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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.”

High calibre – DFB’s new emergency service controllers

Dublin Fire Brigade has welcomed the latest batch of emergency service controllers, who graduated from the O’Brien Institute last December.

Last December, a fresh batch of emergency service controllers finished their ten weeks of training in the O’Brien Institute, graduating in front of senior officers, training instructors, friends and family. The day began with the recruits undertaking their final exams, followed by a gathering in the chapel – a Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) information session where CISM team member Adrian O’Grady spoke to the new controllers and their families, providing an outline of what CISM is and what the team provides – a response to any call within 20 minutes from a team of volunteers across the job.

O’Grady also outlined the role of the controller, the need to get a clear picture of the scene, the ability to calm callers down and empower them to help others, to mobilise resources within seconds, and liaise with crews on scene. “Call takers save seconds, seconds save lives,” he noted.

In addition, he touched on the need for resilience and their ability to bounce back – some of the calls received by emergency service controllers can take their toll, and care and support from their loved ones at home is very important to cope with trauma.

During their training, the recruits were exposed to increasingly severe calls, and are being mentored by experienced colleagues in their early days in the job. The CISM team has recently introduced a support whereby emergency service controllers can press a button and speak to a member of the CISM team. But family support is paramount to reducing the impact of the highly stressful workplace, and is important for maintaining a good work/life balance.

“CISM is not an illness or a disease. From next week, your nearest and dearest will be exposed to very stressful and complicated situations. We have trained them for it insofar as we can. However, stress can manifest itself in different ways,” explained Brigade Training Officer Gerry Stanley.

Passing out

The CISM talk was followed by a drill at the front of the chapel, an inspection of the graduating controllers by Brigade Training Officer Gerry Stanley and Assistant Chief Fire Officer Dennis Keeley, ending with an official presentation of certificates inside the chapel. A popular topic was the standard of training, the quality of the recruits, and how this is just the first step in their new careers.

“It was difficult to start with, it took a bit of getting used to, coming from the private sector, not being used to being so disciplined. But after the first week or so I was settled in. It was all very interesting, very rewarding too,” said David Doran, one of the new emergency service controllers who hopes to one day undertake the firefighter and paramedic training. “Like most young people, I’ve always admired the fire service, I’ve always wanted to be a part of it. I’ve been in the Civil Defence, and I applied for the last number of recruitment opportunities. Lucky enough, this time I got in!”

 

Emergency service controllers

Speaking at the ceremony, ACFO Keeley was full of praise for the graduating recruits.

“The role that you take on is an extremely important one – you are the face of Dublin Fire Brigade when a person makes a call for help, whether it’s for the fire service, ambulance or rescue,” he said. “It can be at times a very stressful job, but I would hope that the training you have been equipped with, your colleagues, the further training that you will undergo, and the family ethos in the brigade will get you through the types of incidents that you will face. I wish this class the absolute best for their future careers. For us, the future looks good when we have people of your calibre coming into the job.”

Transforming lives: Operation Transformation

RTÉ’s Operation Transformation celebrated its tenth anniversary this year, setting another five leaders on the path to a healthier lifestyle. Conor Forrest caught up with S/O Dave Connolly to learn more about Dublin Fire Brigade’s involvement in the show.

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, RTÉ’s Operation Transformation returned to our screens last January and February, with five new leaders put through their paces through an intensive eight-week programme in a bid to radically change their exercise and eating habits. For the third year running, Dublin Fire Brigade partnered with the show to set the leaders a series of physical and psychological challenges, this time with two firefighters in the form of S/O Dave Connolly and FF/P Stephen Howard, pushing them to their limits each week.

For Dublin Fire Brigade, the show represents an opportunity to showcase the depth of experience within the brigade, alongside the types of incidents they regularly respond to. The bar was set high (literally and figuratively) at the end of the first week: the leaders assembled at La Touche House in Dublin’s docklands, an imposing 100-foot building. Here they had to undertake a psychological challenge, climbing the 100-foot turntable ladder to the roof, followed by a leap of faith – stepping into thin air while suspended in a harness. Other challenges tested the leaders’ willpower and encouraged them to work as a team – ziplining from Tower A to Tower B in the OBI, or dealing with the fallout from a simulated traffic collision while simultaneously fighting a number of fires.

