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Team Spirit

Firefighter and Dublin Ladies GAA star Lyndsey Davey talks about teamwork on and off the pitch.

It’s never easy to find a good work/life balance, but when you do, things can turn out pretty sweet. That’s certainly the case with Dublin Ladies Footballer Lyndsey Davey, who has managed to combine her role as a firefighter in the Airport Fire Service with her hugely successful career as a triple-All-Ireland-winning GAA star.

Having previously worked in finance at Croke Park after completing a business degree at DCU, Lyndsey jumped at the chance to join the fire service at the airport three years ago.  

“My dream job had always been to be in the fire service,” Lyndsey tells me. “I wanted to be a firefighter ever since I was very young. As a child, every time I saw a fire engine drive by, I was always drawn to it, but I have always wanted to be involved in helping people, and I always like getting hands on to do that, so it was those things that drew me to the job. When I heard they were taking in recruits in the Airport Fire Service I thought I would apply and see what happens. I was fortunate enough to get the job, and I haven’t looked back since.”

Success on and off the pitch is all about teamwork for Lyndsey, and she finds many similarities between the two. “I actually think that one of the key aspects that helped me get the job in the fire service in the first place was that I was heavily involved in the Dublin team,” she says. “I definitely think the fact that I was able to give examples of when I showed strong teamwork abilities was one of the reasons I got the job.

“Teamwork is a massive part of being a firefighter, especially, for example, when you are wearing a BA, when teamwork, leadership and communication are so important. If you are going into a situation wearing the BA, you are in pairs and obviously depending on the situation, your visibility might be low, so you are relying on good communication, and I think that has a direct correlation with football.”

Asked about the differences between her fire service and Dublin team roles, Lyndsey says: “I guess there is the unpredictability of the job. When you go out to play a match, you know pretty much what you are up against, but when you are called to an emergency incident or are called out to a fire, you tend to only have the bare minimum of details and don’t really know what you are going into. But that’s where you go back to your training and experience and rely on those to deal with the situation.”

The similarities, however, are much more evident, Lyndsey says, and if anything, her job with the fire service has actually helped Lyndsey to thrive on the Gaelic pitch. Not only does her varied role – aviation and terminal emergencies, airfield safety, wildlife management, attending vehicle accidents and running inspections – keep her active every day, but the support of her colleagues and flexibility of her shift work mean she can usually find the time for training and matches whenever she needs to.

“I’m very lucky to work with such a great bunch of lads and ladies,” Lyndsey says. “If it wasn’t for the crew, I wouldn’t be able to play football, because I can get shift cover from any of them and pay them back by covering their shift another time. If it wasn’t for them, I’d be lost. I’m also lucky in that I can sometimes work a shift in lieu and then have the time off to train or play a match, and there is such a supportive working environment full of camaraderie that enables me to do what I do, so I am very lucky where I am.

“It’s great that in work we also have a fully-equipped gym so I can keep my fitness and strength levels up, and that is really beneficial to me and makes a difference because if I can’t get to a training session with the Dublin team, I can do my own session in work.”

That gym work, Lyndsey believes, is one of the reasons behind her success, and that of the Dublin Ladies team. “Fitness has always been a big part of playing GAA, but I have seen a massive difference on the strength and conditioning side of things,” Lyndsey tells me. “When I first started with the Dublin panel 14 years ago, we wouldn’t have done any conditioning, it would all have been pitch sessions. But now we have a dedicated conditioning coach and we do gym sessions as well as pitch sessions every week. There’s a massive demand now for the proper conditioning. You can see the conditioning of players now, especially in our team, they all look so fit and strong, and that is down to the work we do with the strength and conditioning coach.”

That strength and fitness, not to mention an enormous amount of skill and dedication, has seen the Dublin Ladies team and Lyndsey enjoy a lengthy run of success. This year’s All-Ireland final victory over Cork was their second in a row, and while Carla Rowe, the daughter of a DFB member scored two goals, it was half-forward Lyndsey who gave a Player of the Match performance.

