Category - Retired Members

Retired member profile: Adrian “Aido” Sutton

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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.


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 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.”

A lens on life: Greg Matthews

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

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

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

Greg Matthews

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Greg’s photo of Martin McGuinness

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

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

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

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

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

Retired members: Noel Hayden

Conor Forrest caught up with retired District Officer Noel Hayden, who spent the best part of his career fighting fires on Dublin’s southside.

In the days when Dún Laoghaire fire station was a standalone unit, yet to become integrated with Dublin Fire Brigade, funds and finances were not so readily available. The process of officially mending or replacing something could be quite bureaucratic, and so it was often easier for a member of the crew to get out their toolbox and mend the broken lock or door. “There was no money for anything, and there was no gear – I had better tools in my car,” recalls retired District Officer Noel Hayden, who spent more than three decades fighting fires in Dún Laoghaire. A Crumlin man born and bred, Noel initially envisaged a life spent working in the trades. Beginning as an apprentice carpenter and joiner in Kennedy’s Bakery, he picked up plumbing, electrical and various other skills in the years that followed, including a stint as a carpenter with the now defunct Modern Display Artists. In fact, the house he and his wife Deirdre (along with their five children) have lived in since around 1983 was built by Noel, his brother-in-law Dennis and colleagues in the brigade at the time.

Though Dennis was a firefighter, the thought of joining the fire brigade had never crossed Noel’s mind. He was working on a job in Kilbarrack Shopping Centre in 1972 when Dennis suggested he join the brigade, and Noel agreed to look into it. A week or two later an advertisement for Dún Laoghaire firefighters appeared in the paper, and Noel’s wife Deirdre duly went to the town hall to collect an application. As they had none printed she was directed to the fire station, where they had none either, though the second officer, Willie Kennedy, accompanied her back to the town hall to duplicate the form. By the time Dublin Fire Brigade launched its own recruitment drive several weeks later, Noel was a firefighter in Dún Laoghaire. 

“It was handy enough until I got the pay!” he recalls of those early weeks with a laugh. Prior to joining the brigade, Noel was earning £35 a week with a builder in the city; the fire brigade’s starting salary was substantially less at £20 a week. Couple that with the fact that he had bought a house on the northside and was commuting down, and circumstances were a little strained.

“It was a bit of a struggle when I went into the fire brigade at first,” he tells me. “Then when the petrol crisis came that really knocked the socks off me. The train wasn’t always a good idea, and we didn’t always have the bridges we have now. If you were coming from the northside you had to go around Butt Bridge and right back down the quays on the far side to get to Dún Laoghaire. It was a long, slow trip.” Noel’s first chief in Dún Laoghaire was Kerryman Michael Murphy, who was cautious about needless spending, but had a sense of humour. “One time the chief officer said ‘You’ll have to act station officer tonight’. I said ‘I never did it at night-time before’. Says he, ‘There’s no difference, it’s just dark’!”

Noel quickly became involved with the social side of life in the brigade, joining the Sports and Social Club and spending 20 years on the committee. During that time they formed a boat club and, with Paddy Lee, a benevolent fund. In 1974 Dún Laoghaire hosted one of the biggest annual dinner dances in its history, with around 340 people attending from brigades around the country. “We improved a lot of things – we reorganised the television room in the station and I made seating for it. We got another recreation room that also had bar seating – one of the boys knew somebody who was closing a bar down,” says Noel.

Noel was one of the
firefighters stationed in Dún Laoghaire when the new station was opened in 1991

Improving conditions

Given his background, and the lack of funding available, Noel would do maintenance work around the station, while lending the mechanics a helping hand from time to time. It was during this time that he became involved with the union, and a committee began to meet with the Corporation manager once a month to voice complaints or request funds. A potato peeler was an early addition, then a dishwasher. A washing machine for PPE was also acquired after some negotiation, and the issue of lighting within the station was a common complaint. “Lights used to be switched off at 11pm in the fire station – it was like being in a reformatory!” he explains with a laugh. “We got extra lights fitted in toilets etc., and generally improved the conditions.”

The funding situation improved under the brigade’s new chief, Tom McDonald, a veteran of DFB. A greater emphasis was placed on training and equipment; the station’s firefighters began with a breathing apparatus course and new appliances were purchased. Sub Officer Christopher Cummins was dispatched around the country, visiting each fire station to see what they had, and made a list of requirements. The result was an impressive emergency tender featuring some of the latest innovations, including radios for communicating with marine rescue, housed in a small onboard control room.

“We did our BA course in the OBI [where his grandfather attended school almost 90 years previous], and other courses too. We did our own pump training in Dún Laoghaire – myself and Aidan Carroll ran that,” Noel explains. Exercises, too, became a regular occurrence, and the crew at Dún Laoghaire took part in one of the earliest Sealink joint rescue exercises in the Irish Sea, conducted alongside Holyhead Fire Brigade, the RAF and the Irish Air Corps. “We continued to progress,” Noel adds. “It was a smaller brigade so it was easier to do, you could train everyone in a couple of weeks.