“We were trying to highlight different aspects of what DFB does – we included road traffic collisions, highline rescue work and swiftwater rescue on the beaches,” explains S/O Connolly. At one point the pressure proved too much for Seán Daly, a leader in his twenties, who clashed with S/O Connolly on the drill yard and was (temporarily) given his marching orders. “The exercises were designed to put them under pressure. The logic was, when they left us, the next time they’re put under pressure they can use their [newly developed] coping mechanisms,” he added.

However, S/O Connolly admired the enthusiasm and effort displayed by Seán and the other leaders, who were being pushed to their limits and beyond. “Seán – you could never doubt his effort. Chris, an amputee, he moved better than some of the other leaders, and his attitude and mindset was right,” he says.

Operation Transformation

Dave Connolly and Stephen Howard. Images courtesy RTE.

Looking back

Devising, organising and implementing these challenges is a tough process, one that begins several months before the show begins. However, despite long days of planning and preparation, long hours to produce just a few minutes of TV time, S/O Connolly thoroughly enjoyed the experience. “It’s been fantastic – I get to push boundaries. I’m very passionate about DFB, and to be able to highlight it on a national stage is brilliant. It’s all very challenging, but I love it,” he tells me. “This year I was working with Stephen Howard, a firefighter from D watch Kilbarrack. He’s a qualified physical therapist – that was great when we were warming up the leaders, making sure nobody got injured. He was an absolutely brilliant asset.”

Clearly their hard work was a success – a combination of a healthy eating plan and new-found willpower meant that the leaders collectively lost almost 10 stone during the two months. “By embracing a healthier way of life they have inspired thousands of people around Ireland to transform their lives. Already the leaders have lost a serious amount of weight, but more important is what they’ve gained – a love for exercise and a healthier relationship with food. It would be hard to find five more inspirational people to be the leaders for the tenth series of OT,” said proud host Kathryn Thomas.

The leaders also performed admirably in a final race in the OBI against a team of All-Star leaders from previous series. The head-to-head competition was a tough test featuring an amalgamation of the challenges this series – ziplining from a raised platform; loading from an equipment dump to a DFB jeep; pulling the jeep from one end of the training yard to another; and racing to unload a tender to extinguish a fire. Though the race was close, the current leaders won the day.

“This year’s five leaders were working together as a team for a period of weeks at this stage – they had gelled together and were working very well as a team,” S/O Connolly explains. “But the All-Stars, when you brought them together they were five individuals, and they just hadn’t got that time together to perform at the same level. And the proof was in the pudding.”

CISM: Learning from the best

CISM

Adrian O’Grady, Dublin Fire Brigade’s critical incident stress management team coordinator, recently travelled to attend and take lessons from the 2017 International Critical Incident Stress Federation World Congress.

Over the years, effective critical incident stress management (CISM) has become increasingly prevalent among emergency services. A protocol devised to deal with traumatic events, it allows those involved to share their experiences and emotions, learn about stress and its management, and avail of further help if required.

Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB) is one of a number of Irish emergency services that has a full-time CISM response team for personnel who need to talk about their experiences. New recruits are provided with several days’ worth of CISM training during their early days in the job, and similar training is provided to emergency service controllers. In addition, CISM training is provided when a member of DFB receives a promotion, before going out into the field. When required, the CISM team also organises one-to-one interventions post-incident, as well as group interventions two to three days later.

At the head of DFB’s CISM team is coordinator and Station Officer Adrian O’Grady, who recently travelled to Baltimore to take part in the International Critical Incident Stress Federation World Congress, May 1st – 6th on stress, trauma and coping mechanisms. The governing body that oversees the accreditation and standard of CISM training across the world, the Federation runs a world congress every two years, an opportunity to network, meet fellow professionals, and share ideas.

“It was a joy to be at, full of training lessons from around the world, of disasters, the aftermath of disasters, support needed in disaster scenarios, but also the small stage incidents that we encounter regularly,” says Adrian, who recently added certification as an Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) practitioner to his skillset, a psychotherapy that facilitates those affected by trauma to resume the normal processing of information. “There were some new ideas over there, some old ideas that have worked very well. It was a very open congress, it was about learning from the mistakes we’ve made, and pushing forward in new ways of working. An excellent experience.”

