because it would be a long strike.  Eventually, the Corporation caved. Once they got the mess, however, it still wasn’t quite plain sailing. “We had a woman who used to look after the mess. She had a fancy for George O’Dowd,” says Harry. “George fell in love with a retired schoolteacher. And when she heard that, there was skin and hair flying!”

A life well lived

Harry’s tireless efforts on behalf of his colleagues and peers – which included reducing the retirement age for the city’s firefighters – didn’t cease when he left DFB in 1963 to join the Corporation Rents department, a job which provided a more stable life for Harry and his young family, along with an improved salary. His son Brendan recalls a story of Harry standing before a judge in the case of a tenant in arrears. Despite Harry working for the Corporation, he was pleading on behalf of the tenant, which perplexed the judge. Looking back, it’s clear that Harry’s life was one of dedication – to his family, his colleagues in Dublin Fire Brigade, and to his lifelong principles.

“I believed in the worker getting his right to speak, to criticise whatever was chosen for him. I didn’t believe in a man being too quiet, and not allowed to speak his mind. So I spoke up,” he tells me, his voice suddenly strong. “I stood up on a few occasions and I spoke to the whole lot of them [his colleagues]. I would have a go at them – ‘we can’t be falling out with ourselves, it is important that we unite. Unity is strength, we must stand together’.”

As with all of his tales of his fascinating experiences, Harry sums it up best himself. “It was quite a chequered life,” he says with a characteristic smile.

A man ahead of his time

Harry was an avid reader, a trait sparked in early life, and he would regale his children with stories of exploration and adventure around the fire (his sons Brian and Brendan, son-in-law George and grandson Ciarán would follow him into the brigade). His other passion was singing, and he was known for his rendition of Night Time in Nevada. He was also

He was also fascinated by space. In those days, meat would arrive wrapped in butcher’s paper, and Harry sketched out details of how a moon landing might happen. In July 1969, his visions were vindicated as Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Nobody knows if this drawing still exists, but included on the sheet was a list of DFB colleagues who had signed up for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Surf rescue

Surf rescue

The Irish Tow Surf Rescue Club is saving lives in the water and on the beaches along Ireland’s west coast. We speak with co-founder Peter Conroy to discover more.

Surfing isn’t just a sport for warm weather water, it’s a global passion. In fact, Ireland’s reputation as a surfing hotspot continues to grow, despite weather that is somewhat different to Australia or California – places like Lahinch, Bundoran and Tramore are all ports of call for surfers from Ireland and beyond. Though undoubtedly exhilarating, surfing can be also a dangerous sport. There’s a very real chance of drowning, of being overcome by waves that are stronger than they appear, of being caught in riptides or washing up on the rocks. However, if you get into difficulty on the west coast of Ireland, chances are you could be rescued by a Dublin Fire Brigade firefighter or one of his colleagues from the Irish Tow Surf Rescue Club.

The club was co-founded by Peter Conroy, a firefighter based in No 3, who joined the brigade in 2004 after completing a Master’s in International Disasters Engineering & Management from Coventry University. Water was always in his blood, growing up as a competitive swimmer and discovering the world of surfing while lifeguarding on the beaches of Clare. During his down-time, Peter would take a board and hit the waves around the Cliffs of Moher, quickly becoming hooked on the sport.

As the years went by he began tackling larger and larger waves, surfing both in summer and winter, and five years ago he was nominated for one of the top five biggest barrels (the hollow part of the wave when it is breaking) surfed in the world, representing Ireland at the XXL awards in LA. “It was the Oscars of surfing, featuring the best in the business,” Peter explains. “I had pictures on my wall of people who were over there, and I was in the same category as them!”

Club members with Coast Guard Rescue 115. Photo: Peter Conroy. Main image: Team members in the sea at the Cliffs of Moher, where some of the most dangerous rescues are carried out. Photo: Clem McInerney

Tow rescue

The Irish Tow Surf Rescue Club was born out of his love of surfing, founded in 2006 after Peter began tow-in surfing – surfers are towed into a breaking wave by a partner on a jet ski in order to catch higher and faster moving swells. Surfing one day beneath the Cliffs of Moher, Peter was trapped and was forced to swim through 20-foot waves to safety as the jet skis were unable to reach him. Relaxing in a pub afterwards, he and his friends realised that they should be able to rescue themselves, and others. A trainer from England was brought in to demonstrate the uses of the jet ski beyond its towing capabilities, and the group realised that the skis could be used for rescue purposes.

“With my degree and my work in the fire brigade, I started to implement more procedures that would allow us to be much safer out there on the water,” he says. “I broke my back a few years ago – we had a ski out there and the sled on the back could be used as a spinal board, so it’s very handy that way.”

From there the club’s reach began to expand, rescuing surfers in distress along the west coast and putting rescue boxes in place at the bottom of cliffs containing medical supplies, a VHF radio, survival suits and other useful items, ensuring that the team could access medical supplies in places unreachable by the skis. The group also began installing defibrillators in local hotels, which benefits both surfers or others in distress in the water or on the beaches, as well as the local community. They also coordinate with other voluntary emergency services like the Coast Guard, working where they cannot go or assisting rescues when required. Regular training exercises are carried out with the Coast Guard in Shannon, though the Club tries to involve the Coast Guard as little as possible, dealing with minor incidents on their own.

“We mainly concentrate on whitewater work, anything from the beach to 300 metres out, that’s our speciality. The Coast Guard isn’t allowed in there anymore – in the summertime there are lifeguards on the beach from 11am to 7am to deal with that area, but once you reach rocks and similar terrain there’s nobody really to cover it,” says Peter. “We’re trying to promote the Club in such a way that the Coast Guard can call on us as a speciality operator to implement rescues. They know we can do it, because they’ve called on us on occasion in the past.”