Despite this increased focus on training and equipment, Dún Laoghaire’s ambulance service ran into difficulties in the late seventies/early eighties. Rewind just a couple of years and there were three Dún Laoghaire fire brigade ambulances operating in the district – two regular ambulances and a fever ambulance. However, staffing issues began to arise and Noel explains how – rather than manning the ambulance for a full shift as happens today – personnel would switch between the fire tender and ambulance throughout the course of a shift. 

“You could come back in, get off the fire tender, wash yourself very quick and get into your dress uniform, get onto the ambulance and be out on a call five minutes later,” he says. The ambulance service finally departed in 1982, falling under the remit of Colmcille’s Hospital in nearby Loughlinstown. Though Dún Laoghaire moved to their present station in 1992, and amalgamated with Dublin Fire Brigade in 1994, the station remains the only one in Dublin without an ambulance today. Still, the crew was by no means underworked. The chimney van was one of the busiest appliances in a time when people were still burning the old coal. “When I was there first you would do 15 chimney fires a night. The best thing Mary Harney ever did for the country was get Dublin smoke free [in 1990]. It cut down on the chimney fires, as did the natural gas and gas-fired heating,” Noel explains.

Noel at his home


Noel’s time in Dún Laoghaire lasted 30 years, but eventually he moved on. Having been promoted to sub officer in 1984 (acting sub officer since 1979), and station officer in 1994, he joined Donnybrook fire station in 2003. Three years later he was posted to Phibsborough as the district officer and saw out his remaining years on the northside, eventually retiring in 2009. Throughout that time he has met some great characters (some of whom dubbed him ‘Luigi’ on seeing his jet black hair). They’re the type of people you remember years after you’ve left the job, the type of people who take you under their wing, who make you laugh and learn, and most of all who make the job what it is.

“I’ve worked with some great characters, some very skillful and smart people. I had a station officer, Tim Mahony, he was one of the first station officers I worked for. Myself, Aidan Carroll and a few others, we used to be called Tim’s lads. We had some great times working with Tim. He used to say ‘There’s some equal lads and others more equal!” Noel recalls. There are memorable incidents too – good and bad. Noel remembers a call to attend to a 12-year-old girl who wasn’t breathing. Though they quickly reached the scene she was beyond help, and all they could do was bring her to hospital. “I think that’s the one that sticks in my mind the most,” he explains.

But lives have also been saved. One day Noel was teaching another firefighter how to drive the appliance when they were flagged down – a fire was burning outside a nearby shed with two children trapped inside. Leaving his colleague to operate the pumps and raise the alarm in the station across the road, Noel managed to locate and rescue a young boy and his friend. Three years later, the crew were walking out of the station’s kitchen, and could smell something burning. A house was on fire around the corner and they quickly turned out, Noel circling around the back while several others came through the front door. Spotting a crack in a pane of glass from which smoke was emanating, Noel quickly removed the glass and climbed inside, passing two kids out to safety. With colleagues in BA sets approaching and the smoke getting to him, Noel retreated to the back yard having warned that somebody else was trapped in the house. Then he heard a noise, and he was handed a baby.

“It was the same family as the young lad in the shed – that was the four of them I rescued from fires!” he explains. “I must say, in the 37, 38 years there I enjoyed most of it. I might have had about three bad days, and two of them I can’t remember.” Noel has retired from DFB, but life after is by no means quiet. “The things I miss most are the days off!” he laughs. Still quite handy with a toolbox, Noel is the go-to man in the family and his neighbourhood when something goes wrong. He’s also started a family tradition – his son Rod has been in the brigade since 2004, stationed in Dolphin’s Barn, and thoroughly enjoys the hectic life of a firefighter. “He likes being busy,” says Noel. “He’s happy in his work.

Retired members: Michael Dineen

Michael Dineen

Michael Dineen (left) and F/F Michael Healy (right) on the switch at Tara Street in the 1950s

Conor Forrest sat down with retired D/O Michael Dineen to discover more about life in the fire brigade more than 50 years ago.

In their comprehensive book on the history of Dublin Fire Brigade, Tom Geraghty and Trevor Whitehead write of one of the worst attacks on the city of Dublin – something they refer to as the forgotten tragedy of the Troubles. The Dublin and Monaghan bombings took place on May 17th 1974, a series of co-ordinated explosions in both Dublin City and the centre of Monaghan town during rush hour. The first bomb was concealed inside a green Hillman Avenger on Parnell Street, and exploded at 5.30pm; the second went off at the same time on Talbot Street. The third exploded at 5.32pm on South Leinster Street, close to the railings of Trinity College. A fourth bomb went off around 6.58pm in Monaghan town centre. The streets of Dublin were busier as a result of a bus strike, but no warnings were given.

“The explosions were heard in both Tara Street and Buckingham Street fire stations so the men on duty hurried to the engine rooms. Soon the control room in headquarters was alive with calls and fire engines and ambulances were being dispatched to the scenes of the carnage,” the authors recount. The bombs killed 33 civilians (some count 34, as a full-term unborn child also lost its life), while around 300 people were injured. No-one has ever been charged for the deadliest attack of the Troubles.

