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Keeping Things Moving

The DFB’s Service Support Centre plays a pivotal role in making the DFB operational 24/7.

When people hear garage, they think of a small workshop, but this place is much bigger than that and has a lot more roles than just fixing and maintaining vehicles,” A/D/O Martin Cooke explained to me on a recent visit to the Stanley Street site. “That’s no small task in itself, given that there are 115 vehicles in the fleet that need to be maintained and serviced, but we are more than just maintenance: we supply an extensive and comprehensive service that enables the DFB to keep moving on a daily basis. That’s why we are now called the Service Support Unit, rather than the garage.”

As he showed me around the massive store rooms, workshop, decontamination unit, laundry and pharmacy, that point became clear, and while civilians may not even know the place exists, the sheer volume of work done here may be news to some DFB members too.

A few months later, Third Officer John Guilfoyle, who has been overseeing operations here for five and a half years, echoes the thoughts of A/D/O Cooke as he too shows me around. “There is so much to cover here. People joke with us that we do nothing down here. They don’t see it, but they don’t complain about the service support, and that’s a compliment for us. DFB members arrive into their station and have everything they need, everything is working. From our point of view, if we are doing our job well, we usually hear nothing. In many ways it’s the unglamorous part of the operation. The key to it is planning and supply change management, but it’s a very broad role.

“Part of my brief is to oversee logistics and equipment. Our principal function is to offer the support services required by operations – that includes the fleet, equipment, buildings overseen by property maintenance manager Andy Kavanagh, and the maintenance and compliance of our equipment: All the supports that keep the operational show on the road. Our vehicles cover 1.7million kilometres annually, with our ambulance service alone covering in the region of 90,000 calls across 12 ambulances, and those 12 cover 1million kms. Our fire fleet do roughly 35,000 calls, and they would cover about 800,000 kms per year. So, it’s a big operation in terms of fleet.”

Third Officer John Guilfoyle oversees operations

THE FLEET

While routine checks are done on all vehicles at their stations, the ambulances are brought into the garage weekly, while the fire fleet are brought in every three months, and with more than 4,000 routine repairs done every year, managing this involves a huge amount of planning.

“We have a fleet inspector, who makes out a structured fleet management plan, and that is structured across the fleet annually,” T/O Guilfoyle tells me. “On top of that, all our HGV vehicles undergo CVR testing. In terms of activity, on average we cover around 4,000 non-scheduled repairs that are booked in on a daily basis. If crews at the stations find anything wrong, they report it to us through a central reporting system that comes in here.

“We also manage and maintain in the region of 12,000 pieces of operational equipment, ranging from hydraulic gear to general firefighting tools, hoses, pumps, all the firefighting and EMS gear. Some is done in-house and some by external contractors, which has to be compliant because it is life-critical safety equipment.

“It’s a huge operation that involves a structured plan dictating key performance indicators and key activities we must complete. I have a reporting system that is fed in through the staff here, so at a management level I can see where we are in terms of maintenance, certifications, etc.”

While the amount of work done is immense, there is a relatively small team, all of whom play a pivotal and mostly unseen role for the DFB.

“We have an inspector, five mechanics, a D/O, and five people in our equipment section, so it’s a tight little operation, despite its size,” T/O Guilfoyle says. “We also have two admin staff here looking after accounts and vehicle records – Altona and Noleen – and an accounts section in Tara Street, working in the background, processing more than 2,500 supplier payments and purchase orders per year in the required prompt fashion, and monitoring expenditure. That’s a key function that is often overlooked too, but they are key.”

STORES

Keeping track of the numerous comings and goings of equipment, vehicle parts, stock and consumables would be almost impossible without the proper systems in place, and T/O Guilfoyle shows me around the store rooms to show how this is done.

“We have seen a major increase in the use of IT, which helps produce a lot of management reports and data, which enables us to structure the service in terms of having the right equipment in the right place at the right time,” he tells me. “Our asset management system also helps us to plan in terms of replacing assets, and this also manages testing, servicing, etc, flagging what tests are due and giving us structured reporting. So, if you have 12,000 pieces of equipment, we can key in end of life data, and that enables us to form a strategic five-year plan to see what is coming up this year, next year, etc. If we can project that, we can project the financial requirements. So, certainly, IT plays a big role now.”

Asset Manager A/S/Off Paul O’Toole shows me that is involved. “We take each piece of equipment as it comes in and scan it so that it is added to the system,” he says. “All information about that piece of equipment can then appear on the system – service dates, end of life, any repairs – and the system is automated with colour coding to tell us when it is due to be serviced, replaced, etc. This system, which T/O Guilfoyle brought in a few years ago, is critical to how we operate now.

“Each serial number and code is unique to each piece of equipment, and this is an essential tool to have because we need to be able to monitor all information regarding each piece of equipment in order to ensure they reach safety compliance and are fit for purpose for our members.”