A training session with the Danish Lifeguard Federation on jet ski familiarisation. Photo: Peter Conroy

Developments

Looking ahead, Peter hopes that the club will continue to grow, welcoming new members alongside vital financial support to fund their operations, equipment and training. The club is now certifying people in Rescue Jetski Operations, a three-day course on Friday evening, Saturday and Sundays that trains competent rescue jet ski operators and swimmers.

“We’re pushing that more, and we’re also doing more with different organisations, like the Coast Guard helicopter,” says Peter. “We were down at the EMS Gathering in Kinsale [this year], working with them to demonstrate that the jet ski and the rescue sled on the back are the only thing that a water rescue needs, because it’s the only thing you can transport a spinal case on without compromising C spine. There is no way of putting a person with a spine injury onto a boat without comprising C spine, and if the helicopter comes they’ll winch with a broken back. We have a sled we can transport them on and bring them back to a harbour while keeping them secure.”

For more information on the rescue club or how to join, search for Irish Tow Surf Rescue Club on Facebook.

Firefighting on high

A team from Dublin Fire Brigade has been working hard on updating and developing the brigade’s high rise firefighting plan, coordinated by District Officer John Chubb. 

When you think of a city dominated by high rise buildings, Dublin doesn’t immediately spring to mind. New York, of course, and Tokyo. London perhaps, and Dubai. However the term high rise buildings, as B watch District Officer John Chubb explains, doesn’t solely refer to buildings that tower 50 or 60 stories above ground level, but rather those of five stories and above.

“A more focused way to describe it is a building that the fire service has to depend on the provisions within for fire safety, whether active or passive, such as sprinkler systems, dry riser systems, smoke control and ventilation systems. Any structure that necessitates moving away from our fire appliances, which is our toolbox, and start depending on the builders’ and the engineers’ vision of fire safety, we would regard as a structure that requires firefighting tactics appropriate to high rise,” he says.

Measured approach

Fires in high rise buildings require more complicated operational approaches than most structure fires. Tasks that are normally considered routine for most fire departments, such as locating and attacking the fire, evacuating occupants, and performing ventilation can become very difficult in high rises. As a result, Dublin Fire Brigade’s high rise emergency management plan is currently undergoing an extensive update by a team led by D/O Chubb. It’s by no means a new concept for the city – a plan was put in place for the towers in Ballymun back in the 1960s – but changes in Dublin’s built environment in recent years have necessitated a response.

“In essence, any fire department anywhere in the world is in a constant state of revision – they continually evolve to account for the characteristics of the built environment,” says D/O Chubb. “In the last 10 years we have had an explosion of building here – at its peak in 2006 we were building 100,000 properties per year. In addition, government policy is looking towards housing a growing population, starting to lean towards more and more high-density buildings. DFB has been evolving its strategies, taking note of these developments.”

Updating and developing a high rise firefighting plan that takes into consideration the myriad challenges these buildings present is no easy task. Alongside changing scenarios once you travel 10 or 20 floors into the sky, DFB’s current fleet of aerial appliances can reach a maximum height of seven stories, which means that interior operations have to be conducted in buildings beyond that level, reducing the tactical options available to incident command. Though vehicles capable of scaling larger heights are available on the market, Dublin’s infrastructure has to be taken into account, in particular a warren of narrow streets that wider vehicles simply couldn’t pass through. Elevators within these buildings are not always suitable for firefighters – special firefighting lifts are required that can overcome issues associated with smoke and water ingress. Multiple occupancies also pose a significant threat. In a smaller apartment block you might have four or five families, and evacuation can be carried out quickly and efficiently. In a high rise building that could combine offices with residential apartments, that number can quickly rise into the hundreds.

There are other issues too. Reflex time (the time it takes from arrival on scene to getting water on the fire) can be increased greatly – a high rise situation necessitates moving equipment from the fire tender to higher floors, rather than simply running hose from an appliance across the street and into a normal two-storey house. Water pressure is another concern; when you try to move water to elevated levels you’re trying to overcome gravity and you lose the pressure required to operate the standard fog nozzle. To counter that they’ve gone back to the smooth bore nozzles, which require less pressure to get water from A to B.

The impact on personnel cannot be underestimated either. Before they add any equipment, the average firefighter will carry around 10kg of PPE, excluding a BA set. Add a hose, forcible entry equipment and accountability systems used to track personnel inside a fireground and you’re pushing 25kg, the limit recommended by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA). The brigade’s personnel are undoubtedly a hardy bunch, well trained and well drilled, but hefting 25kg up 20 stories in smoke and heat can get quite tiring very fast.

“All things considered, we’re dealing with a very complicated fire, we’re dealing with delays in getting our assets and our resources to a point where we can deploy them, and we have issues with command and control, because the command communication chain is extended by the difference in where the commander would have to set up and where the firefighters are going to deploy,” D/O Chubb explains. “You’ve also got an issue with communication because of Faraday shielding in steel structures, which sometimes makes radio communication impossible.”

Training with the smoke curtain. Photos courtesy John Chubb

Plans in place

The process of updating DFB’s high rise response plan began back in mid-2016 (though incremental modifications have always been put in place), scheduled to run for two years although D/O Chubb believes that it will be ready well in advance of the deadline. The project is multi-tiered and features multiple work streams, incorporating health and safety, fire prevention, EMS, operations and external partners. Insight from those within the brigade has proven vital – fire prevention officers have provided their in-depth knowledge in relation to building regulations, while the team has also utilised external engineering expertise. EMS staff have also provided insight into how EMS operations must be conducted within the high rise structure as opposed to exterior to a building on fire.

The above challenges, and others, are the focus of this plan, and D/O Chubb and his team have looked to their colleagues beyond Ireland’s borders in search of best practice and innovation, considering and investigating a number of innovative devices already in use in brigades across the world. Take the smoke curtain, an ingeniously simple device that can be affixed over the doorway to a burning room, preventing smoke from filtering into the rooms or corridors beyond, aiding evacuation procedures and reducing smoke damage. Or the Fognail, which allows responders to fight fire from outside a room by penetrating the walls or doors using the tool and injecting a fine water mist inside.