“When the immediate shockwave of the ferocious blasts began to subside, the rescue crews arriving in the smokey darkness heard the first sounds and movements of the stunned victims. The scenes of carnage unfolded; there were wrecked cars, windowless buildings, debris-strewn streets, massive amounts of dust and floating paper. In the midst of all this mayhem were the cries of the maimed, the injured, the shocked and the traumatised. Due to a change of shift at 6pm crews were coming on duty to empty stations and those in Tara Street were dispatched in any vehicles available to assist at the dreadful sites. The emergency plan was immediately activated. All ambulances were routed to the terror-filled streets to be loaded with victims and rushed to the designated hospitals.”

Station photo, Tara Street, 1958. Michael is in the second row from the top, second on the left

Rescue operations were made difficult as a result of heavy traffic, and emergency vehicles had trouble getting through to the scene. Vehicles from DFB were aided by civilian cars, taxis, health board ambulances and a bus in a bid to remove the wounded and the dead from the scene, amid fears that further bombs would explode. “The working firemen had no time to wonder who was responsible as they searched the damaged buildings nearby for further casualties. Within four hours all those dead or requiring medical assistance had been removed to hospitals and the taped-off streets were deserted. Staff going off duty in the Dublin Fire Brigade were finally heading for home and trying to forget as much as possible the terrible trauma they had faced only hours before.”

One of these men was retired D/O Michael Dineen, he tells me, though understandably he doesn’t say much about what he witnessed on Dublin’s streets that day. “It was a sad day for the people that were killed,” he says. Attending such a grisly scene was difficult for all those who aided the sick and dying that day, as Michael notes. But, in the end, DFB’s firefighters had a job to do, and the mood didn’t change following the incident. “The fire brigade is the fire brigade,” Michael states sagely.

Michael was one of a number of firefighters present at another historic incident which took place in the capital in 1966. “I was there for the bombing in Sackville Place, when the pillar was bombed in 1966,” he explains. Built in 1808-1809, Nelson’s Pillar commemorated the famed British Navy officer, Horatio Nelson, and his victory at Trafalgar in November 1805. Despite criticism, it remained in place until March 8th 1966, when a bomb destroyed the upper structure of the pillar. The device had been planted by a number of former IRA volunteers, which some believe to have been in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. Nobody was hurt, though a nearby taxi driver saw his car destroyed. Because it was too badly damaged, the Irish Army carried out a controlled demolition on the remainder of the pillar which, ironically, caused more damage on O’Connell Street than the original blast.

On duty at North Strand (front row, second from the right)

Humble beginnings

Michael is originally from a small farm in Ballyheigue, Co Kerry, and travelled to Dublin 1951 to take up employment as a barman in Phil O’Reilly’s on Hawkins Street. As some DFB members frequented the pub at the time, Michael came to hear that the fire brigade was recruiting. It helped, of course, that a healthy and active lifestyle was something he was interested in. “The lads of the fire brigade used to drink in the pub, and they said to me they were taking recruits over there [and asked me] ‘would you be interested?’”

Michael was very interested, and so began a long and enjoyable career with DFB. Beginning in 1955, he first spent a month in training at the Tara Street fire station, learning techniques and conducting pump and hose drills. Having completed his training, his first posting outside of HQ was to Dorset Street, followed by spells in Buckingham Street and Rathmines fire stations – all since closed. He can’t, however, choose a favourite station. “They were all pretty good. There was good comradeship in all the stations,” he says with a smile.

Throughout the proceeding years, and as he moved around the various stations, Michael’s career continued to develop. “I got promoted after seven years’ service, so I was a Sub/Officer.” The next step took him to the post of Station Officer, spending five years in Dolphin’s Barn and before he retired, he had achieved the rank of D/O, serving the final 12 years of his career in North Strand.

Michael’s retirement party, 1987

Different times

Life in DFB back in the 1950s was undoubtedly very different. The fire brigade’s remit during this period was expanding – the Factories Act of 1955 meant that DFB was taking on extra work, required to inspect more than 250 city factory plans, deal with certificates, inspect public places including resort and lottery premises, and other areas of concern. Two years later, in 1957, the auxiliary fire service was re-established, and chief fire officers across the country, including in Dublin, were tasked with training this new force. A 54-hour week would be reduced to a 45-hour week in June 1974, and down to 42 hours in April 1975.

At the time when Michael started, however, firefighters would work for a day and a night, and would then be on leave for a further day and night. Not one to complain, all Michael says of those times is “we didn’t mind, really,” and agreed that having spent such time in the station, it became a second family, a home from home, something which hasn’t changed to this day. One of the worst incidents Michael recalls was a fire at the Regent Hotel on D’Olier Street. “There were a couple of people burned,” he says. “The fire more or less went up through the hotel itself.”

Gas, however, was the major challenge, he tells me. Throughout his time in the brigade, a number of gas-related incidents claimed a number of lives, and levelled buildings. Tom Geraghty’s book, for example, notes a number of gas explosions, including one which destroyed two houses on Finn Street, in 1970, with two others suffering damage. Two months later, another explosion injured five people after a shoe shop on Glasnevin Hill went up in flames. “We were down in a block of flats down in the docks one day, and there were two lads who got gassed – the lads had to go in and pull them out. They (gas incident precautions) were pretty good [for example] you couldn’t switch anything on or off, or open the window,” he says.