EQUIPMENT

As we walk through the vehicle parts stores, we are met by A/S/Off Stephen McMenemy, who is in charge of equipment maintenance. “Stephen is what we like to call our quartermaster,” T/O Guilfoyle says. “If he is having a bad day, I am having a bad day, because he is key to the operation working.

“When the crews check their equipment on the road or at the station and make out their list of what they need, they send it in by email so that we can get it ready. Stephen deals with all of the stores and stock, and requests for equipment. There’s a balance between having all of the equipment that is needed, and not having too much that it has to be disposed of. It’s a fine line.”

A/S/Off McMenemy tells me that like with any major operation, logistics is hugely important. “This place makes sure that everything is 100% all of the time, that every vehicle has everything it needs on it, from a crowbar right up to essential lifesaving equipment. We have a very good stock management system called Imprest Stock. It’s like a minibar in a hotel, when you take something off the shelf it is recorded on the system, and it works very well because we have never run out of parts.”

PHARMACY

Moving into the main warehouse, I see the shelves are filled with everything from stretchers to HGV wheels and pallets of water, but to the side is the new dedicated pharmacy run by FF/P Ken Kelly, which distributes controlled medications to the ambulance crews.

“In line with Clinical Practice Guidelines, there are more drugs a paramedic can use, so we have quite a lot of medications in the supply chain that have to be managed, and that has a lot of requirements in terms of dates, storage, etc,” T/O Guilfoyle says. “The medicines have to be kept separately from other supplies, with some of the medications stored at specific temperatures. Shelf life has to be strictly adhered to, so again everything is put onto a management system by Ken, which also keeps track of what is coming in and going out.

“He receives all orders for medication and makes sure there is nothing on the list that they are not authorised to have, so it is an important part of the job.”

A/S/Off McMenemy adds: “The pharmacy is really well run, and it has to be. Everything needs to be in the right place and records need to be kept immaculately. Ken is great at that. He set it up in 2018, and has been working wonders ever since. When he is off, we have to try to keep to his high standards, which is a tall order.”

GARAGE

We go down to the garage workshop, where the team are busy running checks on a HGV, and while foreman Fran and John “Horace” Fitzgerald oversee things, mechanic Keith Lambert is pushed into frame for a photo. “Keith is a top mechanic,” S/O McMenemy tells me. “We still call him the apprentice because he is the newest here, even though he has been here a good few years now. He and the other mechanics have to work to very high standards, and you can see that it is a multi-faceted job they have.”

PPE

Maintaining equipment includes all of the DFB PPE gear, and T/O Guilfoyle tells me that they now have one of the leading PPE management systems in Europe. “We have a database that tells us what we need to know about every garment – where it is, what conditions it has been subjected to – and we do the washing and maintenance here at our dedicated laundry facility to ensure they all comply to the standards in place for structural firefighting PPE.

“We encourage our members after any heavy-duty incident to send their PPE back. Everybody has a spare set, so for their long-term health we don’t want people wearing smoky gear. It gets a certified wash, dry and inspection. Our expert in garment care from Hunter’s, Tatiana, is the external contractor for this part of the operation, and she individually inspects every garment. They are all sent back out within two days, ready to be worn again. We process, clean, inspect and repair more than 2,800 sets of PPE every year.”

DECONTAMINATION

Also on site is a decontamination unit, where ambulances can drive in and have the vehicle and crew cleaned thoroughly. While the vehicle and every part within it is sterilised in a two-hour process, personnel take turns to move through the unit and disrobe, shower, and change one by one in a warm, sterile and private cubicle. Anything that can’t be cleaned is disposed of.

“We have never had anyone actually get contaminated, but rather than taking the chance of someone bringing contamination back to their station, or even the psychological side of it, we go through the procedure carefully,” A/S/Off McMenemy tells me. “The fact that it never happens only goes to prove that it is 100% effective.

“Ambulances also come in on a scheduled basis from each station for a deep clean done by Noel Donovan, who is very thorough, taking two weeks to clean every single part.”

While there is so much to do here, the Service Support Centre is seeing an increased workload as new vehicles, equipment and management systems come on board.

CONSTANT IMPROVEMENT

“As well as advancements in our PPE, our drug storage, and monitoring of our equipment, which has been completely updated, we have a continuous cycle of improvement, which we are constantly reviewing. That includes environmental issues, so one of the things we are looking at now is the removal from our supply chain of PFOS foams, which can be environmentally damaging, so we have a two-year cycle where we want to compare it to more environmentally-friendly firefighting foams, which is a big step. That would require taking in every firefighting vehicle, looking at the foam delivery system and calibrating it for an environmentally-friendly foam. This would require a lot of technical work.

