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Learning with leisure: The EMS Gathering

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shared expertise

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

Simulations are an important feature of the EMS Gathering.

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

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

Flotilla of learning

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

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

Nutgrove – At the heart of the community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community support

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

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

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

Driving the BUMBLEance

BUMBLEance

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

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

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

Changing lives

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

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

BUMBLEance interior

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarahs’ record row

Sarah Good

Dublin Fire Brigade’s Sarah Good and rower Sarah Doyle have set and smashed a world record for tandem rowing this year.

On St. Patrick’s Day 2017, while most of the country was celebrating our national holiday with a pint and a parade, one of Dublin Fire Brigade’s personnel was down in Passage West Rowing Club, Co Cork. Taking turns over the course of the day, Sarah Good (a nine-year veteran working on A watch No 8) and Sarah Doyle (a friend of Sarah’s from outside the world of DFB) managed to set and break an Irish and world record respectively for the 100km tandem row, finishing in an impressive time of 7 hours 29 minutes and 22 seconds. “Another in a long string of ridiculous ideas!” Sarah Good explains with a laugh.

Though it’s quite the achievement, the two Sarahs’ record-breaking effort wasn’t simply a matter of personal pride. As firefighters tend to do, they were raising funds for a very worthy cause (which undoubtedly provided some motivation) – children’s hospice and palliative care provider LauraLynn. As Sarah explains, her fiancé Doug’s nephew passed away several years ago, having received a lot of love and care from the team at LauraLynn. “Obviously the family feel very strongly about the organisation and try to give back as much as possible,” she says. “I try to row in when I can, try and do a bit of fundraising whenever I can. It’s an unbelievable organisation – it’s one of those charities that you don’t have to work very hard fundraising for, because people want to give to it. It’s just extraordinary.”

Training day

Although Sarah is no stranger to rowing machines, her friend Sarah Doyle is the rower, and regularly competes in events around the country. However, despite completing a number of half marathons and marathons, she had never competed in a 100km distance event before. Given that Sarah Good was in the same age group and weight class – and willing to give it a go – team LauraLynn was formed.

“There was about four months of prep,” says Sarah. “I do a lot of other training for other disciplines and sports, and with that your fitness and strength stands to you. It was just about incorporating rowing into my training programme. We have a rower in the station thank God, so I was able to get miles in while I was at work.”

Facing a 100km row might seem like a daunting task (and there’s no doubt that it is), but the key to overcoming the hurdle is by breaking it into small chunks. Both rowers worked in 2km intervals, swapping over roughly every eight minutes while trying not to lose any momentum. “The structure of the event was different than anything I had done before, because we were working as a tandem team. She was going, then I was going – it was a really long event where half of it you were active, and half recovering. It was unusual. The transitions were a bit chaotic, but it was great,” says Sarah. “We had in our head [to finish in] eight hours. I knew fairly soon into it that we would be able to get seven and a half hours, and we really just got that in our head then.”

World rowing record

Record confirmed

The team’s efforts paid off – as the odometer clicked past 100km they had set an Irish and world record in their category, raising almost €1,000 for LauraLynn. “We named the team for the day LauraLynn, so the record will go into LauraLynn’s name – something nice for them to hang on the wall. It was brilliant, really cool,” Sarah explains, while noting they weren’t alone down in Cork. Both of their respective other halves provided support from start to finish. “They were there for the entire time – Doug drove me down, drove me back up from Cork to go to work straight after it, gave us physio on the day and more. The two of them were just brilliant, they were great. It really is a team of four for a two-person event,” Sarah adds.

Now that she’s had a taste of success with oars in hand, does Sarah see herself taking up rowing on top of her other sporting interests? “I would have an interest in doing the odd thing for sure,” she says. “It would be something you’d tip in and out of, try another event, especially as Sarah is involved in it and likes to compete in events as well. It’s something different, it’s good.”

Care and support

LauraLynn provides palliative care and support for children with life-limiting conditions and their families, allowing parents to act as parents rather than full-time carers. Supporting children from birth to age 18 for free, LauraLynn is also piloting a home care programme in Dublin North-East and Dublin Mid Leinster, providing hospice care for children in the comfort of their own homes.