CISM

Adrian O’Grady (centre) with Dr Jeffrey Mitchell (left) and Dr George Everly (right), CISM’s founding fathers

Lessons learned

Thankfully Ireland hasn’t been exposed to a major emergency incident since the Stardust fire in 1981. However, this means that DFB’s CISM team only has experience in assisting in the aftermath of smaller scale incidents, and thus the chance to learn from those who have dealt with major emergency events was invaluable.

Among the incidents discussed throughout the week was the Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida last year, in which 49 people were killed and 53 injured; the 2016 shootings in Dallas in which nine police officers lost their lives, the deadliest incident for US law enforcement officers since 9/11; the 2015 Baltimore riots following the death of a man in police custody; and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Outside the US, the case of Germanwings Flight 9525 was highlighted, in which a passenger flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf was deliberately crashed into the French Alps by the co-pilot, who had a history of depression. All 144 passengers and six crew members on board were killed. “To hear the experiences of people in the aftermath of those incidents was phenomenal,” Adrian explains. “A lot of people at that congress were the same kind of people, people who have worked on the ground at major incidents and understand what it’s like. It was great to mingle with them – they’re usually in the background.”

For Adrian, it was also a chance to meet the founding fathers of CISM. CISM training was first devised by Dr Jeffrey Mitchell, a former firefighter and paramedic who came to a realisation that there was a need for additional support and interventions in the aftermath of a traumatic incident. Dr Mitchell wrote a paper outlining his ideas in 1983, and from there the field of traumatology exploded into being, aided by the work of George Everly, the co-founder of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation. “You’re seeing the people who wrote the entire system – they’re still there and they’re at the top of their game. George Everly is at the top of neuroscience and neuroplasticity. He’s more or less proven that CISM still works because neuroscience is now saying it does. Because we’re taking scans of the brains it’s telling us that we’re hitting the right areas with the work that we’re doing,” Adrian says.

The way forward

Having had the chance to mingle and learn from colleagues around the world, Adrian understandably came home bursting with ideas on how to improve DFB’s CISM unit. For example, a dog handler who worked tirelessly among crews on the site of the Twin Towers in 9/11 spoke about the effectiveness of using dogs in the aftermath of major emergencies, which could be incorporated within the work of DFB’s team in the future, particularly with members of the public. Adrian also noted the use of a mini pedalo by emergency dispatch personnel while on duty. “If you’re traumatised and the adrenaline is rushing through your body, you still have to take the call, there’s nowhere for it to go,” he tells me. “The pedalo enables you to release some of the adrenaline from your system, though I don’t know how that will go down!” One of the US fire departments has developed a comprehensive suicide prevention programme – DFB does quite a lot of suicide prevention training, but this particular programme was more hands-on and open in terms of discussing suicide and the risks among emergency service personnel. Adrian has presented these ideas to DFB management, who have provided fantastic support to the CISM team and to Adrian in travelling to Baltimore.

However, he also had the opportunity to share a unique concept created by DFB’s CISM team – the family CISM information nights in the OBI, which provide the family members of new recruits with information on what their loved ones could go through in the future, and the tools required to help them get through difficult times. “That seemed to have gone down very well over there, a lot of organisations don’t do the family nights,” he explains. “I’ve already been in touch with several fire departments over there who want to see what we do, how we do it, when we do it, and how we present that package to members of the public. We brought as much as we took, which was great.”

CISM

Crisis response dogs are helpful in getting
traumatised people, especially children, to
speak and process traumatic events

The plan now is for DFB’s CISM unit to progress further, to continue to incorporate international best practice, to learn from the mistakes and experiences of other services and to stand shoulder to shoulder with colleagues around the world. The team is a guiding member of CISM Network Ireland with T/O Brendan McNicholas as its current chair, and is in contact with the new European network as it begins to evolve. The research arm of the CISM team has also recently presented a paper at the European Association of Work and Organisational Psychology Congress held in Dublin in May.

“We’re prepared, and we’re a lot more prepared after this congress than we were before,” Adrian says. “It’s just a matter of disseminating all of this information to the team and across the job. There are areas for gentle improvement, but the quality of our team is up there with everyone else.”