“Then we have the new swift water rescue equipment, and this year we have brought in some new vehicles. We have introduced a new Tunnel Response Vehicle, three new Class B fire tenders, we are introducing three new D/O vehicles, a new paramedic vehicle and 4×4 vehicles for challenging weather conditions, so it has been quite interesting, but busy.”

With the increased use of IT, constant modernisation and a dedicated team, the Service Support Centre is able to manage all of this work, which is in itself a remarkable achievement.

The sheer number of responsibilities are a major challenge, but are also rewarding. T/O Guilfoyle says that keeping everything in service operational within financial constraints is difficult. “We need to have a good logistical and financial plan in place,” he says, “but we have a well-oiled machine, and the most rewarding thing about the job is knowing that we have played our part in keeping the operational show on the road.”

The Band in Belgium

Dublin Fire Brigade Pipe Band Secretary John McNally recounts a memorable and poignant trip to Belgium in May.

At the end of May 2019, the Dublin Fire Brigade Pipe Band travelled to Belgium for a series of engagements. Each travelling member was looking forward to the event as this trip was the first one away for the band in more than four years.

Initial contacts were made between DFBPB Drummer Tom McLoughlin and Belgian firefighter Carl Verstrepen, and a short time later, the DFB pipe band committee began planning the trip, booking flights, hotel rooms and transport.

At 5am on Tuesday, 28 May, 25 of us met at Dublin Airport, with the group comprised of 21 playing band members and a colour party made up of three student pipers and retired firefighter and DFB museum curator Paul Hand.

After a short flight, we touched down in Brussels Airport, where we met with some of Carl’s colleagues before we were quickly on our way to the beautiful town of Ghent, our base for the next few days.

We settled into our hotel, which was right in the square next to the beautiful 89-metre-tall Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, completed in 1569.

There was no time to waste as we needed to practice as a whole band, ensuring our instruments were both working and tuned after the flight. Our unannounced practice in the square went down very well with locals and tourists alike, who seemed both surprised and delighted with the early afternoon impromptu entertainment.

Next we were all aboard our coach and heading into Brussels, where we stopped off for lunch before our first official engagement. We travelled to the beautiful Brussels suburb of Uccle, to the official residence of the Irish Ambassador to Belgium, Helena Nolan. 

Ambassador Nolan was hosting a dinner for the outgoing British Ambassador Alison Rose, and the DFB Pipe Band was invited to play at the event. The band played on the lawn and entertained the crowd of diplomats and ambassadors who really enjoyed the music. This was followed by a presentation to Ambassador Nolan of a letter from then-Dublin Lord Mayor Nial Ring, Dublin crystal from Chief Fire Officer Dennis Keeley, and crystal from the band itself.

Ambassador Nolan presented the band with a framed photo of the famous Belgian statue Manneken-Pis, wearing an Aran sweater Irish costume.

Following some light refreshments, the band headed back to Ghent and finished off the night with some ceol agus craic.

Early the next day, we were back on the coach for the hour-long trip to visit the scenic town of Bruges. We took time for a canal boat tour with all 25 members on board, which is probably the best way to see and hear about the town and its history. Some of the more energetic members decided to climb the 83-metre Belfry of Bruges, while others relaxed in the sunshine enjoying the famous Belgian beer.

Then it was time to head back to base in Ghent and head out for dinner in the local Irish bar of Patrick Foley’s, where the band played a few tunes late into the night.

Following breakfast, the band loaded the coach with uniforms and instruments before setting off to our next stop, Flanders Field American Cemetery near Waregem. This cemetery contains the remains of 368 American soldiers who died, and commemorates 43 who are missing from battles at the location in the latter weeks of World War I, many in the last few days of the war.

The rows of marble white crosses are a stark reminder of the ultimate sacrifice theses very young men made in ‘the war to end all wars’.

Our next stop was at the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Mesen. This is a beautiful war memorial to the soldiers of the island of Ireland who died, were wounded, or are missing from World War I, during Ireland’s involvement in the conflict. A 34metre replica round tower stands tall there, and is made from the stone from a former British Army barracks in Tipperary and a work-house outside Mullingar.

The tower was unveiled on the afternoon of 11 November, 1998, by President Mary McAleese, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, and King Albert II
of Belgium. Here, Piper Paul McNally played a lament while Barney M
ulhall informed us about the history of the area and the Irish soldiers who died there.

We then headed off to the town of Ypres in West Flanders. Following a short break for a quick tour and some refreshments, the band warmed up. To the delight of the large crowds gathered, the band played and marched through the famous Menin Gate in Ypres. Menin Gate is a war memorial to the soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I, and whose graves are unknown. The memorial marks the starting point for one of the main roads out of the town that led Allied soldiers to the front line. On behalf of the band and Dublin Fire Brigade, Piper Barney Mulhall laid a wreath at this iconic location.