“There is definitely nothing sweeter than putting in such hard work all year, training hard for nine months in the gym and on the pitch, and when you get to an All-Ireland putting in a really good performance. It’s very satisfying, especially when you are playing in front of such a big crowd, it’s the biggest day of the year. Everyone wants to play well, but sometimes nerves get the better of you, and sometimes games just don’t go your way. But when you walk off the pitch a winner and you know you have put in such a good effort, you know yourself that you played well, it’s very satisfying that all your hard work has paid off.”

That win adds to a long list of Leinster and Division 1 titles in Lyndsey’s career, but All-Ireland final success is something every GAA player finds extra special. “We lost three finals in a row to Cork, and then we won the last two All-Irelands. I wouldn’t say winning three makes up for the five losses I was involved in,” Lyndsey tells me. “You always look back at those losses with regret and wonder where you might have changed things, and where things went wrong, especially the first year when we were ten points up against Cork. I look back on that one and think, if only we had done this or that, but those losses definitely made the wins more special, because when you have been on the receiving end, you definitely appreciate the wins a lot more. Especially after we lost the three in a row, winning last year was unbelievable, and beating Cork in this year’s final made that a little bit more special too, because we had been on the receiving end of losses to them in the past.” Lyndsey adds: “It made it that little bit sweeter.”

On a personal level, Lyndsey has now won her fourth All-Star nomination and this year was shortlisted for the Player’s Player of the Year Award, but like a true team player, she hoped her team-mate and captain Sinead Aherne would win out (which she did).

“It’s a really special nomination to get, because it is voted on by the players you have been playing against all season, and I think it’s great for Dublin as well that there are two of us up for the award – to have two of us nominated is really special,” says Lyndsey.

“I think this is Sinead’s third year in a row to be nominated. She is a fantastic captain to all the girls, on and off the pitch, so I think it would be lovely to see her get it. She deserves the acknowledgement.”

Recent rumours have suggested that 28-year-old Lyndsey is thinking of retiring from the Dublin panel she has been a part of for half her life, but she tells me she is still “in two minds about it”.

“It’s one of those things where after having won the All-Ireland for the second year in a row and having had such a good year that it wouldn’t be easy to walk away, but I also have to weigh up the amount of commitment involved, the number of injuries picked up every year,” she tells me. “But then there is the temptation of going for three in a row. It’s also a lot easier to say you are walking away than it actually is to walk away, so I will have some big conversations with (manager) Mick Bohan over the next couple of months I’m sure. That will probably happen after Christmas but for now I am just trying to enjoy the downtime and put that to the back of my mind for a while.”

Whatever Lyndsey decides to do, she will be busy in the future. She will continue to play with her club side Skerries Harps, and one day would like to take part in a triathlon, though with a more relaxed approach than she is used to. Before that, though, there will be some more hard work. 

“At the moment I am next on the list to do the paramedics course. I’m really hoping that comes up shortly. We do all our training with the DFB paramedics. It takes two years to complete the course, so that will definitely keep me busy because there is a lot of study involved that will keep me occupied.”

Given her career to date, it’s safe to say Lyndsey will only continue to become an even more valuable member of her team.

From within the Circle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oireachtas Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The DFB and Oireachtas XV teams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Station profile: C watch Phibsboro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adverse weather preparation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new DFB 4X4 vehicles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simulated terror attack exercise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syria to Swords

Above: Joanne Doyle with crew members in Swords.

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

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

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

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

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

Joanne Doyle

BACK TO THE BOOKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BACK TO WORK

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

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

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

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

High standards in safety

Health and safety

Above: DFB’s management team with the certificate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A tall order

Above: D/O John Rush

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

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

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

INSTRUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

Marathon effort

Swords FF/P Paul McGurrell has added the three RAWULTRA ultramarathons to his list of achievements.

If you’re searching for a figure to inspire a new fitness regime, Paul McGurrell is your man. The last time we spoke was in the summer of 2014, after he had completed the gruelling Marathon des Sable (MdS) – a 254km ultramarathon in the inhospitable environs of the Sahara desert.