But it wasn’t all pressure and stressful situations. Michael recalls several trips abroad, of a social nature, visiting firefighters in other countries to share their experiences. “The firemen were very good. We visited Belfast and talked to firemen up there, and we went to Cork, and I went to England and talked to the firemen there, and I [also] went to America.” One of the places he visited in the US was Secaucus, a small town in Hudson County, New Jersey, a 30-minute drive from New York City. Instead of finding differences, whether in perspective or the way in which they operated, Michael found that those firefighters operated to the same standards as those back home. “They were more or less on the same level,” he recounts.

Michael Dineen

These days

Now settled in Santry with his wife Philomena, to whom he has been married for 54 years, Michael is enjoying his retirement, effective since 1987, though he hasn’t simply sat back and watched the years go by. Once out of the job, he went to work with children with special needs in St. Michael’s House for 12 years, something he’s had an interest in for a long time now, and a calling echoed by his daughter and granddaughter. In his own words, it was an opportunity to give something back, to help those “who weren’t as lucky as we were.”

Though he has moved on and is making the most of civilian life, and as a regular with the Retired Members Association, he still keeps in touch with other retired members, sharing stories and trips across the country and beyond, it’s clear that Michael has fond memories. “I have no regrets and I enjoyed my time,” he tells me. “I worked in six different stations, with some of the very best firefighters.”

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.

Retired members: Paddy Rooney

Conor Forrest sat down with former firefighter Paddy Rooney to learn more about his time in the brigade, the changes he has seen over the years, and the memories that have stayed with him.

It was the year in which Beatlemania first began, when Martin Luther King lead the March on Washington, when US president John F. Kennedy gave his famous Ich bin ein Berliner speech to a raucous reception in West Berlin, and the year in which he lost his life in Dallas, Texas. Back in Ireland, 1963 was also an important year for the 27 new recruits who began their lives with Dublin Fire Brigade on Monday, July 15th. One of these was Paddy Rooney, who had been working in England at the time, but successfully applied to the brigade and returned home. “I was glad to get home and into the fire brigade,” he recalls. “There were 27 of us who started in Tara Street. We did six weeks’ basic fire training and when we came on duty, we [worked] 24 hours day on, day off.”

On the move

The first six months of Paddy’s career were spent in Tara Street. From there he moved to Rathmines as the new station in Dolphin’s Barn was opened, around the beginning of 1964, he remembers. Another move, this time to Buckingham Street, was prompted by the reduction of working hours from 72 (or 96) down to 58, with an added influx of recruits to facilitate this.

After several years there, Paddy was on the move again, transferring to Tara Street and then onto Kilbarrack when they opened the station around 1971. Paddy would spend the next 11 years in Kilbarrack, during which time he completed a turntable ladder course. With turntable ladder operators required to be station in HQ, Paddy was off again, and finished out his remaining days in DFB at Tara Street, retiring at the end of August 1993. “I gave them 30 years,” he says. “I enjoyed it, I made great friends.”

Times, unsurprisingly, were quite different. Back then, training was conducted at Tara Street fire station and was enhanced by lectures from a number of different individuals, including one Dr Newman on a Monday night, while a Mr Cassidy from the John’s Ambulance taught recruits how to prepare splints and other basic medical procedures. Ongoing training was as much a part of the job then as it is now – Paddy recalls carriage wheel exercises in Buckingham Street, turntable ladder drills in Tara Street and, once BA sets were introduced into the job, they became acquainted with how they worked in smoke chambers in the training centre. However, as Paddy recalls, the real training came out in the field. “You wanted a turn out…that’s when you learned your trade from the senior men.”

Newspaper clipping from the year Paddy joined, featuring DFB, from the OBI collection

Paddy smiles when I mention the recent RTÉ show Firefighters, which followed a number of the last batch of DFB recruits through the gruelling training process, and as they settled into life in their first posts. Life was a little different in DFB 30 years ago, not just in terms of the training regimes, but the appliances they had to hand.

“I was watching that Firefighters programme, the equipment they have and the way that they’ve [been] trained,” he says. “I remember I did a shift over in Dorset Street. There was an old blue ambulance there and it was just a glorified van. I remember we got a case down at the Parnell monument. We came down and there was no stairs on the door to keep it open while we were getting the stretcher out. The wind was coming up O’Connell Street and closing the doors! So I had to turn the ambulance around so the wind was blowing into the back.”

Paddy isn’t lamenting the loss of the good old days, however. In his mind, the changes and upgrading of equipment, training and health and safety can only be a positive step forward. “With the group we have, the retired members, the Firefighters programme was on and we said ‘were we in the same job at all?’ It’s great to see it though, it wasn’t healthy. It was [a more dangerous job]. There was no such thing as breathing sets, you just got in there. But we got through it.”