The DFB Pipe Band were very grateful for the hospitality shown by Carl and his colleagues during the trip, and we returned the favour in August when they came to Dublin to visit.

If you would like to join the band or have a chat about it, drop down to the OBI any Monday night from 1930hrs and give it a go! You don’t need any musical experience and we will provide the tuition and equipment.

Our door is always open to new members and past members also. To get in touch with the band, contact any band member or email: [email protected]

Yours in music,

John McNally, Dublin Fire Brigade
Pipe Band Secretary

9/11: A firefighter’s story

Former FDNY firefighter Tiernach Cassidy talks to Adam Hyland about surviving 9/11, honouring his colleagues and sharing his experiences

Most of us can recall where we were when the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001, but for FDNY firefighter Tiernach Cassidy, the memories of that fateful day will stay with him forever.

Stationed in downtown Manhattan, he witnessed the tragic events of the day unfold, and was one of only a handful of survivors from a squad that rushed to help as the Towers crashed to the ground.

Tiernach was part of Engine 3 in Chelsea, Lower Manhattan, but due to an injury he had sustained on a previous call out, he was assigned to light duties closer to the World Trade Center on Lafayette Street, between Spring and Prince Street. That morning, he had just arrived to begin what he thought would be another normal day, when events ensured it would be anything but.

“I got to work at 8.30am that morning and started to head up to the roof to have my first cup of coffee,” he tells me. “From the top of the building you could clearly see the World Trade Center, and it was a nice view to relax to before starting work. But that morning, the roof was packed with people. The first plane had just hit the North Tower. Everyone was asking: ‘What do we do?’ but we were told to stay where we were and await further instruction. We just didn’t know what had actually happened.

“Between us, looking back and forth from the rooftop to the TV in the fire house, we saw the second plane come in and hit the South Tower. At this point we all realised that this wasn’t an accident, we knew that this was an attack.”

With all available resources at 1st Division already sent to respond to the explosion in the North Tower, Tiernach and his colleagues knew they needed to help and rushed down the stairs. When another six-man team boarded their fire truck, Tiernach and a few others jumped on too, and headed to the site.

“On our way, the first tower was coming down, and we actually drove through the first collapse cloud to get there,” Tiernach tells me. “I used to live in that part of Manhattan, so the whole way down there I was telling the guys that I knew where to go, that I knew the area like the back of my hand, but suddenly it was unrecognisable, so we parked the rigs on Liberty and Broadway, and we started to work in groups to try to find survivors, because we could hear mayday signals.”

Tiernach and his colleagues rescued the few injured firefighters they could find and took them back to Broadway, before making their way back to the site of devastation.

“It was then that the second tower started to collapse,” he recalls. “We were right under it at this point. I remember the pancaking sound, but it took a few seconds to realise what that was. It seemed like time froze, but when I looked at the guy I was with, a lieutenant called Danny, we both realised it was the tower coming down. We ran back to our rig, he slid under it, and I opened all these compartment doors to build a little box for myself, to protect myself from whatever came down, and waited for the impact.

“After what seemed like forever, there was total silence, until all of a sudden, I started hearing the chirping of alarms. These were the sounds that our helmets emitted if we stopped moving for 30 seconds. The noise was coming from all around me.

“When the dust settled, I realised that, miraculously, me and the guys with me were still alive, and I was able to make out objects in the distance. We got up and went back to work, trying to find our friends who we knew were in there.”

While the emergency services did their best to clear the city, and as civilians fled, for Tiernach the next few hours were spent helping crews put out fires and searching for his colleagues and other survivors.

“Myself and Danny found ourselves in the very centre of the collapse,” Tiernach tells me, “and we were both tied off with lifesaving ropes, taking turns going into holes and looking for people. As I was holding the rope taut, Danny signalled that he had found people, and it turned out that there were 13 survivors. He signalled for help and when the rescue squad came in with stretchers, it was remarkable that nobody needed them, because everybody was able to walk out. It was unbelievable to come out of that pile.

“When I reached my hand down to pull the second guy out of the hole, I recognised him. He was Mickey Cross, a friend of mine from before we both went into the fire department. All he came out with was a scratch on his nose, and the first thing he did was ask me for was a cigarette. I was like: ‘Are you kidding me?’”

That initial success was sadly not to be repeated, much to Tiernach’s disappointment. “When we took those survivors out, I thought there would be hundreds more of them in the cavernous spaces of what was left of the World Trade Center. But there were none.

“In the immediate aftermath, just like in any accident, my first reaction is always to go and help. I saw it happen right in front of me, and I knew that hundreds of guys I worked with, and thousands of civilians working in the buildings, needed help, and in the back of my head, I assumed that almost everybody survived. I knew there would be a few fatalities, and a few injuries, but in my mind, I was thinking that there were so many people in there who needed help. ‘We are strong people, we will be ok,’ I was telling myself, because the reality was just incomprehensible.