To learn more about LauraLynn or to donate/fundraise, phone 01 289 3151, email [email protected] lauralynn.ie or visit lauralynn.ie.

 

Training day

The OBI played host to a two-part mass casualty training exercise for Class 1/2016 last November, writes Conor Forrest.

Last November, recruits from Class 1/2016 reported to the OBI as part of their paramedic training, having graduated earlier this year and spent the intervening time in their respective stations. They would be taking part in a mass casualty training exercise that day, a test of their skills in the field based on course objectives which have been set by PHECC (the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council) on gathering vital information, delivering a clear picture of the scene to control and command, and designating certain areas for casualty clearance, ambulance arrival, etc.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to attend a similar exercise held in the Phoenix Park, which featured the aftermath of a house party gone wrong. This one, however, was a little different in terms of scale. Though the recruits were told they would be taking part in a mass casualty exercise, they weren’t told what to expect. The brainchild of tutor Joe Brady, one of the first practitioners to reach the scene of the recent shooting in Whitehall, onlookers watched as two vehicles entered the yard at speed, screeching to a halt. A mass of armed gardaí tumbled from the vehicles and spread out, bearing down on the rear of the building where there were reports of shooters inside a nightclub. Following an explosion, several masked men emerged from the building and engaged in a shootout with gardaí. The armed unit then moved into the building, clearing it room by room, ensuring the scene was safe for first responders to enter.

Members of the ERU arrive on scene

Once they got the go ahead, DFB crews began to arrive – some began to assess the emerging casualties, while others entered the building to assess and remove the more critically wounded. With music pumping inside the club, the responders had to focus on the tasks at hand and ignore any distractions – their instructors were looking for mental strength in the face of disorientation and pressure. Outside on the quad a casualty clearance station area was set up, with patients brought in, assessed, and then transferred into the waiting ambulances. Though some might have been expecting a different scenario, a second exercise began with the shooting of the assembled crowd from the earlier incident.

“The exercise was designed to test their response to a mass casualty incident; we were looking at their role as first practitioners on the scene, their communication skills, their ability to do what is called a triage sieve – a first look at the patient and then allocate a triage card. If they’re really badly injured they get a red, if they’re not so badly injured they get a yellow, and then the walking wounded can be brought off to a separate area and then bussed off scene,” explains Paul Lambert, EMS training coordinator in the OBI. “It’s about getting into the practice of encountering something that they won’t come across that often, it’s not normal medicine, they don’t come and treat the first person they see – their job is to categorise all of the casualties and to find out which is the highest priority.”

Coordination

Understandably, organising this exercise was a complex process, liaising with An Garda Síochána and the Civil Defence. “Joe Brady decided that since it was in the news and something that there is a possibility of happening – an active shooter scenario – he decided on this format. He interfaced with a number of other agencies, the Civil Defence, An Garda Síochána and the Garda Emergency Response Unit,” Lambert explains. “Logistically it was a big ask, because there are a lot of factors to take into account to develop an exercise that will run well.”

Instructor Dan Fynes readies his crew to enter the building

The first thing to consider was health and safety – designing an exercise plan, conducting a risk assessment, mitigating any potential risks that arose during the planning stage and appointing a safety officer to oversee the process. Ensuring all of the necessary equipment was in place was another challenge – given the scale and scope of the exercise, the organisers needed additional trauma bags, spinal boards, field stretchers, scoop stretchers and defibrillators, and a casualty clearing station. A number of ambulances were also requisitioned from the workshop, placed on standby for use in the exercise.

As the scenario involved a shooting at a nightclub, casualties were also required, provided through the voluntary emergency response organisations. Their varied injuries were made more realistic by the work of makeup students from Dún Laoghaire. The talented students provided moulage [applying mock injuries for emergency services training purposes) – injuries such as eviscerations, penetrating injuries, everything from bruising to a major haemorrhage and eye avulsions, making for a more realistic scene and placing increased pressure on the responders.

“Our first practitioners on scene performed very well, and then our subsequent crews performed very well. It was quite arduous – we had 53 casualties and there were two separate exercises, so it was quite physically and mentally demanding on them. They had to make rapid decisions under pressure and then physically had to remove and treat the patients. It was a lot of pressure for them but we’re very happy with how they performed, and I think they found it to be a very valuable learning experience,” Lambert explains. Thanks are due to all who volunteered their time in coordinating the two exercises, totalling over 100 casualties.