One thing that hasn’t changed (and probably never will) is human nature. Paddy agrees with a wry smile. “The thing that used to drive me mad when I was driving an ambulance or a fire tender [was] when you came up behind a car and they’d pull in, but they’d keep driving. And then there’d be a parked car and as you’d be going to pass them out they’d swing around the parked car. They wouldn’t just stop and let you go! And then you’re trying to change down and get your speed back up to try and catch up again. Just before I left, all the ambulances and fire appliances coming were automatics, in our time they had a crash gearbox and you had to know how to change your gears or you’d hear a lot of scraping and banging from the gearbox!”

Reliving the past

Some memories, however, are better than others. One case that he has never forgotten took place out by Newbridge House, on the way to Donabate. At the time, Paddy was serving in Buckingham Street, and he remembers the details perfectly.

“It was a summer’s evening about 10 o’clock, during the 1960s” he recalls. “The ambulance from Dorset Street was ahead of us. It was a straight stretch of road, there had been a head-on collision between a scooter and a car. The lads out of Dorset Street were taking people out of the car, so they just said there was a BID, brought in dead. It was a young-ish chap, he was on the scooter. He went over the handlebars and was killed.”

The body was taken to a nearby morgue, accompanied by the guard who had been at the scene. Once he had finished the paperwork, the guard returned to measure the road, and discovered a girl’s shoe. Crossing into the grounds of Newbridge House, he found the shoe’s owner, a passenger on the scooter who was thrown out of sight over the wall. “She was dead,” Paddy says. “I reckon that if somebody had known, she might have lived. When we brought her into Jervis Street the doctor said she just had a broken femur, she probably died of shock, lying there for four or so hours. They stick in your head, these things – if only. But nobody knew she was on the scooter with that man.”

Paddy Rooney

It could be a dangerous job too, at times. Paddy recalls one particular fire that burned in the city’s docklands, which caused hundreds of Kosangas cylinders to explode. “It started about 1am. The place was devastated, it was like a bomb site. The oil tankers were trying to get out because these things were shooting up into the air, you wouldn’t know where they were going.” Perhaps by a stroke of luck, or fate, Paddy was elsewhere for some of the most deadly incidents during his decades of service – most notably the Dublin bombings in May 1974, and the Stardust fire that occurred on Valentine’s Day 1981. For the former, he heard the bombs go off as he was going to work that evening, a large booming noise ringing out across the city. For the latter, he had worked the previous two nights, and was off duty on that night. “I was lucky, I didn’t have to see things like that,” he says. “It stays with you. I know some of the lads who were at the Stardust and they didn’t sleep for ages after.”

So how did they deal with such incidents? “Counselling wasn’t there in our time,” he explains. “We were in one of our meetings one night and the mobilisation officer in Tara Street said that he had got a call to say that the lads in Dolphin’s Barn were after getting a bad accident. The casualty officer in James’ rang and said ‘those men are going to need counselling’. So he rang the officer in charge in the Barn and asked what was going on. The man in the Barn said that the lads were having their dinner, so he’d have to wait until they were finished to see what did they want! No matter what they got, they got their food and into them quick. No counselling then. We had our own counselling.”

A quieter life

Paddy is long since retired from the hustle and bustle of daily life in DFB – 22 years now. What he enjoys most is the freedom – freedom to make plans without checking his work roster, for example. “When you’re retired, you can say ‘I’ll be there’, he says with a smile. The Retired Members Association also keeps him busy – they meet on the first Thursday of every month and organise any number of trips for their members; visits to other fire brigades, leisurely trips to all corners of the country, and beyond.

“It’s great to see the old crowd, people you would have worked with. We’ve been to China, we’ve been to Budapest. I was on three cruises,” he says. “The first cruise we took was to the Caribbean. We were all sitting on deck there one evening, having our cocktails. One of the lads said that if somebody had told us 30 years ago that in 30 years’ time we’d be in in the Caribbean drinking cocktails on a cruise…”

Retired members: Patrick Madden

Conor Forrest sat down with retired District Officer Patrick Madden to discover more about a career well spent.

If you enjoy hiking through the mountain ranges of Ireland, Scotland and further afield, chances are you might bump into Patrick Madden. Retired from the job as a District Officer since 1995, the outdoors remain a great passion for the man from Glasnevin and, when I pay him a visit, he proudly shows me a photo of himself and his wife, taken at the top of Ben Nevis – the highest mountain in the British Isles. “I was at work one day and some of the lads said they were going hill walking. I asked if I could go with them – that’s nearly thirty years ago now – and I fell in love with it,” he says.

Early days

Patrick’s first exposure to Dublin FireBrigade came at a very young age, growing up in Sandymount. His father, also a firefighter, was on duty in Tara Street, and his mother brought the young Patrick in for a visit. “While we were there, just as we were leaving, a fire call came in and my father went out on the appliance,” Patrick recalls. “He was on the turntable ladder standing on the side of it. That was my first introduction to the service.”