“Of course, in the aftermath I was devastated to discover the amount of fatalities, but in the beginning, I was still thinking that if I just pulled back a rock, there would be 100 people sitting there saying ‘Oh thank God’. It didn’t work out like that.”

In total, 2,996 people lost their lives that day, including 72 police and 343 firefighters.

“Every fire house lost men,” Tiernach tells me. “From my own Fire House, Engine 3, we lost three guys from the truck, the chief and his aide, five good friends and colleagues. The fire house I was on duty with that day, lost almost everybody. The time that it happened meant there was a changeover of personnel. I would get into work at 8am, and the guys who would be finishing up on night duty would hang around and have breakfast, so we would have a double group in. When a major event like that happens, everybody wants to stay to help out, so not only did 20 Truck and Squad 18 lose their original six guys on the engine, but they had an additional six who had stayed and gone out with them. So, each squad lost 12 guys.”

Steel Skeleton of World Trade Center Tower South (one) in Ground Zero days after September 11, 2001 terrorist attack which collapsed the 110 story twin towers in New York City, NY, USA.

Before 9/11

Despite the tragic events of that day, Tiernach is adamant that he “couldn’t imagine doing anything else” in what he still considers “the greatest job in the world”. Being a firefighter was one of the only things he had ever wanted to do. “As a kid, I decided that I either wanted to be a cowboy, an astronaut or a fireman. Those were my dreams,” he tells me.

“I didn’t have the schooling to become an astronaut, and I can’t ride a horse, so I became a fireman.”

He had been working in the restaurant and bar scene, “just like any good Irish-American lad would do”, and had waited patiently for six years for his call up after passing the written exam, before he was eventually sworn in on May 17, 1998. He was assigned to the same neighbourhood where he had tended bar, and one of the first fires he attended was in the bar he had been working in. “I’d been working there so long I don’t think anybody believed I was due to join the Fire Department,” he says, “but when I walked in and the manager saw me, he said ‘Holy shit, it’s Tiernach’. He invited us all in for a drink after our shift.”

Engine 3 in Chelsea covers the area from 28th Street to 14th Street, but also goes city-wide as a high-rise unit, covering any building over 80 foot, so Tiernach gained a lot of experience responding to a variety of calls in a busy neighbourhood, but his job changed dramatically after the World Trade Center attacks.

Ground Zero

On that first day, immediately after the attacks, Tiernach and his colleagues continued to search the area around the South Tower, without success, until reports came in to clear the area around Tower 7, which was on the verge of collapse. Following that, he continued to work through to 2am, when a relief squad was sent down.

“At first, I still had no thoughts of impending doom, because I thought we would find a large group of people alive,” Tiernach tells me. “After the first two weeks of digging and searching, people started talking about other scenarios, collapses at mines, and how long people could live without food and drink. But in the days that followed, reality started kicking in. Once we passed the point of no survival, we went on to recovery work, and that went on for a year or so after that.”

Crews altered between one month on operational duties and one month working at Ground Zero.

“I remember weeks after, the trucks would come in and dig out piles, and we were just looking for remains, just looking to give closure, to find some trace of a person. It is sad to think that we were just trying to find a piece or scrap, and thinking that was once a person you talked to. It really made you feel small.”

A permanent reminder

Tiernach’s tattoo depicting the two World Trade Center towers, smoke, an angel and the names of his fallen colleagues from Engine 3

Tiernach says that his memories of that day will never fade, but he wanted to make a gesture to his fallen colleagues, and forge his own personal memorial to his friends at Engine 3. The result is a beautiful and poignant tattoo covering his entire back.

“After it went to a recovery effort, me and a lot of other active firefighters wanted some type of memorial to remember it by, so a bunch of us went to the local tattoo parlour, and walked in asking if we could get a group discount,” Tiernach tells me. “Firefighters are cheap!”

He continues: “For me, when I was on the roof of that building on Lafayette and saw that second plane come in and hit the South Tower, that image is still in my head, and I swear to God, I could feel the loss. To explain it is hard, but the emotion was so real. So that is what I put on my back – the towers, the smoke, an angel, and the names of the guys just from my firehouse, because unfortunately, I couldn’t fit everybody.

“It was therapeutic,” he says. “I went to, and still do go to counselling for this, and my counsellor said it was a form of pain therapy. Tattoos don’t feel good, if they did everybody would have one, but when I was getting this done, I don’t think I felt any pain at all. It took nine months from start to finish, going every two weeks, but I needed to do it, to remember and honour my friends.”

Tiernach is glad that he did it for another reason too. With regular sessions at the tattoo parlour, he became friendly with the receptionist, Christina. They are now married, with two children, Lucas, 15, and Isabelle, who is nine.