Once the plan has been completed, the next step will be disseminating its contents to all fire brigade personnel through comprehensive training and continuous professional development programmes. “A challenge that we have when we develop new practices or techniques is that we have to be sure that we disseminate that information in an even-handed way, and that the actual message is standardised. Essentially what we’re doing is we’re developing a curriculum. We have identified two key areas: the skills people need to have, and the knowledge they need to have,” says D/O Chubb.

Practical skills include firefighting shaft operations, firefighting tactics, ventilation strategies, working with a building’s water supply, search operations, EMS operations, and command and control. The cognitive element is also important, and the curriculum will educate personnel on fire alarm systems, high rise building construction, firefighting lifts, fire behaviour, sprinkler systems and smoke control systems, providing a well-rounded knowledge base on which the brigade can build.

This project is far from being a paper exercise in procedures and policies. D/O Chubb describes B watch HQ as the “fulcrum” of the project; testing the effectiveness of the strategies developed, discovering what does and doesn’t work, and pushing themselves to their limits, augmented by crews from Phibsborough, Donnybrook and North Strand. Two full-scale exercises have been carried out in high rise buildings across the city, and many more conducted in HQ, all of which will contribute to future learnings and the final plan.

“The crews are doing much more than is expected of them on a daily basis, and their response has been phenomenal,” says D/O Chubb, who stresses that he’s merely a facilitator in developing these plans, and that nothing would happen without cooperation at all levels of the brigade. “It’s a big project, one that couldn’t function if we didn’t have support from the top down. We’ve had to query every single thing we do, and ask hard questions of ourselves. And once you have that type of honesty, and you know where to look for the latest ideas or best practice, you usually end up with positive results,” he adds. “A lot of work was done in New York and in the UK. We have an open mind and we’re happy to look at what’s out there and take the best from everyone. My job, effectively, is to learn from what other people have developed, to stand on the shoulders of their expertise. It really is a team effort.”

On parade: Recruit Class 1/2017

Class 1/2017 successfully completed their training programme at the end of May.

The passout parade is organised as a graduation ceremony for the recruits and their families and friends, and provides them with an opportunity to showcase the skills they have learned over the past 16 weeks to their loved ones. With the sun beating down on the OBI’s training yard at the end of May, a total of 50 recruits from Class 1/2017 received their scrolls and completed the passout ceremony, looking forward to the beginning of their new careers – 48 from Dublin Fire Brigade and two from Waterford Fire Service. The average age of Class 1/2017 is 25.5 years – the oldest is 48 while the youngest recruit is just 20. Lord Mayor of Dublin Brendan Carr addressed the recruits at the beginning of the parade, noting his pride and that of the city’s. “This is a highlight of your 17 weeks in training and we know that the city

“This is a highlight of your 17 weeks in training and we know that the city have taken you away from your normal and everyday life,” he said. “I want to thank your partners and families, your mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, for allowing us for the past 17 weeks… to be able to put you through this rigorous training session you went through. The people of Dublin, as you well know, are very proud and we have great respect [for] our emergency services, and with good reason.”

The demonstration of skills including a very impressive foot drill demonstration, consisting of 600 individual movements that were memorised and performed flawlessly. Following a community fire safety demonstration, the recruits then demonstrated their skills in a high rise rescue, hazmat incidents, an RTC with extrication and removal of patients to hospital, a response to a domestic fire incident including the use of breathing apparatus, and finally a highline rescue. At the end of the demonstrations the recruits lined up in front of the gathered crowd to receive their scrolls – the Silver Axe award was presented to recruit firefighter and former Defence Forces member Darren Murphy. “I was looking for a change and I felt that Dublin Fire Brigade could give that change to me. It’s different from the Defence Forces because you’re learning new skills,” he told TheJournal.ie. “I wouldn’t have done anything with the BA through the Defence Forces, or road traffic collisions, so it’s totally new skills that I’m learning while bringing the skills I had from the forces in with me to the fire brigade. It’s a great service to give to the city and I wanted to be a part of that service.”

Chief Fire Officer Fleming also spoke to the newest members of Dublin Fire Brigade, first paying tribute to the victims of the Manchester Arena bombing, in which 22 people were killed and dozens more injured. “While this is a day of celebration, I think we should acknowledge the horrific attack in Manchester, and our thoughts and prayers are with the relatives and friends of the families involved, and indeed with our colleagues in the emergency services,” he said. “However, we have gathered here today to celebrate the passing out of Class 1/2017, which comprises 48 recruits from Dublin Fire Brigade and two recruits from Waterford Fire Service. This is a proud day for many people, primarily for the recruits of Class 1/2017, all of whom are reaping the rewards of their commitment over months of arduous training and hard work. For the instructors of Class 1/2017, under the guidance of course director A/D/O Stephen Wylie and assistant course directors A/D/Os Colm Egan and Mark Fay, all of whom have been instrumental in realising the potential of each recruit. And for you, the families, friends and loved ones, you have given the vital encouragement and support needed by each recruit in meeting the demands of their new job.”

In his speech, CFO Fleming highlighted the high standards at the DFB training centre, which are reflected in the quality and the professionalism of each of the graduating recruits. These standards have led to the OBI’s recognition as a national training centre for firefighting in Ireland. “This has also led to the provision of training for other full-time fire service recruits, and it is a very important step in the provision of harmonised national training standards,” CFO Fleming noted. “This is due in no small way to the dedication of all of the training staff here. I would also like to pay tribute to Assistant Chief Fire Officer Terry Kearney, the Brigade Training Officer Gerry Stanley, and to Breeda Melvin and the administrative staff here at the training centre.”