Joe Brady deserves a special mention for his hard work in bringing his idea from concept to execution, liaising with outside agencies and with various elements within DFB, organising the moulage which provided a layer of added realism, and whose effort was vindicated at the end of the day. “I was also very impressed with the tutors in the OBI and the amount of hard work they have done,” says Lambert. “It was a very well thought out exercise, and very well executed.”

Tricky triage

Among the many skills being tested through the incident was the firefighters’ ability to perform a triage sort, a more in depth way of assessing a patient. “They assess the respiratory rate, their systolic blood pressure and their Glasgow coma score, and based on those three things they apportion them a score, and then those patients are moved to the hospital first – it’s like a filtering system,” Lambert explains. “We filter through the casualty clearing station, the people that need to get off scene quickest, and then we can designate those to the hospitals to make sure that the hospitals receive the most critical patients first.”

Firefighters were also tasked with relaying a methane message – declaring a major emergency, providing the exact location, the type of incident, hazards, access, the number and severity of the injured and any extra resources required.

Station profile: B watch No 6

Conor Forrest paid a visit to Kilbarrack fire station and the crew on B watch No 6, headed up by recent arrival S/O Robert Young.

Kilbarrack is a station with a few new faces. One of the most recent additions to B watch No 6 is Graham Forde, a new recruit who passed out from the OBI last October. When we spoke he was only six weeks into his new career, but was very much enjoying it. Graham’s background is in the financial sector, and he spent seven years there before travelling to Australia. It was while he was overseas that he heard that DFB was recruiting, so he flew home to put his name in the hat. “I’ve always had an interest in being involved in emergency services, and the fire brigade was obviously my number one choice,” he says. “There were 50 of us in the class. There were tough days and not so tough days [in training], but we all got through it together. The BA course was the toughest course but the most enjoyable at the same time.”

Graham and his classmates returned to the OBI in the new year to undergo their paramedic training, but for those initial weeks and months he was relishing the chance to learn on the job. “It’s always something different in every call that you’re going out to,” he explained. “It’s good to get that early experience. Soon after leaving the O’Brien Institute and before we go back to do paramedic training we’ve got some exposure to what we’re going to be dealing with down the line.”

Station Officer Robert Young is another recent addition, having transferred from Tallaght to Kilbarrack in June 2016. S/O Young joined the job back in 1995 and has experienced life in quite a number of stations during those 21 years, first as a firefighter and then as a floating sub officer and station officer on A and D watch, based in Tara Street but covering all the stations north and south of the Liffey.

“The last officer they had was here for a good number of years and it was a big change for them – they didn’t know me and I didn’t know them, because I had never worked on B watch. When I arrived it was a clean slate and I decided that I was not going to change anything, I was just going to work away and we would find each other along the way. But straight away I felt comfortable, we had a good rapport. We have a lot of craic but we get the job done – they’re very professional,” he explains. The challenges and risk factors compared to his previous post in Tallaght have changed. “It’s an older population here – we have several nursing homes in the locality. We also have the DART line and local station here, we cover Howth, near the harbour and Clontarf – there are a lot of gorse fires during the summer,” he adds. “We also cover the Airport and Beaumont Hospital, so it’s a large area to cover with a lot of risks, as in most areas.”

S/O Robert Young

Talk soon turns to the crew on B watch. My immediate impression was of a tight-knit group of firefighters, well able to have the craic but also more than willing to work hard when required. It’s a sentiment with which their S/O agrees. “We have a great diverse crew, all very enthusiastic. We also have an advanced paramedic, Clint, which gives us another dimension to have when we arrive at certain incidents. But the rest of the crew are well capable of doing it as well, they have great knowledge,” he says. “Every generation it’s different, technology keeps changing and the training keeps changing. Graham hasn’t completed his paramedic course yet, but when he does he will be extremely well trained compared to the standard years ago.”