As the CISM unit continues to grow and expand its horizons, the team members will play an ever-important role. Adrian notes that they’re looking for new team members as the current unit is at the end of a four-year cycle, one that’s in place to avoid secondary traumatic stress. “I can’t ask anything more of the team that has worked for the last four years – they’ve done their duty phenomenally,” he says. “They give up their time, their family and home time, and will drop everything in a heartbeat to be a support for their colleagues. It’s on the back of those people that the team is in such a good place.” 

OBI family nights

Adrian first got involved in CISM when he was six months in the job, stationed in Rathfarnham, following a traumatic incident. The team was formed in 1999 by his predecessor (the now deceased Sub Officer Mark Brannigan) and has gone from strength to strength over the years due to the work of Adrian, the Clinical Director Aidan Raynor, and the tireless team members, providing supports to DFB personnel and their families that include family information nights in the OBI. Family members can play a huge support role – strong bonds, open communication and honest discussion can prove pivotal, and they can recognise changes or stress escalation in their loved ones that others may not.

The most recent night was held at the beginning of March; alongside talks from Gerry Stanley, Paul Lambert and Dan Fynes, Adrian gave an account of what the family members of Recruit Class 1/2017 can expect in the years ahead, noting that new recruits are more likely to share stressful encounters at home than with their colleagues. “That’s why we’ve brought you here tonight, to prepare you for those offloads,” he told the gathered family members.

The next step: DFB’s new sub officers

Pictured are the 50 sub officers who graduated in May, along with the team of instructors led by D/O Robert Tierney

Among the latest graduates from the O’Brien Training Institute are 50 new sub officers, who have completed the junior officer course.

Dublin Fire Brigade’s training centre in Marino is a whirlwind of activity these days, as recruit classes undergo their introduction to the world of firefighting, serving personnel pass through for continuous professional development, and external organisations take part in courses like occupational first aid. Among those passing through the training institute earlier this year was a group of newly promoted sub officers, completing the junior officer course in advance of deployment in their new roles.

A total of 48 full-time and two retained sub officers took part in the intensive two-week course, following a rigorous and robust selection process. Covering a variety of knowledge and expertise required of a sub officer, the overarching theme is the structure and management plan of Dublin Fire Brigade, and the position of the sub officer in the chain of command.

“The areas we cover are methods of instruction – they have a paramount role within the organisation in the stations, delivering lectures, delivering and supervising training. So it’s important they have an understanding of the health and safety of firefighters and the ability to deliver training. We teach them how to do that,” explains course director D/O Rob Tierney. “It’s the biggest junior officer course ever done in Dublin Fire Brigade. Logistically it was quite demanding, but I had a great team around me, especially the officers that I had asked to be here on the course. But also the support staff in the OBI, considering that they also had 50 recruits training here. At some stages there were 200 people here during the day, but I’m pleased to say that it went very well. It’s great to see so many people progress through the ranks in one group. Historically you have smaller groups, perhaps of 20-30 people, but to see 50 new officers in a room is fantastic progress for Dublin Fire Brigade and Dublin City Council.”

Sub officers

The team of course instructors. FRONT (L-R): D/O W. Maher, D/O R. Tierney, D/O P Hendricken. BACK (L-R): S/O R. Currie, S/O S. Dillon, S/O P. Sherlock, S/O M/ Cooke

Coursework

A number of instructors were seconded to the OBI for the purposes of this course, some from operational duty and others working in the training centre. Alpha district D/O Willie Maher was one of the former, chosen for his experience with DFB’s hazmat response capabilities. Though hazmat incidents are perhaps less frequent than others, sub officers play an important role in these and other events, dealing with smaller incidents as the incident commander, filling the role of sector commander at larger scenes, managing resources or provide reports along the chain of command.

“Equally they would have to look after their own crews, wearing of correct PPC, identifying that it’s a hazmat incident, making use of the information resources that we would have at a scene. They’ve been given a general overview of all the different skills they might be called upon to manage at a hazmat incident, big or small,” D/O Maher says. “I think the students themselves have stepped up to the plate as regards their professionalism, their punctuality, their dress, and it has been noticed by the other courses. These people are taking on this challenge and they are progressing, they’re fully engaged with the process. The questions they have asked in the lessons are very appropriate, very apt, and there was good engagement with the students on the course. There was a definite desire for learning.”