The recruits have completed a total of 29,120 hours of instruction from DFB instructors alongside training from Dublin Bus, An Garda Síochána, Renault and Luas, preparing them for the wide variety of incidents they are sure to encounter in the years ahead. Irish fire services, including Dublin Fire Brigade, have a proud tradition of serving communities across the country, well respected by the communities they serve. Going forward, the members of Class 1/2017 will have a duty to continue this tradition.

“The history of our service is interwoven with the history of the city itself. We are very proud of our long-standing service but it also imposes a duty on us, a duty to uphold the traditions and standards of our service. The training you have received here is to enable you to serve the people of Dublin in their hour of need, but it is also to keep you safe while you are doing that,” said CFO Fleming. “Every recruit here is following in the footsteps of a long line of firefighters who have carried their badge for their fire service with pride and honour. You are entrusted with that duty, and I am confident that you will carry it out faithfully. Finally, I wish each of you every success and fulfilment in your future career in the fire service. I have no doubt that you will continue to deliver a first-class service to the citizens of the city and county that you serve.”

Links in the chain of survival

Chain of survival

We spoke with Martin O’Reilly, EMS Support Officer, Dublin Fire Brigade, to discover more about the chain of survival in Dublin city and county, and how the fire-based EMS service model ensures the effectiveness of this chain.

According to the HSE, surviving a cardiac arrest at any age is “directly related to time to resuscitation and particularly defibrillation”. These are two links in what is known as the ‘chain of survival’ for out of hospital cardiac arrest: early recognition, immediate and effective cardiopulmonary resuscitation, rapid defibrillation, pre-hospital advance life support, and postresuscitation care and aftercare.

Take early and effective CPR, which can keep the brain and vital organs oxygenated, and can also buy time for effective defibrillation to take place – either by members of the public or the emergency services. Time is key, and CPR should commence as soon as possible following a cardiac arrest to provide the best chance for a positive outcome. “We know that after a patient suffers a cardiac arrest, if nothing is done then the patient’s chance of survival diminishes by between 7 and 10 per cent with every minute that passes. Providing bystander CPR gives the patient the best chance possible towards a successful outcome,” explains Martin O’Reilly, EMS Support Officer with Dublin Fire Brigade.

In Dublin and the surrounding area, Dublin Fire Brigade is a key part of this chain and regularly responds to such instances across the capital. DFB recently attended an adult male patient, whose cardiac arrest had been witnessed by a member of the public. The emergency service controller (ESC) provided CPR instruction to the caller over the phone, enabling bystander CPR to take place on scene prior to DFB’s arrival, and simultaneously dispatched the required resources to the scene. “We had paramedics quickly on scene on the fire appliance and an advanced paramedic providing advanced life support as part of the ambulance crew,” says O’Reilly. “The crew achieved a return of spontaneous circulation on scene and commenced post-resuscitation care. The patient was then transported to the nearest emergency department to continue this care. This patient benefited from all of the links in the chain of survival, which greatly increased his chances of survival and is an excellent example of an EMS system working at its best.”

Two-pronged approach

The citizens of Dublin city and county benefit from DFB’s fire-based EMS service, in which firefighters are also trained paramedics. The system is in operation in a number of jurisdictions around the world, particularly in large urban centres, including fire departments across the USA, France and several in Germany, and plays an important role in ensuring a functioning chain of survival.

As O’Reilly outlines, the fire-based EMS system in Dublin ensures the use of a structured approach when responding to cardiac arrests. The nearest fire appliance and ambulance are dispatched to a call, ensuring a sufficient number of paramedics to effectively manage a cardiac arrest. Alongside its clinical abilities, the fire appliance with paramedics onboard also facilitates a rapid response to immediately life-threatening calls – in 68 per cent of cardiac arrests the fire appliance will arrive in advance of the ambulance due to its strategic location and availability.

“Many 112/999 calls are of a medical and traumatic nature, involving single or multiple patients, and have a requirement for additional clinical resources and personnel to perform physical rescue, extrication etc. Firefighter/paramedics provide rescue/extrication skillsets as well as an additional response where needed. These additional resources also improve patient, bystander and practitioner safety on scene,” says O’Reilly.

The combined firefighting and paramedic training all DFB recruits receive proves highly useful within situations that require medical and rescue response – one response vehicle can provide both skillsets. DFB personnel are educated and trained to perform multiple functions, including hazardous materials response, road traffic collision extrication, highline rescue, swiftwater rescue, and pre-hospital emergency care.

“Firefighter/paramedics uniquely can provide patient treatment and rescue immediately on arrival. These highly trained professionals are a valuable resource and a huge benefit to the patient and the community,” O’Reilly explains. “Another important benefit of having multi-skilled FF/P within a fire-based EMS service is seen when a major incident occurs with many casualties involved. A fire-based EMS service can deploy large numbers of equipped paramedics to the scene from its fire service vehicles immediately. They can commence triage, treatment and stabilise patients on arrival at the scene.”

The ability of Dublin Fire Brigade’s fire-based EMS system to simultaneously dispatch fire and EMS resources is vital and saves precious minutes, particularly in life-threatening situations where every second counts, often making the difference between life and death in cases like cardiac arrests. This approach also reduces on scene time and helps get patients to hospital and definitive care much sooner – important links in a patient’s survival.

Expecting the unexpected: Chief Fire Officers’ conference

Chief Fire Officers’ conference

The annual Chief Fire Officers’ Association conference was held in Croke Park in 2017, organised by Dublin Fire Brigade. Conor Forrest was there on the day.

Last May, Croke Park was the location for the Chief Fire Officers’ Association (CFOA) annual conference, an interesting and varied two-day event organised by Dublin Fire Brigade and which tackled the topic of expecting the unexpected. Drawing from fire services far and near, the comprehensive CFOA 2017 conference featured speakers on a broad range of topics from fire safety to media management. Washington DC Fire and EMS Chief Gregory Dean reflected on the systems in use in Seattle and Washington DC; Dublin City Council Senior Systems Officer John Lynch explained how business intelligence can be put to good use in the fire service; and Peter Holland, Chief Fire and Rescue advisor at the Home Officer provided an overview of the local and national structure of the UK’s fire services.