There are plenty of old hands too at No 6. The crew’s mess man, for example, is Bryan Quinn, a 16-year veteran of the job. Following six months in Tara Street, a year in Blanchardstown and a second six-month stint in HQ he was posted to Kilbarrack, where he has been ever since. “The job is great – day to day you don’t know what’s next or what’s going to happen,” he reflects. “It’s a family. Without a doubt I would recommend this job to anyone. It’s an honest living, and generally speaking you are well respected.”

Behind the wheel

Alongside his role as station officer at No 6, S/O Young is also one of six DFB driving instructors, a role he’s held for the past 12 years. All of the instructors have been trained to the RSA ESDS (Emergency Services Driving Standard) and whenever a new vehicle enters service, the instructors ensure the capabilities of those who’ll be behind the wheel. For example, Dublin Bus recently donated a double-decker bus to DFB, which will undoubtedly be put to good use. Around 72 personnel within the job previously worked as bus drivers or mechanics, and hold the relevant licence. S/O Young was dispatched to the OBI to provide a refresher course in bus driving should the need ever arise.

“Twelve years ago they were looking for driving instructors, and I was asked if I would be interested in it,” he recalls. “We completed a course with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) in England – they came over and trained us for three weeks in advanced driving techniques. We also had to complete our approved driving instructor (ADI) training with the RSA.”

For anybody interested in becoming a driver, the first step after approval is to undertake a provisional C licence. Following four days of training on the truck in the OBI, a fifth day is spent testing your abilities in the test centre in Finglas. If you pass you’ll return to your station and gradually take on driving responsibilities, firstly on returning from an incident outside of an emergency situation, for a total of about 40 hours. That’s followed by a return to the OBI to undergo the ESDS course for two weeks, training with blue lights and driving both the ambulance and fire appliance. The next step is even further advanced driver training, after which you’ll be ready to drive in any situation.

Graham Forde

“ That process has changed over the years – at one stage, if you had the licence, you would present yourself at the workshop, undergo a simple test and then you were good to go,” S/O Young explains. “The standard has come up a lot over the years, and it needs to – traffic has become heavier, vehicles are more powerful. It’s a serious situation, driving around the city in blue lights, for up to 15 hours sometimes. You need to have your wits about you.”

Training days

One of the first things I noticed when I stepped foot inside S/O Young’s office is the amount of cards hanging in the window. Most are messages of thanks to crews across all four watches, for lives and homes saved, prompt responses and even educational visits hosted in the station or the community’s schools. S/O Young agrees when I comment that there must be a strong community spirit in the area, and fostering and developing that is something he feels is quite important. “We do a lot of community visits, there’s a great community spirit in the area. We do school visits, host fun days and many other events,” he tells me. “We also have a lot of visitors who come in. We recently hosted the local Men’s Shed, from all different walks of life, all now retired, and they were very impressed.”

The sheer amount of wide open space within the confines of the station also caught my eye. S/O Young explains that prior to the opening of the OBI for training purposes in 1985, for many decades recruits honed their craft in Kilbarrack – hence the impressive yard space. Alongside the usual appliances and the training tower, there are a number of features within the yard that are somewhat unusual. Take, for example, the standalone gym, built using funds saved by the station’s focus in recent years on renewable energy. A string of windmills whir away mounted high up in the yard, and at the rear of the station, beneath several leafy trees, is a garden featuring benches and a commemorative monument, a symbol of Dublin Fire Brigade and its strong links with communities across the city and county.

The garden is maintained by a number of retired DFB personnel, who come in every Monday to ensure it’s kept in tip-top shape. They also keep an eye on the station’s beehive which was introduced several years ago to promote biodiversity within the grounds. “They never bother us at all, they just stay over there and there are no issues,” S/O Young says with a laugh. “There are a few racket balls in there that we can’t retrieve at the moment. But nobody to my knowledge has ever been stung.”

Before I leave, I ask S/O Young what he enjoys most about the job. He smiles and leans back, considering his answer. He touches briefly on the craic the crew enjoy every day, and enjoying a job in which no two days are the same. Finally he settles on the opportunity Dublin Fire Brigade personnel have every day – to save lives and make a difference to Dublin’s citizens, though he’s quick to note that they’re just doing their job.