Once the recovery operation was wound down, the FDNY started to hire again in order to replenish its ranks, with a huge number of applicants looking to honour the city’s firefighters by taking up the mantle, and Tiernach found himself in an unexpected position.

“I still felt like the new guy,” he says. “I had only been in three years, there were guys with up to 25 years who I had listened to. But these new guys looked at anybody who had survived 9/11 as the senior guys. For a time, there was a lot of rebuilding and teaching the new guys the way I had been taught by the guys prior to me, which is how the fire department should be, and how it continues to be today.”

“It was a learning experience, especially for guys like me, to take the new guys under our wing, and still make the job a great job to be in.”

Tiernach’s tattoo

The Irish connection

As his name would suggest, Tiernach has a deep connection with Ireland, but in the past few years this has been strengthened by a surprising turn of events. Born in New York to Irish parents, as a child he moved to Dublin with his father for two and a half years before returning to the States, and until 1985, returned every summer to spend his holidays with his 18 uncles and aunts, and countless first cousins he likened to brothers and sisters.

It wasn’t until he was 17 when his mother revealed that he had an older brother in Ireland. “This is another crazy story all of its own,” Tiernach tells me. “My mother broke down one day and told me she had a baby when she was 19 or so. There always seemed to be a weight on her shoulders, but she never gave so much as hint about anything until that day.”

Having a child out of wedlock in 1950s Ireland meant Tiernach’s mother had to give her baby up for adoption while she worked in a convent before being shipped off to America. It was there that she met her husband, and soon Tiernach arrived on the scene.

“I had no idea about my brother Gerry, who is 12 years older than me,” he says, “and I never thought he would track us down. It was funny: When I found out at 17, I wondered how many times had I passed him in the street when I was visiting Ireland? Did I ever meet him? Stuff like that.”

Years later in Ireland, Gerry traced his mother through adoption and church records, and relatives, before finally getting in touch with her via a third-party.

“They started out writing letters,” Tiernach tells me, “before we arranged to meet. I remember picking my mother up to meet him at the airport. There were hundreds of people coming through customs, and I immediately picked him out. We don’t have the same physical stature or anything, but just like that, we just knew who the other was. My mother says we are like two peas in a pod. Nobody out here can fathom the story.”

Tiernach and Gerry have been “trying to catch up as much as possible” ever since, he tells me, with Tiernach visiting Ireland as much as he can. He transferred out of Engine 3 three years ago, moving out to the east end of Queens, “closer to home and a bit quieter than it was in the city”, before he left the FDNY on medical grounds. “As of last year, I am officially done,” he tells me, leaving him time to spend with his family, visit Ireland, and share his stories.

“It is definitely therapeutic to talk about it, and definitely don’t want to keep it bottled up,” he says. “I have plenty to tell and can go on for hours about what happened on 9/11, and. I would love to share my experience. The next time I am in Ireland, I would love to share my story with any fire service. That would be an honour for me.”

If you would like to arrange for Tiernach to talk at a station about his time in the FDNY, contact the editor for details of his next visit.

North Lauderdale Fire Rescue Department, Florida

International station profile

Battalion Leader and Chief of Emergency Medical Services Bill McGrath talks to Adam Hyland about life as a Firefighter/Paramedic in this small city in south Florida

The St Patrick’s Day Parade hosted guests from the North Lauderdale Fire Rescue (NLFR) this year. Along with many from the neigboring cities of Plantation and Margate, NLFR enjoyed the hospitalitiy of the Dublin Fire Brigade, which Battalion Leader Bill McGrath describes as “unbelievably great”.

North Lauderdale is a small city in south Florida, populated by less than 50,000. Its Fire Rescue Department has 45 full-time personnel working across three stations. The city lies within Broward County, which has 16 fire departments and around 90 fire stations; crews can be called out to any incident within this larger area.

“The way our county works,” Bill says, “is that we have a Closest Unit Response, so it doesn’t matter which department you work for, if your unit is closest to an incident, you go. We all have the same dispatch too, which makes it easier. It is fairly unique, and while it is not a perfect system, it does allow each city to have its own designated fire department.”

Similar to the DFB, personnel are trained as both firefighters and paramedics. With rescue units and ambulances, Broward County also has specialist teams such as HazMat, water rescue, and two helicopters.

This makes for a lot of county call outs (around 250,000 annually), but the majority are EMS calls, rather than fire.

“We tend not to get too many big fires because the threat of hurricanes means we have very stringent building safety regulations. We have them, of course, but not as many as other areas such as New York, Boston or even Fort Lauderdale,” Bill says. “There is a relatively large population, but apart from single home fires, there is not a large number of big fires, because of that building construction.”

The second reason is the population of the city and county.