An opportunity to listen and learn from colleagues, not just in Ireland but around the world, and to discover best practice and innovation for the years ahead, the conference also looked to the future of fire services, with topics such as innovation, investment and funding on the agenda.

“As Minister with responsibility for policy oversight for fire safety and the provision of fire services by local authorities, my primary focus is on ensuring that local authority services are effective in achieving their objectives and meeting their statutory obligations in respect of the provision of fire services and fire safety. Key to that is to make sure that local authorities do all they can to do your great work and to give you the resources you need to be able to provide the service you provide,” said Minister for State Damien English, who opened the conference alongside Lord Mayor Cllr Brendan Carr, and reiterated his department’s commitment to fire services. “My job as your minister in this area is to work with my department and all local authorities to make sure that you get your fair share of resources to help you do what you do… If we can prove that you are spending the resources that you get in the best way, in the most effective way and stretching every Euro of that, that helps us with our business case to get more money for the service, to build on that.”

It was a theme that CFOA Chairperson and Dublin Fire Brigade Chief Fire Officer Pat Fleming picked up on later in the morning. “Funding is always an interesting one,” he said with a laugh. “In 2015, 20 new fire appliances for 16 counties were announced. Many of these are now only appearing in fire stations. Fire and rescue services are not discretionary items. Properly funded services are vital in defining a modern society and in supporting economic development and foreign direct investment.”

The issue of fire-based EMS has been in the public eye of late, with calls in some quarters to remove DFB’s ambulance call and dispatch function and to instead merge it with the National Ambulance Service (NAS). Alongside the importance of a collaborative approach to community fire safety, Minister for State Damien English touched on the topic of fire-based EMS services during his speech, noting the possibility of retained fire services assisting the National Ambulance Service in meeting the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC) response targets, particularly in rural areas.

“I welcome the Minister’s comments on this today. It’s something that I’ve advocated on previous occasions, the positive benefits of providing life-saving medical intervention in support to hard-pressed colleagues in the NAS operating in rural Ireland,” said CFO Fleming. “I’m pleased that a comprehensive draft paper has been prepared under the aegis of the Keeping Communities Safe process, and I look forward to the further progressions and discussion of the feasibility of delivering this service in the interests of patient safety. Inter-agency cooperation in the public interest is not about individual agency status, but rather about delivering the best possible patient-centric service.”

CFO Pat Fleming, Brigadier General Philippe
Boutinaud, Commander of the Paris Fire Brigade and Dublin City Council Lord Mayor Brendan Carr.

Preparation

The main theme of the conference was ‘Expect the unexpected’, with a conference programme reflecting this particular topic. One of the most interesting and well-received talks was given by Brigadier General Philippe Boutinaud, Commander of the Paris Fire Brigade, the largest fire service in Europe. Brigadier General Boutinaud was in command on the night of Friday November 13th 2015, when a series of coordinated terrorist attacks killed 130 people and injured a further 368, the deadliest incident in France since World War II. Later claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the attacks began when three suicide bombers detonated outside the Stade de France during an international friendly between France and Germany, followed shortly after by shootings and bombings at several cafés and restaurants, and then a mass shooting at the Bataclan Theatre during an Eagles of Death Metal concert. Having taken hostages within the theatre, none of the attackers survived following a police raid on the building.

During a discussion on the planning, preparation and response of Paris Fire Brigade, alongside lessons learned from the events, a complete silence blanketed the room as a harrowing video shot on the night of the attacks was shown, depicting the panic-stricken calls received by the emergency service controllers, the firefighters who responded on the ground, and the confusion of the injured who wandered the scenes. “My ambition this morning is to share with you, I’m not here to deliver a speech or deliver a lesson to you,” said Brigadier General Philippe. It’s just a question of… sharing my experience with you in case the unexpected happens in your country. Obviously, I hope that will not be the case.”

Though a terrorist attack of similar proportions on Irish soil is unlikely, there’s no doubt that our emergency services need to be prepared for whatever may come. “Whatever Oscar Wilde thought about that theme, all of us who provide and manage frontline operational emergency response services are very clear as to its meaning. Our primary role is to have the necessary resources in place to protect public safety and render humanitarian aid, which sounds simple enough,” said CFO Fleming. “However, the preparation required for the expected, and the nature and complexity of the unexpected, poses major challenges for us all. The nature of the potential scenarios we now have to prepare for has moved far from a single agency response to a fire or medical incident. Indeed, the complexities of these potential scenarios test all emergency services to the limit both individually and collectively.”

Shades of green and blue: St. Patrick’s Day 2017

Following another successful St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 17th, Third Officer and Pipe Band member John Keogh looks back on a memorable day.

March 17th is an important day in Ireland’s calendar, a day that celebrates the best of what we have to offer to the world. Among those who have become a staple of the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade through Dublin city’s streets is Dublin Fire Brigade, which provides a cohort of uniformed firefighters each year, wowing the crowd with their synchronised marching skills perfected on the drill ground, as well as spotless uniforms and polished medals, and accompanied by the uplifting tunes of the DFB Pipe Band. “It’s a very important day for the fire brigade, it always has been. I’m a member of the DFB Pipe Band as well, and since the foundation of the band in 1985 it was always the view that St. Patrick’s Day would be our biggest event every year,” says Third Officer John Keogh, among those who took to the streets in March.

Alongside a colour party, marchers, and several international firefighters who joined their colleagues in Dublin for the day, the 2017 parade also featured the very first party of recruits from the O’Brien Training Institute, plucked from their training to showcase their newly learned marching skills on a national stage.