“Normally when people meet us it’s not a good occasion. You’re not looking for thanks, but you do feel you make a difference in the area, and you hope you leave a good impression of the brigade,” he says. “I hope my son Karl, who is a firefighter in the retained station in Skerries, experiences as much enjoyment and fulfilment in his career as I have experienced during my time in the brigade.”

The social scene

DFB’s Sports and Social Club recently held two fun-filled social nights for members in Dublin city centre.

Dublin Fire Brigade is a social organisation – different stations are involved in various events in their local communities, and firefighters across the job are often promoting or taking part in sports, historical or social events in the city. It’s an aspect that the DFB Sports and Social Club is keen to promote and, after a period of absence due to the recession, the annual club nights returned in late 2015, initiated by committee member Paul Marsh from Dún Laoghaire and held in the River Bar on Burgh Quay. A change in the tender process for vendors for events like the kids’ summer party freed up some funds, which Marsh suggested the Club invest in reviving the social nights. “We cover the families with the kids, we cover everything from athletics to cricket – there is a gap there, I think, especially as there are two new classes of recruits,” says Paul.

The first social night of 2016, on November 17th, was held for those on B and D watch, while A and C watches got their turn the following Thursday night – the idea was to bring together those who wouldn’t normally meet one another starting or finishing a shift. Each night featured spot prizes, a certain amount of free drinks and party games, and pitted a member of each watch against one another. “I brought people up and had a quiz – we had a phonetic alphabet quiz for the lads in the control room, questions involving the fire brigade and medical questions,” says Paul. “I got one from C watch and one from A watch, just to get a bit of banter and a bit of craic going. This year, because we had two classes of recruits, we focused on them. I think the recruits enjoyed getting involved.”

Alongside increased attendance on the previous year’s social nights, the Club received a boost in the form of 20 new members. As a result, the social nights are very much back on the Club calendar. “What we’re hoping to do this year is a 999 night – that’s what we used to do in the late nineties,” Paul adds. “We had a couple of them – nurses, guards, firefighters – when we had the Ierne ballroom. They were brilliant nights and I’d love to get them going again.”

Getting to colleagues in DFB is the idea behind these nights out – Paul explains that the fire service is a job in which morale plays a huge role. But it’s also an opportunity to get to know people you might not ordinarily meet. “If there’s good morale you’ll work a lot better…you’re working with guys for 15 hour shifts,” he says. “The next step would be to get to know the people that are in the hospitals, or the guards when you’re out at these incidents. I just think people work better when they know each other that little bit better. You do the 40 hours a week together, but when you get to know them on a social basis as well, you’ll see a different side of them, and I think it helps.”

Class of 2016

Recruit Class 2/2016 participated in the passing out parade held in the OBI last October.

Dublin Fire Brigade welcomed 50 new recruits into its ranks on October 6th last, as Class 2/2016 successfully completed their 15 weeks of training and passed out from the DFB training centre in Marino. The ceremony was attended by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Brendan Carr, Dublin City Council Assistant Chief Executive Brendan Kenny, and the Mayor of South Dublin, Guss O’Connell.

Over the 15 weeks the recruits completed more than 37,000 combined hours of training at the hands of 60 DFB specialist instructors, complemented by instructors from An Garda Síochána, Dublin Bus, Renault Trucks and Luas. During the event they showcased their impressive range of training, covering a wide variety of skills ranging from working with BA sets and swift water rescue to dealing with road traffic collisions, Hazmat incidents and emergency first response.

Speaking on the day, Lord Mayor Carr noted the city’s pride in witnessing another cohort of highly trained firefighters beginning their new careers. “We are proud to have trained yet another class of recruits this year over the past 15 weeks. The calibre of the recruits passing out is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the instructors and of the recruits themselves,” he said. “Dublin Fire Brigade provides a vital service for the city and county of Dublin and I have no doubt that all new firefighters joining the ranks of Dublin Fire Brigade will continue to uphold that proud service.”

In memory of Ian McCormack

The crew of B watch Dolphin’s Barn unveiled a garden memorial in the grounds of the station for their colleague Ian McCormack.

On Saturday August 20th 2016,  friends, family and colleagues of Ian ‘Frodo’ McCormack gathered in the garden of Dolphin’s Barn fire station for the unveiling and blessing of a memorial axe in his memory. The date marked six months that weekend since Ian’s passing.

