The crew of C Watch in North Strand take time out to talk to Adam Hyland about the comings and goings at their station.
There was a buzz around North Strand fire station when I went to visit C Watch on a sunny July day. Acting Assistant Chief John Keogh and Third Officer Brendan McNicholas had both come to the station and were talking to S/O Ronan Magee and D/O Noel Cunningham, preparing to give a send-off to FF/P and former Dublin GAA star Gerry Hargan after his 34 years of service with the DFB.
Other FF/Ps were bustling around in anticipation, giving a sense that everybody here has a deep respect for the senior members, and for all the crew.
North Strand is an old station, built in the early 1970s to replace Buckingham Street and has hardly changed since then, and while senior members have served here for many years, the demographic at C Watch is changing, with a lot of fresh blood introduced. That’s noticeable when the crew and other visiting FF/Ps gather to bid a fond farewell to Gerry.
S/O Ronan Magee, who has been with North Strand C Watch for four years following many more as S/O across many stations and watches, agrees.
“We are fortunate to have a crew with a varied range of service and experience,” he tells me. “Unfortunately, in the recent past we have lost some very senior members of the crew through retirement, and this has been a significant loss to both the watch and to the DFB. Newer staff have brought with them a broad skillset acquired from recruit training. This technical knowledge has enabled them to develop aptitudes in firefighting that can only be cultivated with practical experience. It takes time for newer staff to get into the culture of the station, but I find more experienced staff are always helpful in getting them familiar with how things work.”
As a result, the camaraderie is very good, and a lot of that is down to the crew being able to work well together and share experiences in a collaborative and informative manner. This casual engagement provides a platform for tacit information sharing, which S/O Magee tells me is an area he is very interested in and is a well studied means of learning. “Storytelling – anecdotal storytelling – about incidents or call outs, is a very worthwhile way to pass on information, and thus aid learning,” he says. “So, whilst camaraderie and teamwork are core values we are proud of, they serve another function in the educational field, even if the crew might not realise it.”
Teamwork is a necessity in a station whose operational district covers a wide geographical area reaching from the north inner city to Howth and the southern borders of north county Dublin, and the North Strand crews also works closely with its neighbouring Delta District crew based in Kilbarrack Fire Station.
C Watch’s 15-strong crew is equipped with two water tenders, an ambulance and the Tunnel Response vehicle.
“The Tunnel Response vehicle definitely brings in extra responsibility for the station,” S/O Magee tells me, “and the area we cover includes sites that present significant risks. The Port Tunnel is one, but there is also Dublin Port, Croke Park, and the 3 Arena to name a few. We dedicate a significant portion of training time preparing to deal with incidents at these locations.
“We conduct familiarization visits to Croke Park in advance of major events. For the Port Tunnel, we train in a cooperative manner with organisations that oversee the operation of the tunnel and conduct frequent exercises to ensure we are prepared for any emergencies. Almost all crew members are trained up to turn out on the tunnel response vehicle, whilst a couple of the more recent recruits are awaiting training to bring them up to speed.
“We also spend a significant amount of time training and preparing for incidents at Dublin Port. The effective management of such incidents requires a specific skillset that includes specialist knowledge of its unique water distribution systems and the dedicated appliances assigned to deal with incidents there.
“When it comes to operational readiness,” he adds, “we have to pay tribute to the C Watch crew for their enthusiasm in training and their willingness to keep themselves up to date with new and existing skills. The risk profile of the area provides challenges in maintaining operational readiness, but my fellow officers and firefighters make it an enjoyable station to work in.”
D/O Noel Cunningham talks about the same challenges and risk areas around the station’s location.
“Dublin Port is definitely the biggest risk for us,” he agrees. “We have oil and chemical plants, so if anything goes wrong, we need to be prepared to
deal with that. We have to be ready for any incident so we have pre-designated routines.”
As mentioned by CFO Dennis Keeley in our last issue, the DFB are looking into the possibility of building a new station at North Strand, but this may take time, and for now C Watch works well with the current facilities.
“We are in a fluid position at the moment because we don’t yet know what will happen regarding a new station,” D/O Cunningham says, “so we have to adapt to that. We don’t have training facilities here, but we are very near the OBI, so we can avail of a lot of their facilities.”
He also comments on the fact that these are not the only changes the station is seeing, reflecting on the demographics of the personnel too. “There have been a lot of younger recruits coming into this station as older firefighters retire, so the demographic has definitely changed,” he tells me, “and that represents its own challenges, because they don’t have that on the ground experience, but we compensate for that by conducting a lot of training exercises, while we also transfer them up to Kilbarrack to get them skilled up there.
“At the end of the day though, we are here to serve the people of Dublin, like every other DFB member, and C Watch at North Strand do it very well.”
Talking to some of the younger crew members after the presentation to Gerry Hargan, it is obvious that they get on very well, and are fully appreciative of the fact that they are able to avail of the experience of more senior members.
“We are all sad to see Gerry Hargan go,” FF/Ps Enda McKenna, Pat Trapp and Tom Larkin tell me, “and we’ve lost other senior men over the last few years – a former colleague, Jim Byrne, passed away last year just after retirement, which was very sad – so the watch is changing with a lot of new blood coming in, but it is all very positive, the atmosphere is always good.
“We have a great crew, and we have a very good reputation. It’s a great place to work.”