“We got them in uniform, and Brigade Training Officer Gerry Stanley marched in front of them with the flag of the DFB training centre, with the recruit instructors leading them off. That was a great event for them, and it got them more involved with life in Dublin Fire Brigade,” says Third Officer Keogh. “Unfortunately they couldn’t participate in the fun afterwards – mixing recruits with trained firefighters at that stage of their training isn’t a good idea. However, the DFB Sports and Social Club arranged a venue for them and they had their own celebrations afterwards. We’ve encouraged them to take part in the parade next year and in parades going forward.” DFB staff and guests from around the world joined the Pipe Band in Diceys on Harcourt Street. The Band wound up providing entertainment to everyone who arrived at the venue, which was recorded and quickly went viral around the globe. “It was a real party atmosphere that was great to be involved in,” Third Officer Keogh says with a smile.

St. Patrick's Day

Members of the Coast Guard at the ceremony in Phibsborough, during which the crew of Rescue 116 were remembered

Structure

For the past 15 years or so, the annual parade has begun at Parnell Square, marching down along O’Connell Street towards St. Stephen’s Green. As the closest station to the start point is Phibsborough, it quickly became a meeting point for those taking part from DFB, with support on the day provided by the station’s crew, particularly those on C watch.

A more formalised structure to the hours before the parade kicks off has also emerged, with an event held that morning in memory of deceased members of the brigade. Beginning with a reading of the names of those who have passed away, a piper from the band plays a lament, followed by a minute’s silence and a flag raising ceremony where the national flag is raised and lowered to half mast. Each year the names are read aloud by the grand marshal selected to lead the DFB contingent along the parade route, usually a person of note within the brigade who has recently retired. For 2017 DFB historian Las Fallon was chosen, with an additional tribute paid to the crew of Rescue 116 – though three former members of DFB who now work with the Coast Guard were unable to attend as they were working at the site of the rescue efforts, representatives from the station in Howth were in attendance.

“We recognise that they’ve gone through a hard time in the past year. We have a great association with them, whether it’s the crews on the helicopters or the shore crews, in Howth or any of the other stations around Dublin,” Third Officer Keogh says.

This year the marchers were joined, as always, by colleagues from further afield, with firefighters from Westchester Fire Service in New York, Berkeley in California and Dunkirk in France taking to the streets. That diverse make-up is the result of deep friendships developed over the years with organisations including the NY Emerald Society and the Washington DC Emerald Society, and close links with brigades such as Leduc Fire Brigade in Edmonton, Canada. “We keep in contact with them, and very good friendships have developed as a result,” Third Officer Keogh explains. “It can be relaxed and dignified at the same time. Nearly every single year our guests are photographed in the national papers. It’s great for the guys who are participating to pick up the paper the next day and see a picture of our friends from Leduc Fire Brigade or New York Fire Department front and centre.”

St. Patrick's Day

The Pipe Band marched in the parade

Standing on ceremony

In the early years, DFB marched solely as part of the main body of the parade, however of late its participation has grown to incorporate a ceremonial role at the beginning with the Lord Mayor of Dublin city. As part of the tradition, the Lord Mayor leads the parade from the start point in the mayoral coach, accompanied by a representative of An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces (carrying the national flag) and Dublin Fire Brigade. “It’s a unique opportunity and we’re honoured to represent Dublin in that way. DFB has been here for 150 years, so we’re the lifeblood of the city,” says Third Officer Keogh. “We’re a real integral part of what Dublin city is all about. The people working in DFB go beyond the normal routine as regards working for the citizens of Dublin. And I think that’s recognised when we’re on parade – the cheers that DFB get are continuous, right along the whole route.”

Going forward the plan is to grow DFB’s involvement in events like St. Patrick’s Day, taking inspiration from the State parade in 2016 that commemorated the centenary of the Easter Rising, and which saw 150 DFB personnel take part; and the annual FESSEF parade that marches through the city with representation from all full-time and voluntary emergency services. Last year the Sports and Social Club funded the purchase of flags for each station across the city, bearing their name and date of foundation, and Third Officer Keogh envisions future parades in which DFB marchers carry anywhere between 14 and 20 flags, providing a more spectacular and colourful vista along the parade route.

Plans are also in place to ensure the entire day is an event for all the family, and Third Officer Keogh encourages families to head to Phibsborough fire station before the parade begins, to enjoy the family-friendly party atmosphere in the station and the tunes played by the Pipe Band as they prepare. “The St. Patrick’s Day parade is the biggest day in the Pipe Band’s year, every year. And it always has been,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter whether we’re here or abroad, it’s always the biggest day. There’s no bar on who marches with us. If somebody turns up in Phibsborough fire station and they’re in full uniform, that’s all we ask. It’s a tremendous event for DFB and it’s going to get bigger and bigger.”

Learning with leisure: The EMS Gathering

The fourth annual Emergency Gathering took place in Kinsale in May. Conor Forrest spoke with organiser Kieran Henry to discover more about this engaging and diverse two-day event.

In early May, a large group of emergency services personnel from Ireland and around the world gathered in the picturesque town of Kinsale. They were there as part of the annual EMS Gathering, a two-day event organised by a team of people including National Ambulance Service advanced paramedic Kieran Henry. It was initially inspired by The Gathering 2013, a government umbrella tourism initiative that encouraged Ireland’s diaspora to return to their homeland that year.

“Around the same time, there was a group of us involved in emergency medical services – paramedics, doctors responders etc. – and we used to head up the mountains informally, take part in activities on our time off,” Kieran explains. “We would often chat to each other and share information with each other, talking about hypothermia, drowning or various different things, as well as talking about sport, current affairs and things like that. So we thought why don’t we merge the two?”

Thus the EMS Gathering was born, organised and run on a voluntary basis with something for everyone working in the field of pre-hospital emergency care, regardless of qualification or experience. The informal nature inspired by those mountain hikes has remained – though the event includes classroom lectures given by experts in their fields, ‘Learning with Leisure’ remains a key facet of the EMS Gathering. Over the years attendees have travelled to nearby farms to learn about responding to a farm-related emergency, attended talks on drowning at Torc Waterfall outside Killarney, and taken a bus tour while learning the intricacies of dealing with sepsis.

