Category - Training

The future is electric

With the number of electric vehicles set to increase on Irish roads in the coming years, Dublin Fire Brigade is training recruits to deal with potential incidents, writes Conor Forrest.

Depending on who you ask, the motoring world is on the cusp of an electric vehicle (EV) revolution. With diesel’s reputation on the ropes, many of the world’s car manufacturers now feature a hybrid or fully-electric vehicle in their line-up. Volvo announced recently that all cars it produces will use electric or hybrid power from 2019. Plans have been made in the UK to ban the sale of diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040, with similar moves underway in France, Norway and the Netherlands. Ranges are increasing, charging times are dropping, and drivers across the world are being offered incentives to make the move. Everything considered, it seems that things are swinging in favour of EVs.

The technology has actually been around for quite a while. The first electric vehicles appeared in the 19th century and we’ve been using them ever since – milk floats, forklifts, golf carts and bread delivery vans to name a few. So perhaps it’s fair to say we’re coming full circle rather than witnessing the advent of a completely new technology. In Ireland we’re a little behind the curve – carrots to encourage EV ownership are minimal compared to some of our European counterparts, and just 3,000 or so have been sold here over the past few years.

“That’s going to change dramatically. The analogy I would use is when we were all driving petrol vehicles and the road tax situation changed, with road tax based on CO2 emissions, so everyone swung across to diesel,” explains FF/P Richard Hunter. “In the next two to three years you’re going to see a big swing from diesel to electric.”

EDUCATION

Richard’s background is in the motoring industry, having worked for Renault Ireland before joining Dublin Fire Brigade 15 years ago. With a deep-seated interest in EVs, he contacted his old employers when these vehicles first landed on Irish shores at the beginning of the decade, requesting information regarding their safety.

“As a brigade, we have to be proactive rather than reactive. We have to understand the technology, how it’s coming, how it’s changing,” he explains. Such understanding must be fluid, necessary due to the rapid pace of change within the industry. The last few years alone have seen huge strides made in lithium-ion battery technology, with manufacturers decreasing charging times and increasing range – key factors for consumers hesitant in getting rid of their fossil fuel transportation. Better range, lower prices and a wider variety of Government incentives such as free tolls and parking will see the number of EVs sold here spike in the coming years, and Ireland’s emergency services have to be prepared.

Above: Recent training in Clonmel, Co Tipperary for the National Fire Directorate. Photo: Richard Hunter. Main image: Renault’s range of zero emissions vehicles. Photo: Renault Marketing 3D-Commerce

The end result of Richard’s fact-finding mission was an emergency response guide to safely dealing with EVs involved in road traffic collisions (RTCs), which has been taught at training programmes in Tipperary for the National Fire Directorate and has been part of the curriculum for new DFB recruits over the past five years. DFB’s EV course is focused on making firefighters aware of the ins and outs of the average EV, tackling urban myths and educating firefighters about how these vehicles work, such as their silent nature (no rumbling engine) or how to recognise an EV (blue-tinted lights, ZE – Zero Emission – badging throughout, and the absence of a tailpipe). “Straight away, even if you haven’t done the training course, something is going to be telling you there’s something a little bit different about this car,” says Richard.

There are several differences in the way firefighters approach the scene of an incident involving an EV when compared to a standard ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) car. If the vehicle is on fire, once it’s extinguished they still have to consider the lithium-ion battery and the bank of cells inside – this has to be cooled as otherwise it could reignite. Recovery, too, is different – the likes of the AA deploy specially-trained personnel to recover damaged EVs. And if the damage is severe, there are even more factors to take into account.

“If the vehicle has been catastrophically damaged where there are exposed cables or if the electrolyte [inside the battery] has leaked, it’s explosive, it’s quite toxic. It’s all about recognising that – the electrolyte has got a glue-like smell,” Richard explains. “And how do you deal with electricity? You don’t take any chances whatsoever. There are electrical gloves, standard operational guidelines, and those copy and paste across to an EV when you’re dealing with exposed wires. It’s just thinking outside the box. You’re not looking at a fuse board now, you’re looking at a car on the road, but the principles are the same as regards your safety.”

The instances of catastrophic destruction are thankfully quite rare. In reality, as Richard agrees, EVs are often quite safer to deal with in the event of an incident. There’s no tank full of volatile fuel waiting to ignite, and there are less moving parts in the absence of an engine – power is provided via one or more motors. While EVs are in use by the likes of Dublin Port Tunnel, Dublin Port Authority, Dublin Airport and Liffey Valley Shopping Centre, alongside private early adopters, for the moment the chances of running into an EV-related RTC are relatively rare given the small number of them on our highways and byways. Still, DFB is ensuring it’s prepared for the day that petrol and diesel cars have a competitor with much greater volumes on the road. Richard is keeping on top of the latest developments, aided by Renault Ireland who supply electric cars for the purposes of training and keep DFB up-to-date with where the technology is progressing – the French company has made its own investment in EVs with the Twizy, Zoe and the Kangoo Z.E. van.

“EVs are around a long time and I think they’re going to be around for a lot longer than the combustion engine,” Richard says. “European and in fact worldwide manufacturers have decided electric is the way forward. We have to be proactive rather than reactive in how we’re dealing with the technology. It was important that it was recognised within the brigade that this was a change, and they have embraced it and moved forward with it very quickly.”

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.”

Firefighting on high

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

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

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

Measured approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

Training with the smoke curtain. Photos courtesy John Chubb

Plans in place

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

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

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

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

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

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

On parade: Recruit Class 1/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links in the chain of survival

Chain of survival

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

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

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

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

Two-pronged approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expecting the unexpected: Chief Fire Officers’ conference

Chief Fire Officers’ conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparation

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

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

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

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