Ian’s colleagues on B watch invited a small group of close relatives and friends for the unveiling shortly after the beginning of the night duty, with refreshments afterwards in the station mess hall. After an introduction from S/O Tom Doolan the local priest said a few short words and Ian’s son Alex cut the ribbon and unveiled the axe. The axe itself simply has the words ‘Frodo 1170’ sandblasted and painted onto it and is embedded into a granite stone in the garden and lit up in the evening with spotlights.

There are words of thanks needed for some people who were involved in bringing the evening together with the small project taking a few weeks to plan. The garden was brought back to life and rejuvenated by Chris Keeley (B watch) who spent days working tirelessly in the garden alongside an army of helpers with Martin Keogh there to supervise! The sand blasting was done by a local stonemason from Loughlinstown called Peter Kelly who gave his services for free and did a superb job as anyone who has seen the finished memorial would agree. A special thanks to Stephen McMenamy for sourcing the axe that was used.

Finally, a mention to Craig Lancaster who is manager of the Tesco Express in Dolphin’s Barn for his contribution of a community voucher to assist us in organising the refreshments, along with Third Officer John Keogh who also assisted us in the organisation of the evening. Ian is sadly missed by everyone but hopefully this small memorial will help his memory live on and serve as a reminder to us of the laughter and memories he gave us.

B watch No 2

Man of fire: Captain Thomas Purcell

Thomas Purcell

DFB historian Las Fallon recounts the life of Captain Thomas Purcell, an innovative man who contributed immensely to Dublin Fire Brigade.

Dublin Fire Brigade has a long history. The municipal brigade dates back to 1862 but the city fire service itself goes back to 1711 and the purchase of the city’s first fire engine, a fact which is sometimes forgotten. In fact the 300th anniversary of the event in 2011 passed unremarked. Along the way there have been many who have made their mark on the fire service, but for any student of the history of Dublin’s fire service, or indeed of the Irish fire service, one name sticks out above all others: Thomas Purcell, Chief Fire Officer of Dublin Fire Brigade from 1892 to 1917.

Thomas Purcell was a Kilkenny man by birth, an engineer by profession and a firefighter by vocation. Born in Kilkenny in 1850 he joined Kilkenny City Volunteer Fire Brigade as a young man and, at the age of 26, he was awarded the silver medal of the Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire for his actions at a fire in the city. The citation for the medal states that it was awarded to: ‘MR. THOMAS P. PURCELL OF HIGH STREET KILKENNY IN TESTIMONY TO THE INTREPID AND VALUABLE SERVICE RENDERED BY HIM IN THE PRESERVATION OF LIFE AT A FIRE AT MESSRS HENNESSEYS, DRAPERS, KILKENNY AT HALF PAST ONE O’CLOCK ON THE MORNING OF DECEMBER 19TH 1875 WHEN UNDER CIRCUMSTANCES OF MUCH DANGER AND DIFFICULTY RESCUING THE LIFE OF MISS WHITE FROM IMMINENT DEATH.’

The medal was presented to him at the Guildhall, London in July 1876. Later in his life, while working as an engineer in Limerick, he would be involved in saving the life of a workman trapped 95 feet underground when a tunnel collapsed.

Thomas Purcell married Margaret Phelan of Oldtown, Ballyragget in 1880. They had three children, all born while the family lived at St. John’s Quay, Kilkenny. Tragedy visited the young family and two of their children died in childhood. Michael died at the age of four in 1887, while Thomas was just one year old when he died in 1889. The couple’s remaining son Pierce would go on to a long life and a distinguished career in engineering, ending up as Professor of Engineering at UCD.

Purcell’s qualifications as an engineer and his involvement in firefighting would combine in his next venture. Among those who applied for and sat the written examination for the post of Superintendent of the Dublin Fire Brigade when it was advertised in January 1892 was ‘T. Purcell, civil engineer and volunteer fireman’. Purcell sat a written exam and was one of five names shortlisted. He was appointed to the job of Superintendent (Chief Fire Officer) of Dublin Fire Brigade in March 1892 at a salary of £300 per year. He formally took command of the brigade from the retiring chief, John Boyle, on April 14th of that year.