A move to Chapelizod beckoned, and the family relocated to the quiet area sitting in the shadow of the Phoenix Park. Patrick recalls with a smile that he would cycle into the city on Christmas Day on a mission to deliver the Christmas dinner to his father, who by then was working in Buckingham Street. Patrick loved being around the station, chatting with the firefighters and admiring the polished engines – somewhere in those visits, a small spark was ignited. “It was great – meeting the lads, seeing the fire engines and everything so clean and spotless. I really couldn’t have seen myself working as anything else,” he tells me.

Patrick joined DFB in 1962, following several years in the hotel business. His first application had been turned down and he was in the process of applying to London’s fire service when word came that DFB were recruiting once again. He jumped at the chance, and thus began a career that would last more than 30 years, spanning four decades. Following his six weeks of training in Tara Street, Patrick remained there for less than two years, transferring to Dorset Street station under the watchful eye of Station Officer Paddy Hanratty. It was during his time in Dorset Street that the Noyeks timber factory fire occurred – in 1972 – an incident Patrick remembers well. “I had only been on the premises a few days before. We knew a lot of the staff who went by Dorset Street station on their way to work, and you’d often say hello to them. It was a terrible tragedy, eight people killed – a very sad occasion,” he says. By coincidence, several years later Patrick brought his car into a garage for

It was during his time in Dorset Street that the Noyeks timber factory fire occurred – in 1972 – an incident Patrick remembers well. “I had only been on the premises a few days before. We knew a lot of the staff who went by Dorset Street station on their way to work, and you’d often say hello to them. It was a terrible tragedy, eight people killed – a very sad occasion,” he says. By coincidence, several years later Patrick brought his car into a garage for repairs, and got chatting to the mechanic about his work. When he discovered Patrick was a firefighter, the mechanic revealed that he was a brother of one of those who lost their lives in the blaze. Not all of his memories are sad ones, however, and Patrick recalls a serious fire at the Central Hotel on D’Olier Street. Despite being trapped by the flames, many people were rescued. “I was so proud of the lads and the job they were doing,” he says.

Recalling such incidents brings us to another topic, one which was touched upon previously by Paddy Hanratty – counselling, or a lack thereof for firefighters in those days. Patrick mentions a case that took place many years ago, close to Christmas, in which a mother, her daughter and grandchild perished in a fire. “It’s great that there are now counselling services which modern firefighters can avail of,” he says. “There was one of our lads who worked with me when I was in Finglas – a great guy, a very nice fellow. He was on ambulance duty one night, a few years after I had retired, and he was attacked for no reason at all. It affected him so much that he had to retire a year or two later.”

Patrick Madden

Moving on

For Patrick, his father and many of their respective generations, working in the fire brigade was most definitely a calling, as pay was low and many other occupations could provide a much more promising financial incentive. Though he opted for life as a firefighter, Patrick was initially offered a position in hotel management, by a man he had worked with in the Russell Hotel in Stephen’s Green. “My father was earning something like £12 a week, and I was earning £20 or £25 in the bar business at that stage – it was incredible, the difference. Many men down through the years dropped money to join the service, and that’s called having a vocation,” he explains.

His departure from Dorset Street after 12 years was brought about by a promotion to Sub Officer, and Patrick spent the next few years doing relief work across a number of stations. His next, more permanent, post was in Finglas, where he arrived as a Station Officer following the death of his predecessor in a road accident. He would remain there for eight years. “It was a very busy station, covering Ballymun, the Airport and all of North County Dublin. It was a busy station but it had a great crew – I really enjoyed working with them,” he tells me.

After another stint at HQ, Patrick moved to Phibsboro, which had replaced the now defunct Dorset Street station in the intervening years. Chances are, one of Patrick’s exploits (and those of his crew) during this time were caught on camera, and could be gathering dust in a musty archive somewhere in Donnybrook. On turntable duty one Sunday lunchtime in Tara Street, a call was received concerning a fire in a building near Moran’s Hotel on Gardiner Street. With the fire having taken hold in the lower floors, a number of people were trapped. The turntable crew sprang into action and rescued those inside, with no injuries or deaths.

“Everything worked out perfectly. There were two women in it, one or two men and, if I remember correctly, a young child,” says Patrick. “What we didn’t realise when we were there that, while all of this was going on, there was a camera crew from RTÉ who were on the way to Croke Park for a match, and they got the whole lot on camera! It was on the news that night at six o’clock, fantastic coverage, and it was on the news later that night as well. We were all pleased at the way it went, it was great that it was successful and everybody was saved, but we never realised we were on camera.”

His time in Dublin 7 saw him promoted once more to District Officer, with a move to the O’Brien Training Institute not far behind. Moving from shift work to regular office hours was something of a shock to the system. “I was a bit dubious about it at first. I had been on shift work for those years, and then to be going in 9-5…” Having his weekends off, however, was a very welcome change. “I didn’t realise how many weekends I had missed when working the shifts, you just took it for granted, you went in and did the work,” he adds.

Winding down

Following two enjoyable years at the training centre, Patrick retired in 1995. It wouldn’t be fair to say, however, that he is taking things too easy in his retirement. Having decided that he would remain an early riser, Patrick is quite active – on the several mornings he goes swimming, he’s at the pool for 7am. Once a week he hikes with his wife Clare and their friend John Williams, whose father was in the fire brigade, in the Dublin or Wicklow Mountains, and they often travel away to take in a different view. He also enjoys being an active member of the Retired Members Association, which keeps him in touch with those he might not otherwise see.