Three years later, Paul shows no sign of easing the pace. This time he’s finished the series of three RAWULTRA ultramarathons across Ireland – Varty Lakes 100, Western Way 100 and Wicklow Way 100 – in a calendar year, the first person to complete the grand slam. These are by no means simple events – apart from the fact that each covers 100 miles, the terrain is usually difficult, and as the races begin during the cooler night-time hours, you can easily lose your bearings.

“I was the only one to complete all three. You have a combination of people getting injured, they just couldn’t physically complete [the races], or they have other commitments. It took up the year to a certain extent – you’re just recovering from one and you’re getting ready for the next,” Paul explains. “The first one in Vartry was in April, then the Western Way was July, and the final one – the Wicklow Way – was in December. It was a fair commitment from a training point of view.”

Marathon

Ultramarathons are nothing new for Paul, and so his training regime for the three Irish races was no different than other similar events. Fitness is obviously important, keeping the body fit and strong, and Paul begins winding down the running two weeks before a race, trying to regain weight that will be lost on the day. But a lot of the preparation is psychological – you need to be in the right mindset to get through a tough 100-mile race.

“You’re training your body for so much, but after a certain amount of time in these races your body just reaches [a point], you’re sore. It’s just where your head is at. You just have to suck it up and keep going, battling the fatigue and tiredness and lack of sleep,” Paul says. “The stomach becomes a big issue as well – it’s doubtless that you’ll be vomiting at some stage. You need to keep getting food going in, that’s key. If you don’t keep eating, you’re not going to make it and, as you can imagine, you end up getting sick after a while. It’s about keeping your mind in a good place, staying focused, and keeping the food going in as best as you can.”

So how do the Irish ultramarathons compare to the endurance race in the Sahara? The Marathon des Sable, as Paul explains, is a different beast. The heat and terrain are the key aspects in the MdS, but hydration may be the most important facet. Fail to properly rehydrate or keep your salt levels up and your race will be over before you know it.

Marathon

Race director Don Hannon presenting Paul with the grand slam champion trophy

“In terms of the distance, the 100-milers are tougher,” says Paul. “Psychologically, you have to push through the fatigue. Your mind starts playing tricks on you, it’s a lot more draining. There’s a lot more taken out of you doing the 100s, especially through the mountains. You’re doing a lot of climbing, you’re trying to concentrate on your navigation, you’re running through the night. And obviously the Irish weather is not always nice to us.” Still, when the weather conditions are just right, you’re cocooned in a bubble surrounded by some truly spectacular surroundings. Paul describes the Western Way 100 as “spectacular”, recalling running through the mountains at

Still, when the weather conditions are just right, you’re cocooned in a bubble surrounded by some truly spectacular surroundings. Paul describes the Western Way 100 as “spectacular”, recalling running through the mountains at 4am with a clear sky and a blanket of stars overhead. “From an aesthetic point of view, it was fantastic,” he explains.

Pushing limits

As a sporting endeavour, Paul explains that although the time commitment is considerable, ultramarathons are becoming increasingly popular in Ireland – a few of his colleagues in Swords are among those who have since taken up the challenge. Increasing numbers are also taking part in the annual Dublin City Marathon – last year’s event was the first year an organised group from DFB took part in the race. Paul is no stranger to the Dublin Marathon, and ran it twice in the one day before taking part in the Marathon des Sable. I ask Paul about his motivation – what keeps him inspired to continually push his body and mind to the limits? He considers the answer for a moment.

“It’s just to push yourself. It’s about when your body is completely exhausted and you’re absolutely shattered, and every bit of you just wants to sit down and stop and you just don’t – if you push through that, it’s amazing what you can feel like after it,” he explains. “It’s amazing what you can do with your body if you just have a good attitude towards it and you keep pushing on. It’s the challenges, and it’s [also] the people you meet. There are some great characters who do these races, because they’re all a bit nuts. The bottom line is I love running. It’s my hobby, it’s like my medicine. I’ve got a lot of friends into it, and it’s a nice social thing.”