“South Florida has a lot of elderly people and retirees, and there is a big focus on their patient care, and the majority of what we do is medical. Our budget is funded quite a bit by EMS,” Bill says. “Our part of Florida is very advanced in terms of facilities, with three trauma centres and eight stroke centres.”

Diversity and geography

The diversity and surrounding geography provides many challenges.

“We have everything, our city is very diverse. There are a lot of family homes, with a lot of children, so there are a lot of child emergencies, and South Florida has a lot of water – it is surrounded by canals, it’s got the ocean, everybody has a pool – so water plays a part in many incidents we attend.”

The city has a diverse population, with a large number of people from Jamaica and Haiti.

“We are unique in our county in that there are people coming here from all over the country and beyond, so we have multiple languages,” Bill says.

“We have people in the fire department who speak creole, or Spanish, so sometimes there can be communication challenges, but it is important that the personnel in the department reflects the community.”

Apart from many EMS calls, a challenge for NLFR is the hot south Florida climate, which Bill says can reach over 110 degrees farenheit.

“Our firefighters can get very hot, very quickly, and overheating is a real danger, even without a fire,” he says. “We need a lot of hydration for our own safety.”

With the fire and ambulance services, NLFR also plays an import part in their community, including awareness campaigns and programs for schoolchildren, such as their Fire Explorer program.

“We bring schoolchildren aged between 14 and 18 to our stations twice a month, where we do training with them,” Bill tells me. “They learn how to be a firefighter, and they are even involved in competitions against other schools. We then look to them first when we are hiring, and train them to be full-time firefighters. They sign up from school, and we provide a career path for them.

Survival training

“We also do a lot of CPR training, with a big focus on survival, and people being able to perform CPR. All of our city employees are trained in CPR,” Bill tells me. “We also have a Stop the Bleed campaign, which teaches people how to apply tourniquets and basic first aid,” he adds. “Unfortunately, that has become a necessity with the number of violent incidents and tragedies we have seen recently, such as the Parkland shootings (in which 17 students and teachers were victims of a mass shooting in February, 2018), and the Fort Lauderdale airport shootings in 2017 (in which five people were killed), both of which we had to respond to.

“All of our personnel now have to carry bulletproof vests and Kevlar helmets,” he tells me. “If we have an active shooting to attend to, we put on our bulletproof clothing and go in with the police. We are not armed, and our job is to evacuate victims, while the police protect us.

“It’s definitely something that firefighters did not sign up for, but unfortunately it is part of our job now. We can’t wait outside when a shooting happens while the police try to clear it, because unfortunately people will die from their wounds. We need to go in, so we don our protective gear and go in.

“We train with the police in order to do this as well as we can, but unfortunately it has become pretty common, it’s just the way it is now. Everybody expects it.”

Bill tells me that there are some great sides to the job too. “The most obvious positive is the personnel. We have fantastic firefighters and paramedics, and because we are small, we are very tight-knit, and we do everything together, in and out of work.

“We are a real community,” Bill adds, “and the fact that 13 of the 16 departments in our county are in the same union means that we are united as one.”

He thinks well of Fire Chief Rodney Turpel, who has been with the service for 30 years.

“He is a huge proponent of ours,” Bill says. “A lot of people want to go and work with a bigger department, but they stay because of the personnel and the Fire Chief. Plus, it’s also a great place to live and work.”

Admiring the DFB

North Lauderdale Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Bill McGrath presents a gift to CFO Dennis Keeley ahead of the St Patrick’s Day Parade

Having visited the OBI and the DFB Museum on his Ireland visit, Bill is keen to talk about his department’s museum, which he says was established by Fire Chief Turpel.

“Younger people weren’t necessarily realising the sacrifices older firefighters made, so he wanted to make sure that was kept. To treat firefighters with respect.”

“Our department only started in 1973, so we are still a pretty young fire department, but the county has been operating for many years and the museum was Chief Turpel’s own personal project,” Bill says. “He reached out to a lot of older retirees, got hold of a lot of older pictures, and developed the museum. We have a lot of people who will come by and take a look at the books and pictures depicting old personnel, old fires, so it is a good response. He wanted to make sure the younger generation appreciate the history of the fire service, especially our fire service, which seemed to be losing touch a little bit.

For Bill, this is important, and he wants his department to learn from the DFB when it comes to forming generational links and connections with the history of firefighting in Broward County.

“I saw the DFB Museum, and loved it. You have a lot more history than we do, but even talking to DFB personnel, they told us so much from the history of the DFB, and we are trying to do the same thing, to instil that pride, that ownership of the history and the people who came before us.

“You have a lot of personal history too, with generations of the same family being part of the DFB, and that is something we would love to replicate.”

“We have a long way to go to match the DFB, but we have the right people.”