Looking back, Patrick is keen to stress that, if he had the chance to turn back the clock and take a second shot at life, he wouldn’t change a thing. “It’s nice to be able to say it – I’ve said it many times and I’ve heard other people saying it – if my life could be lived over, I’d do the same job.”

Retired members: Paul Hand

From Dolphin’s Barn to the DFB museum, Paul Hand has seen and done it all. Conor Forrest caught up with the busy retired firefighter and current museum curator, to learn more about a career spanning three decades.

As Paul Hand describes it, February 13th 1978 was a fateful day. That was the former butcher’s first day in Dublin Fire Brigade, walking through the doors of Kilbarrack fire station to begin his training in a career that he would leave only following his retirement 32 years later. He was encouraged to join by friends of his already serving in the brigade – Timmy Horgan, Eddie Finley, Jim Murphy and others. “When they heard it was coming up, they said ‘Go for it, why not?’ And I never looked back,” says Paul. When his training was completed, Paul was first sent to Tara Street. “The first night in Tara Street I was checking the motors, and this gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Do as I tell you and you’ll be alright’,” he recalls. “I said ‘I’m your man’.” Having seen service in Tara Street, Rathmines, Dolphin’s Barn, Finglas, Kilbarrack and Buckingham Street, Paul spent most of his career in North Strand, a busy station with a broad area of responsibility on the city’s northside.

“I was sent to No 4 in 1980 and I was there for 30 years. When I went there first there were three cars there, 4-1, 4-2 and 3-2. Dorset Street had closed and they moved the car over to North Strand. It was one of the busiest cars in the city at the time. If you were on 3-2, forget about it – you were out all night. If there was relief needed anywhere in the city you were up first for that,” he says. “I stayed there and I retired out of there, and I have some great memories. They were good, solid men. The likes of Joe O’Brien, Jack O’Rourke and Martin Messitt – they wouldn’t let you go wrong. They were good men, family men. We were all there just to earn a wage to rear our families.”

Family was important to those within the brigade, but those in the job also thought of one another as their second family, Paul explains. “That’s what the fire brigade was all about. You were part of a family. I had a family at home, I had a wife and three kids, they were my family. But the fire brigade was the other family, they really were,” he says. “When I look at photographs, I look at Terry Fitzpatrick, an elderly man back then, he was an out and out gentleman, he wouldn’t let you go wrong. Officers would say to him ‘What do you think Terry?’”

Learning from the best

Though his training undoubtedly prepared him for life in Dublin Fire Brigade, Paul would go on to learn more about the intricacies of fighting fires from the senior men in the job. “In Tara Street, some of the characters in there, some of the senior men, I must only say they were brilliant, they were never offputting or gruff. They would tell you ‘Do as I tell you, and if I say stop, you stop.’ And that was the teaching we got,” he says. “When I went to North Strand first, Paddy Leavey was the District Officer there, a gentleman. He had a son in the job and his grandson is in the job today. Tony Rowan, he was a station officer, and Johnny McMahon, probably one of the best fire officers in Dublin Fire Brigade. He was straight down the line, he would tell you ‘Do your work and there’ll be no problem’. And you did your work, you weren’t afraid to work.”

It was teaching that would serve Paul and Dublin Fire Brigade’s new recruits well, as they would attend some major incidents over the following years. When he was stationed in North Strand, large scale blazes weren’t out of the ordinary, and Paul tells me about a fire in North Wall that took 20 appliances to contain, following a night of difficult firefighting. “It was a raging inferno. You don’t see that anymore because now it’s all units, so it’s surround and drown. But the likes of Castleforbes was so big that you couldn’t, you had to go in and go after it. We knocked the fire down that night,” he tells me. “Thermal imaging was only in its infancy back then. Nearly every truck now has two or three imaging cameras on it, and rightly so.”

In 1981 Paul was serving on D watch, which responded to the fire at the Stardust nightclub in Artane on the night of February 14th. Around 841 people had attended a disco there that night – 241 people were injured and 48 people lost their lives. Among those who lost loved ones in the fire was Paul’s colleague Jimmy McDermott, who had taken Paul under his wing that first night in Tara Street.

“On the night of the Stardust he lost three children. He was on leave that night and when we came back that morning the phone was ringing. He said ‘Paul, did you see the kids?’ I said ‘Jimmy, it was bedlam out there.’ That was a horrific night. That was a night when everything changed in the city,” Paul recalls sombrely. “People would ask you what sticks in your mind. I suppose the Stardust and children, they’re the two big pitfalls of this job. Children have seen very little of life, we’ve seen a lot. It’s tough to deal with but when you go back to your station and you look at your colleagues, any one of them could be your counsellor. We saw it all together.”

Main image: Class of 1978, including Paul Hand (back row, fifth from the left). Above: Paul (red jumper) with Greg McCann (on his left) and Greg’s family, one of many visitors to the DFB museum.