Sub officers

Tom Gallagher

Changing roles

The motivation behind the students’ move from firefighter to sub officer is varied, from a desire to have more responsibility to a chance to experience other facets of the job. Others are seeking a change in their careers, looking for new challenges. “I’m in my twentieth year in the job – Tallaght for 13 years and Tara Street for seven. It’s time for a career change, I’ve done firefighting for 20 years now, I want to move onto the next step,” says Sub Officer Tom Gallagher. “I’m apprehensive but looking forward to it! I was in the acting position a good bit in the last year in my own station, so I have an idea of what is expected of me. I’m looking forward to it – a new station again.”

For Sub Officer Niall Grant, a 20-year veteran of the brigade, it’s a chance to maintain his interest in the job. Having worked at a number of stations throughout the past two decades, absorbing as much as he could, progressing to junior management is a logical progression. “As a firefighter you can go to different stations on transfer, you can absorb as much as you can either on the ambulance or within a role as a senior firefighter,” he says. “But at a certain stage of your career, it’s going to come to an end… I would have gone from station to station to always keep fresh, I’ve done an awful lot within that window of 20 years as a firefighter. And now this is just another station to refresh in the job and take it to another level.”

The new sub officers are beginning life in their new stations, in new roles that require new and more advanced responsibilities. The course might be finished, but their education is ongoing. “This development course has been full on, we’ve received over 40 lectures on a wide variety of topics,” explains Caroline Gunning, who has been with the brigade for the past 17 years. “There’s a lot to take in. We’ve had really good instruction so we’re taking away a big toolkit, and we’ll learn as we go on.”

Instructor Stephen Dillon, a Station Officer in Foxtrot District, is proud of the class and believes they will prove valuable to the brigade in the years ahead. “I’ve worked with many of these guys – I’ve worked with them through different watches through my career,” he explains. “A great asset to Dublin Fire Brigade, one and all.”

Review: The Fix Is In

The Fix Is In

In August 2007, two FDNY firefighters lost their lives inside the Deutsche Bank Building. Now, a new book examines the story of what really happened.

Until early 2011, 130 Liberty Street, New York City was occupied by the Deutsche Bank Building. Heavily damaged during the attacks on September 11th 2001, the process of dismantling the building began in 2004. Three years later, just before 4pm on August 18th 2007, a seven alarm fire ignited on the building’s 17th floor.

Spreading across ten floors, which contained polyethylene sheets designed to prevent the spread of asbestos that was being removed from the building (among other fire accelerants), the fire would burn until later that night, by which time it had injured 115 firefighters, and claimed the lives of two – firefighter Robert Beddia (Engine Company 24) and Joseph Graffagnino (Ladder Company 5). The story of that day, and the events and conditions that led to the deaths of those two men, is told in The Fix Is In: The Deutsche Bank Building Fire Conspiracy, the work of J.A. Graffagnino, whose son Joseph died as a result of injuries suffered in the Deutsche Bank building that day.

Throughout the book Graffagnino builds his case against those who had responsibility for razing the building to the ground. Many of the facts unveiled are staggering – Graffagnino recounts how the building engineer told a FDNY officer that the building’s standpipe system (a series of pipes designed to supply water in a building for either the occupants or firefighters) was still operational that day, though crews arriving on the scene to deal with the fire found otherwise. Graffagnino recounts in meticulous detail the various shortcomings and shortcuts taken by those responsible for removing the Deutsche Bank building and their contribution to the events which unfolded on Liberty Street. 

Though at times a little repetitive, Graffagnino presents an interesting account of each organisation involved and their background, detailing the intricate web of interconnected relationships and some rather unsavoury pasts. The narrative is boosted by interviews with firefighters of varying ranks who were there that day, offering a personal insight into what happened from inside and outside the building.

Simply mourning his son and moving on was not an option for Graffagnino. The book, the result of eight years of work, is the fascinating and harrowing culmination of Graffagnino’s efforts to seek out the truth of what caused the fire, resulting in a scathing condemnation of bureaucracy, compliance failures and a lack of accountability.

Surf rescue

Surf rescue

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

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

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

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

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

Tow rescue

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

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

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

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

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

Developments

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

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

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

On parade: Recruit Class 1/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links in the chain of survival

Chain of survival

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

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

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

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

Two-pronged approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expecting the unexpected: Chief Fire Officers’ conference

Chief Fire Officers’ conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparation

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

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

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