Southampton FD, New York

International Profile

Matt Shimkus of the Southampton Fire Department talks to Adam Hyland about life as a volunteer firefighter in this beautiful part of Long Island

Last March, firefighters from the village of Southampton on New York’s Long Island journeyed to Ireland, to participate in the St Patrick’s Day Parade alongside the Dublin Fire Brigade.

One volunteer firefighter was Matt Shimkus. “Last year was awesome,” he says. “It’s a beautiful country, the hospitality was amazing, the welcome we got from the Dublin Fire Brigade was great. Everybody we met and talked to was interested in knowing where we were from and what we do.”

Southampton FD‘s volunteer members give their spare time, ensuring this affluent area is covered in case of fires and emergency situations.

Established in 1881, the department has four stations, 145 volunteers, three chiefs, 15 officers, and five companies — Agawam Engine, Agawam Hose, Southampton Hose, Fire Police and Hook & Ladder – and covers the village of Southampton and outlying districts. A Rescue Squad, Water Rescue squad and Rapid Intervention team are specialties within the department. Owned and funded by the village of Southampton, they respond to 1,100 calls per year on average.

“We live in a great spot, and we work together well as a team to do what we do for the people we serve.”

Being a member

When not firefighting, Matt is a teacher, but as he says, “we have a wide gamut of volunteers”. This includes police officers, plumbers, business owners, contractors, landscapers and more. They sacrifice time, responding to emergency calls day and night.

“Everybody has their own commitments and has different amounts of time to give, and others are more able to undertake ongoing training to develop different skills,” Matt says.

A volunteer department where everybody has day jobs means response protocol is different than the DFB.

“Every member has a pager, and when a call comes in through the normal 911 dispatch, whoever is able to go responds,” Matt says. “We have several members who have a lot of flexibility and are able to respond from their jobs.

“The response protocol is usually that we head to the station and respond from there, but we also all carry our equipment with us, so if we can’t make it to the station on time, or if we are in the area, we can also make our way to the scene. But the main aim is to get the truck out of the house and respond as a team.”

Matt with Dan Fynes at the St Patrick’s Day Parade 2018

Challenges

The area covered by the department includes commercial and residential areas, with many large, valuable estates , which Matt says “can present challenges in themselves”.

The summer months bring great challenges due to location of Southampton and population growth.

“The response time for leaving work, getting to the fire house, getting the truck out and responding to the fire when the population has suddenly multiplied, can certainly be more challenging than at other times of the year.

“Because of our location, we see more emergency calls related to the water in the summer, as we cover Shinnecock Bay, and respond to emergencies on the beaches, but then the warmer weather can also result in brush fires, so we cover those events too.

“As a result, no two days are ever the same, but we do a lot of training and drills so that we are ready for whatever we encounter, it’s just a matter of being prepared for any eventuality.”

Successful response isn’t possible without cooperation with other area departments.

“Most of the time when we respond to a call, we will call in a neighbouring department to assist,” Matt says. “They may also go to our fire house while we are out at a fire, so that they can respond if there is another call out. There is a lot of teamwork and collaboration between us. We do the same for them, so we call them, they call us, and we all work well together.”

“We are never satisfied with doing a good job, we are constantly asking how we can do it better, how we can do the best job possible for our community.”

Community

Southampton Fire Department’s Juniors program is notable. Local youths get involved, helping foster the spirit of volunteering. In 2003, Matt was Captain for the first year before Juniors took on running themselves.

“In the Junior program, local children aged 12 to 18 can participate and take part in firefighting and emergency roles through drills and training,” Matt says. “They are structured just like one of our companies – they have their officers, they run their own meetings, and they have their drills similar to ours, using the same equipment. It’s obviously on a smaller scale, but they are still a very useful part of the community, and really learn what is needed for firefighting. Then hopefully when they turn 18, they might consider joining our department. There are about eight members of our department now who were Juniors.”

Community makes the Southampton FD effective, and why many locals volunteer their time to maintain village safety.

“It sounds cliched but we truly are family here,” Matt says.

“Who you are, where you come from, what you do, doesn’t really matter, we know we can’t do our job without the guys standing beside us.”

Given they were thrilled to partake in the St Patrick’s Day Parade last year, it’s no surprise there’s half a dozen Irishmen in the department, with both year-round and seasonal availability. They will be accepting the DFB’s invitation to return this year.

“We will be coming back for St Patrick’s Day again, with 15 to 20 volunteers coming over to be part of the parade,” Matt says. “We are looking forward to it. Dublin is a great city, everybody is so kind, and I am sure it will be awesome again.”

That invitation, Matt says, will soon work both ways. “We have extended an invitation to DFB to come out to Southampton for our 4 July celebrations. I’m working closely with Dan Fynes to make that happen, and all of us at Southampton FD are working on the plans to welcome them over.”

It may be busy, but the Hamptons on the Fourth of July will be an experience.