Taking on the museum

Paul retired from the job in 2009, and joined the Retired Members’ Association. Several years ago he was asked if he would take over the curation of the brigade museum following the departure of Las Fallon, and he agreed. His interest in the brigade’s history began during his time in North Strand. There he met two firefighters – Eamon Fitzpatrick and Tony McCabe – who had talked about starting a museum. Though they were on opposite watches, when they did meet, Eamon would talk about his family history in the job: his father had served in the brigade, fought in the Rising and had died in Rathmines fire station of an injury sustained during a gunfight with members of the National Army on Cavendish Road in 1922. Sitting in one of the old appliances one day, Paul discovered an old, wooden handled axe. “I went back to the station and the next morning, when Eamon was coming on, I said ‘Eamon, I know you’re starting a museum, there you go!’ And that’s how it started with me and him.”

Anyone who has visited the museum will know that it’s a fascinating place, running the gamut of the brigade’s history across two floors in the OBI. The collection is quite diverse, ranging from the old switchboard used in Tara Street in times long past, and the original red woollen uniforms, to a helmet which was once in the possession of James Conway, and early breathing apparatus, attracting not only firefighters past and present but members of the public, tourists, schoolchildren, Men’s Sheds and many others. When I arrived to interview him, Paul had just unearthed the first occurrence book for Kilbarrack when it first opened in 1972.

“There’s a lot of history here. From the time of the red turnout gear, the boots, the brass helmets. The donated helmet which came in from the Conway family, that has pride of place. They are very old – 99 per cent of the stuff here is on loan from families,” he says. “When you look at the pictures around the walls they tell of our history, and some of the men who died in their service.”

Last year was an understandably busy year for the museum, with Las Fallon spearheading various exhibitions around the city on the brigade’s role in the 1916 Rising, which is becoming increasingly well known. “I must say that Las Fallon is absolutely great with what he’s doing. Our chief, in fairness to Mr Fleming, has backed us all the way,” says Paul. “We have an exhibition over in City Hall, we have a number of exhibitions out in libraries as well. Even here we’re getting more and more items, there’s stuff coming into us every week. I need a bigger place!”

From his viewpoint in the museum, where Dublin Fire Brigade’s past and present collides, and in the OBI which operates as the beating heart of training and best practice, Paul believes that DFB is only getting stronger as the years go on. “When we joined the fire service you were trained to a fairly high standard. But now the standard of training is 100 times better. Dublin is the second safest city in the world to have a heart attack – Salt Lake City is the first,” he explains. “Health and safety is coming into it more and more. You now have a welfare officer here, and he’s doing great work. The brigade is going to get stronger.”

Paul’s son has followed in his father’s footsteps, and is loving his chosen career, stationed in Kilbarrack, where his father worked all those years ago. Paul himself looks back on those 32 years with fond memories. “I’d do it all again tomorrow,” he says with a smile.

Class of ’76

Jeremiah Greally reports on the 40 year reunion of Class 2 1976, who shared memories and recalled those who have since passed on.

The firefighters of Class 2 1976 had a jovial reunion on September 1st last at the Central Hotel on Exchequer Street in Dublin. The 26 recruit firefighters began their training at Kilbarrack fire station on August 3rd 1976. This was the same year that the Apple computer company was formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Heffo’s army defeated Kerry in the All-Ireland Football final and the Concorde entered service on transatlantic flights. All of this group of firefighters have now retired and there were lots of fond memories and discussions on the night.

Tributes were paid to the training officers: Third Officer Joe Kiernan (RIP), Third Officer Joe Bell (RIP), Third Officer John L’Estrange, District Officer Frank Collins and District Officer Harry Lawlor. All the officers did a sterling job moulding 26 lay people from all walks of life to become professional firefighters and work as a team. Also remembered on the night were some members of this group that have gone to their eternal reward, namely Firefighter Peter Leap (RIP), Sub Officer Gerry O’Byrne (RIP), Firefighter Frank Rock (RIP), Third Officer Martin McDermott (RIP), Third Officer Joe Kiernan (RIP), and Third Officer Joe Bell (RIP).

Standing from the back left: Victor Pointon, Dermot Dowdall, Brian Finney, Niall Farrell, Fintan Lalor, Terry O’Neill, Mick Finglas Larry Madden, Danny Colgan, Tom Byrne, Patrick Duggan, Michael Daly and Jeremiah Greally. Seated training officers:D/O Jim Byrne, D/O Frank Collins, F/F Alan O’Rourke, Third Officer John L’Estrange

The summer of 1976 will be remembered by many as one of the best summers we have had in the last 40 years. Twenty-six recruits assembled at Kilbarrack fire station to learn the craft and techniques required to become professional firefighters and ambulance personnel. The 14-week training was tough and gruelling but the rewards were to be felt for the rest of our careers.

We have seen many changes and improvements in the fire service in the last 40 years and I would like to state that today’s firefighters who also work as ambulance personnel and paramedics are as professional and competent as can be found anywhere in the world, and provide an excellent service to the citizens of Dublin city and county.