Purcell took command of a fire brigade formed only 30 years earlier. The first chief, James Ingram, had founded the brigade in 1862 and led it through many dangerous escapades. Ingram died of tuberculosis in 1882. His successor, John Boyle, led the brigade for the next ten years. Boyle’s time as chief was marked by a number of unfortunate and tragic events. Three firemen died in two incidents during his time in charge of the brigade. John Kite, killed in a building collapse in Trinity Street in 1884, was the first Dublin Fire Brigade member to lose his life while on duty. Christopher Doherty and Peter Burke were also to lose their lives while fighting a fire in Westmoreland Street in 1891 when a ladder they were operating on broke and dropped the men to the ground from a height.

Purcell’s first test as Chief Officer came in August 1892 when a fire broke out in the huge South City Markets complex, a mixed use building of 30 retail units, living accommodation and which included a bonded warehouse containing 7,000 barrels of whiskey. The fire was dealt with skilfully in spite of the dangers and Purcell and his brigade came in for praise from all quarters.

Fortification

In the autumn of 1892 Purcell decided to visit the United States to study firefighting there and included a visit to a chief officers’ conference in Milwaukee. The visit was undertaken at his own expense and the DFB museum holds a medal given to him as a memento of his visit to the conference. He also left a diary (held by his family) which records the details of his trip on the SS Etruria. The diary reveals a human side to the man and is an interesting insight into Purcell both in the way he picks up on the technical details – the distance travelled each day, the amount of coal burned etc. – but also on his wry comments on his and his fellow travellers’ discomfort due to sea sickness. He also wrote to his wife recording the day-to-day life of the passengers during the voyage.

Thomas Purcell

A recent wreath-laying ceremony in memory of Captain Purcell in Deansgrange Cemetery. Photos courtesy Ray Bateson, the author of several books including ‘Deansgrange Cemetery & The Easter Rising’, which recounts the stories of 150 men, women and children associated with the events of April 1916 buried in the cemetery

Once back in Dublin, Purcell set about a reorganisation of DFB. Over the next decade his leadership would come to see significant changes within the brigade and in the fire safety of Dublin city. Through those years a series of major fires were faced and dealt with. In the background Purcell laid plans to improve the fire defences of the city. He planned a group of four fire stations to divide the city into quarters with a modern station in each, and saw this achieved at Buckingham Street, Dorset Street, Thomas Street and the new brigade headquarters at Tara Street. In response to the new electric tram system in Dublin and the opening of the Loopline railway bridge in the 1890s, both of which restricted the use of the brigade’s old street escape ladders, he would design a turntable ladder for Dublin that he was allowed to patent and which was popular in many UK brigades. It was one of the first effective turntable ladders in use. In 1898, following a visit to Belfast where he saw the Belfast Fire Brigade horsedrawn ambulance at work, Purcell designed an ambulance for Dublin and introduced the same service here.

Innovation and upheaval

Thomas Purcell had a huge interest in advances in the fire service internationally and visited fire brigades in the UK and in Europe. In 1901 he purchased the first Bader-Vajen smoke helmet to go into use in Europe (it was an American invention). The Bader-Vajen was the first breathing apparatus used in DFB and was worn by Purcell himself on May 13th 1901 at a fire in Green Street where four children perished. The fire was the scene of incredible bravery by members of the brigade. One fireman, Thomas Dunphy, climbed the escape ladder to rescue two children from the burning building under conditions of heavy fire. Purcell, seeing the danger, ordered that a hose be played on the fireman, who was badly burned in the rescue. Using the smoke helmet Purcell entered the engine for the opening of Thomas Street fire station in January 1913 and a motor ambulance, also built by Leyland, was also purchased around the same time.

The years leading up to the First World War were busy in Dublin on all fronts with political and social upheavals including the Lockout of 1913, the controversy surrounding the Home Rule Bill of 1914, the Curragh Mutiny by British Army officers in opposition to Home Rule and the foundation of both the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army. In mid-1914 British troops opened fire on a crowd in central Dublin after the importation of arms for the Volunteers at Howth, and this was followed within weeks by the declaration of war against Germany.