Loading an injured person into a helicopter was one element of the TEMS workshop. Photos courtesy EMS Gathering.

Clearly, the diverse programme has worked – people have flocked to the EMS Gathering each year from all corners of the globe, from New Zealand, Poland, Canada, the United States and further afield, sharing their experiences, supporting one another and exchanging ideas on best practice. It has also inspired other events, including the OBI CPC nights established by DFB’s Glenn Ellis and the team there. “It’s a different angle on the educational aspects of the event, I suppose, and people seem to like it. They keep coming back anyway!” says Kieran. “We’ve heard of individual cases where people learned something at the EMS Gathering and they’ve put it into practice. That’s really satisfying on a personal basis.”

Shared expertise

Collaboration is another factor that drives the EMS Gathering – without so many people from different backgrounds, each with their own individual learnings and experiences, the event would not be as broad in its scope. This year the Gathering moved from Killarney to the maritime town of Kinsale, with a programme covering subjects ranging from insights into mental health emergencies and dealing with drowning incidents to workshops on crew resource management and personal resilience. The Flotilla of Learning included a workshop on silver trauma and sepsis given on the Spirit of Kinsale vessel in the harbour, while attendees learned about behaviours of concern while on a walking tour of the Charlesfort. The Irish Naval Service also gave a highly insightful talk on Operation Pontus, which saw more than 15,000 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean over the course of six three-month rotations by Navy vessels.

Simulations are an important feature of the EMS Gathering.

“We had many agencies, both statutory and voluntary, involved. Within those agencies you have a complete multidisciplinary set of people from clinical to non-clinical,” says Kieran. “People from all different backgrounds be it the emergency medical services, military, fire service and rescue, hospitals, general practice, researchers. We had a range of national and international attendees, and they brought their own experiences.” With the dust having settled on the fourth EMS Gathering held since its foundation, Kieran is delighted with how the diverse programme for 2017 unfolded. There’s no doubt that the combination of social activities, with talks and workshops held both in the classroom and out in the locality, made for a memorable two days.

“We were delighted with the response. The feedback that we have got [for 2017] is phenomenal. Some of the nicest things that we heard [were from] the veterans, who have attended conferences for many years, and told us it’s the best one they’ve been at,” says Kieran. “Our aim was to inspire people to learn and enjoy themselves, and I think we have certainly achieved that.”

Flotilla of learning

A new concept for 2017 was the Flotilla of Learning – a range of workshops held on and around Kinsale Harbour. Those included:

■ Health & Well-being Workshop – Kayaks
■ Silver Trauma & Silver Sepsis – Spirit of Kinsale vessel
■ Deep Dive into Diving – Diving Rib
■ Ultrasound Workshop – Sea Vessel
■ Crew Resource Management – Sailboat
■ Behaviours of Concern/Great Wars & What We Have Learned – Walking Tour of Charlesfort

Nutgrove – At the heart of the community

Nutgrove’s annual open day was a huge success, raising vital funds for children with autism and their families.

Back once more for the third year in a row, Nutgrove fire station’s annual open day proved a big success.Showcasing Dublin Fire Brigade and a number of other emergency response organisations, providing entertainment for kids of all ages, and displaying several vintage (and a few modern) emergency services vehicles, proceedings from the day were in aid of Snowflake, a children’s charity that provides support for kids with autism, as well as their parents and siblings, organising social events, support meetings, workshops and other supports.

Turnout on the day was huge, with the station yard and engine bay thronged from early on. Attended by An Cathaoirleach Cormac Devlin from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Dublin City Council Lord Mayor Brendan Car and Chief Fire Officer Pat Fleming, the open day also played host to a number of emergency services organisations.

“It went really well, we had a few new attendees such as Dublin Airport Fire Service, the Defence Forces and the Coast Guard. The Green Goddess vintage appliance also made a welcome return after a break last year, alongside the RSA, BUMBLEance, the Order of Malta, 501st Legion Garrison, Heroes Unite Ireland, two fire tenders owned by Liam Moore, and an ex-Dublin Civil Defence truck owned by Jerry from Dublin Mountain Rescue,” explains Derek Riordan, a firefighter on C watch who has been instrumental in organising the annual open day. “It goes without saying that having CFO Fleming, and three of the Assistant Chief Fire Officers, there was fantastic, a major highlight. It was nice for the senior officers to come and see the fruits of our labour. Dublin’s Lord Mayor and An Cathaoirleach Cormac Devlin attending on the day was another major achievement for us. The day couldn’t have gone better.”

Derek Riordan, CFO Pat Fleming, Lord Mayor Brendan Carr and ACFO Dennis Keeley.

Also there was Blood Bikes East (BBE), which has been in operation since 2012, using a fleet of five bikes and a car donated by Annseley Williams and Skoda Ireland for the year to transport blood and other emergency items out of hours. “We’re full on, full service emergency service out of hours transport. From 7pm Monday to Friday we’ll go from the lock up and around, we’ll get calls from the different hospitals around the city. We’ll use the Pan European bike to go to the country, link ups with other blood bike groups. And then on the weekend it’s 24 hours a day for Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays,” says Denver Breslin, BBE committee member.

As BBE isn’t State-funded, they have to turn to the public to keep their doors open and their engines on. They set up their stall at No 8’s open day to show their support, and also to raise awareness about what they do. “It’s all about visibility and getting the publicity from it. We’re not here collecting today but it’s about getting the name out there and getting the public’s perception of us, because a lot of people don’t actually realise that we’re not HSE-funded or we’re not Government-funded,” Breslin adds. “Anybody that we speak to is surprised that we’re all volunteers, we do it out of our own time, we don’t take a wage. A lot of people are surprised by that.”

A cheque for €4,312 was presented to Snowflake in early May.