After the British declaration of war on Germany on August 4th 1914, Dublin Corporation introduced regulations to allow employees to join the British forces. Jobs would be held open, employees continued on half pay and military service would count as Corporation service for pension purposes. In spite of these inducements only two DFB members joined the British military out of the 189 Dublin Corporation employees who did so. Recent research has identified two recruits to the British military from each of the much smaller township fire brigades of Pembroke and Rathmines, which highlights the lack of interest among the unionised workforce in DFB in joining the Empire’s war. The main consequence of the war for DFB was the additional workload for the ambulances in helping to unload British hospital ships in Dublin Port and the increase in the cost of living and cost of services due to wartime inflation.

Thomas Purcell

Among those who attended the ceremony was Las Fallon (second from left), and Chief Fire Officer Pat Fleming (far right). Photo: Ray Bateson

Purcell and DFB would face their biggest test in April 1916. On April 24th, rebellion broke out in Dublin. Units of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army mobilised and held positions in Dublin city centre and elsewhere and declared a Republic. Throughout the week of fighting which was to follow, much of central Dublin was destroyed. Purcell directed the brigade throughout and after the declaration of Martial Law on April 25th he had to watch from the tower of Tara Street fire station as the city burned in what he called ‘the Great Fire’.

As soon as possible after the ceasefire and surrender on April 29th he mobilised his resources, including small groups of firefighters from the Guinness Brewery Fire Brigade and the Powers Whiskey Distillery Fire Brigade, and set to work. The brigade saved Jervis Street Hospital from destruction and contained the major fires burning in the city. In recognition of his work Purcell was awarded the Bronze Medal of the British Fire Prevention Committee, ‘….AS A TOKEN OF REGARD FOR THE SPLENDID WORK DONE BY HIM AND HIS BRIGADE IN MOST TRYING CIRCUMSTANCES DURING THE IRISH REBELLION OF 1916.’

He was also awarded a cash bonus of £50 by Dublin Corporation as recognition of his work. The Corporation noted that his annual salary at this time was £500. In the aftermath of the fire Purcell was involved with the commission set up to adjudicate on compensation and sought compensation both for fire brigade property lost but also for a premises in Abbey Street in which he had a commercial interest.

End of an era

On November 16th 1916 Thomas Purcell was badly injured when thrown from his horse-drawn buggy while on the way to a fire in Suffolk Street. The carriage had not been properly hitched and in trying to bring the horse under control Purcell, then 66 years old, threw himself onto the horse’s back but fell to the side and was injured. His injuries put him in hospital and off work until January 1917. Purcell was not well during 1917 and in October he decided to retire. He retired in November 1917. He had built DFB into an efficient and well trained brigade which had proven itself in action time and time again. Thomas Purcell would retire to Dalkey where he lived until 1943.

In his later years he travelled widely and wrote a small book on a cure for sciatica which he had discovered on his trips to Germany with his son. He led a full life and left a proud legacy. His contribution to Dublin Fire Brigade was immense. He is an unsung hero. He is remembered in the DFB 1916 exhibition in Dublin City Hall and in July of this centenary year of the Rising Dublin Fire Brigade Chief Officer Pat Fleming, Acting Chief Officer of Kilkenny Fire and Rescue Service, John Collins, and the Cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Council, Cormac Devlin placed wreaths on his grave in Deansgrange in a dignified ceremony. Many members of the extended Purcell family attended as did representatives of the fire service, serving and retired.

Thomas Purcell lies in Deansgrange Cemetery under a headstone built to his own design. In memory of his native place his imposing headstone is made from Kilkenny limestone.

An unusual culprit

On a lighter note and as an indication of a wry sense of humour which sometimes surfaces among the serious paperwork of the Chief Officer, Purcell noted an unusual cause of fire in his list of major fires and their causes in his 1914 Annual Report for Dublin Fire Brigade.

Among a list of causes which includes ‘defective construction’, ‘electrical defects ‘ and ‘gas explosions’ we find ‘rats with matches’! At the time matches were made with a high gelatine content and were often gnawed by rats as a potential source of food. On occasion the friction from the rats’ teeth would cause the match to ignite and the unfortunate rodent, well covered with fragments of match, would become a veritable torch.

One such rat managed to start a fire in Dublin that year and so brought itself to the attention of the Chief Fire Officer and immortality in the archives of DFB.