Community support

Derek is quick to point out that Nutgrove’s open day is by no means a one-man show. Support in organising the day came from all quarters – the crew of C watch, Dublin Fire Brigade administration, colleagues in the voluntary emergency response groups as well as the local and wider community. An Garda Síochána assisted with the traffic plan to ensure a steady flow on the day; shops like Tesco, Lidl, Aldi, SuperValu in Templeogue and Churchtown and even Dunnes Stores in Citywest pitched in with teas and coffees; DFB itself provided funding for the DJ and face painters. Local woman Alison Behan again lent her culinary skills, providing around 250 muffins for hungry attendees, again refusing to take any compensation for her time and expenses.

In addition, Starbucks in the nearby Nutgrove Shopping Centre sent across two of their employees to help dispense drinks throughout the afternoon, accompanied by shortbread biscuits, cakes, and their own brand of coffee. Any of the money that came in was 100 per cent profit,” says Derek. “I’d like to say a big thank you to Felicity Gill from Dún Laoghaire – Rathdown County Council, she played a major part. The lads on the watch were absolutely fantastic, nobody said no to anything. All of the watches were great, they all contributed in some way, shape or form which was brilliant. We also had a lot of donations from DFB family and friends.”

The result of these efforts, and the weeks and months of planning, was a cheque for €4,312 that was presented to Snowflake in early May and which will undoubtedly be put to good work. “It’s a fantastic cause,” Derek explains. “One of the lads on the watch, his cousin’s son has autism and he was involved in setting up this children’s autism support group. Anything relating to autism, whether it be young or old, is a worthy cause.”

Driving the BUMBLEance

BUMBLEance

Tony Heffernan speaks to Tiernan Cannon about one of the Saoirse Foundation’s main projects, the BUMBLEance children’s ambulance service.

It is difficult to imagine a pain more harrowing than a parent accompanying their critically-ill child on what they know to be their last journey home. It is a pain that Tony and Mary Heffernan know only too well; both their children were diagnosed with the extremely rare and fatal neurodegenerative disorder, Batten disease. Their daughter Saoirse passed away in 2011, their son Liam in 2014. Both children were aged five at the times of their deaths.

In the wake of these terrible tragedies, the Heffernans set up the Saoirse Foundation. The foundation’s first project, Bees for Battens, provides parents, families, and all those affected by Batten disease in Ireland with a support network and a credible source of information regarding the disease. The foundation’s second project was the BUMBLEance.

Changing lives

Launched in 2013, BUMBLEance offers professional medical transportation services for long-term sick and seriously disabled children that require ambulance transportation to and from their homes and their principal centres of care. It also offers another very important service, which it refers to as ‘angel trips’. An angel trip is when parents travel in the back of the BUMBLEance with their child as they undertake their final journey on earth. Angel trips provide a compassionate and caring journey that allows families to concentrate entirely on the short time they have left together. The first ever angel trip transported the Heffernans’ son Liam on his final journey home, so it’s an experience that the founders are familiar with.

The BUMBLEance service is based on a core principle of positivity, removing the inherent stresses associated with an ambulance trip for both the child and their family, and to make the trip as fun as possible for the child. “Our aim is to distract, comfort and entertain Ireland’s youngest patients as they travel to and from treatment centres nationwide, and to ensure the smoothest and safest journey possible, for both carer and patient, from home to destination,” says Tony Heffernan, CEO of the Saoirse Foundation.

BUMBLEance interior

The BUMBLEance’s unique interior is kitted out with a DVD player, iPad, games console and a fridge for food, drinks and medicine. The vehicle has onboard Wi-Fi and games consoles, as well as sensory lighting and music to soothe and pacify its young patrons, and reading and colouring books. Currently, there are three BUMBLEance vehicles on the road. BUMBLEance 1 is used for interhospital transfers, with BUMBLEance 2 being used for seriously and critically ill children who need transportation to and from hospitals and care centres. BUMBLEance 3 is used as a back-up vehicle for trips, and as a PR vehicle. The PR element to BUMBLEance 3 has proven to be immensely successful, with the vehicle generating income and awareness at festivals, events and corporate showcases nationwide.

Since its launch in September 2013, BUMBLEance 1 has transported 622 children, travelling over 200,000 km to every county in Ireland. It has facilitated 64 angel trips in that time. The people behind the project, however, hope to expand their services even further. “Our plans for future expansion include the roll out of a backup BUMBLEance 4 service, which will be Dublin-based and operated by Dublin Fire Brigade staff on a voluntary basis,” Heffernan explains. Further expansion includes a brand new regional BUMBLEette service – what is essentially a smaller version of the BUMBLEance. “The BUMBLEette service [facilitates] young patients who do not require full ambulance support with a paramedic on board, but who nonetheless are seriously ill and will require transportation to and from paediatric hospitals, respite care centres and hospices throughout Ireland,” Heffernan adds.

The BUMBLEette service is due to be rolled out nationwide over the coming years, with the first service – which will serve the North West region – having launched in the first quarter of 2017. By the close of 2018, the regional BUMBLEette services are estimated to make over 2,000 trips per year across the whole country. “Our fleet will grow to nine vehicles in the next two years, and each vehicle will then be available for operating 250-plus days each year, helping children across rural and urban areas, getting them to where they need to be in safe, reliable and modern vehicles,” says Heffernan.

King Bee and regular BUMBLEance VIP Jack Beattie. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography

The BUMBLEette vehicles themselves will enable the transportation of a driver and two children in wheelchairs with one caregiver or parent each, or a driver plus a fully operational stretcher and four seated passengers. They will be kitted out with the same child-friendly toys and gizmos that make the existing BUMBLEance vehicles what they are, ensuring that their young clients are as comfortable and happy as possible.

The BUMBLEance project was created by parents who understand the struggle of caring for a sick child, and Tony Heffernan and his team work tirelessly to ensure the smoothest and most enjoyable journey for everyone on board – parents and children alike. “We understand how stressful it is to transport a sick child, which is why we will be with you every step of the way,” he says.