Station Profile C Watch Rathfarnham

The crew of C Watch Rathfarnham talk about a close-knit unit that extends into the community.

Under lockdown, it was unfortunately not possible to visit Rathfarnham Station, so this time around we tried something different and spoke via Zoom and phone with S/O Ken Whelan and the crew at No.8.

It is immediately evident that this is a group of colleagues who enjoy working with each other, and are more than happy to be based at this one pump station where an atmosphere of positive encouragement pervades, enabling each member to hone their skills and pursue further development.

“I’m very proud to be S/O on C Watch since 2016,” says Ken, who is now in his 27th year with DFB. “We operate a very positive environment with an emphasis on mentoring the crew through myself and the senior firefighters, ensuring a high level of operational readiness.

“They are a very committed, tight-knit group who have a very professional attitude to their work and serving the end user: the public. We really enjoy the unique challenges we face on a regular basis,” S/O Whelan tells me, “you get great job satisfaction from the knowledge that you have given 100%, and all of the crew do that every day.”


Despite several members being in the job just a few years, the ten FF/Ps on C Watch have a broad range of experience, from senior FF/Ps Brian Tracey and Philip Evans, who have been here for almost 20 years, down to the latest recruit, Anthony O’Meara, who joined in November 2020.

As part of Alpha District, they cover a wide area and can expect to be called out to anything from industrial and domestic fires to RTCs, with several large shopping centres, industrial estates, apartment complexes, suburban areas and the M50 close by.

“As a one pump station, every incident we attend, you are first on the scene,” S/O Whelan tells me, “so it’s terrific experience to work here. You do 50/50 between fire engine and ambulance, so it’s a great place to learn, a springboard to become experienced and bring that forward in your career.”

The station’s proximity to the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains mean they are also called on to tackle wildfires. “Wildfire training is of particular interest to us because of our proximity to the areas affected on the southside,” S/O Whelan says. “We have new equipment available to us to respond to wildfires, such as drones. It’s an area of firefighting we are excited to be a part of.”

As each member of the crew joins the Zoom call, their camaraderie is evident, with the usual banter and jokes showing that they genuinely get along.

“The whole dynamic is very good,” S/O Whelan agrees. “At any one time we have myself and seven other firefighters on duty, so we depend on one another, and that is why a positive culture is of vital importance. They get to start on the right foot in terms of attitude and confidence and that sets them up for their career.

“Of course, when the bells go off and we go out, we are always operationally ready, and when we get on the scene, we can apply our training and use our teamwork and camaraderie to do our job, which is to serve the public effectively. Teamwork makes the dream work, as they say.”

As much as he enjoys his time at C Watch Rathfarnham, S/O Whelan will soon be leaving to take up a post as D/O. “I’ll be delighted to see the back of them!” he jokes. “No, I am very proud to have been S/O for this crew. It was my first station as an S/O and I feel privileged that I was given a permanent station. I have enjoyed every bit of it. You learn from every incident you go to if you go in with the correct attitude and application, and you can build on that as an individual, as a firefighter, as an officer and as a team.”

As well as those who joined the Zoom call, S/O Whelan also asked that I contact the crew members not on duty that day. “I was keen for all of them to give their input, just as they do every day on the job,” he says.

Senior man FF/AP Brian Tracey also tells me about the mix of experience within the crew.


“Myself and Phil are the old heads here,” he says, “but I don’t feel like a senior man because I still feel excited about coming into work, looking forward to every day.” He adds: “I have never worked with a crew that is so on the ball, who know each other’s strong points so well.”

FF/AP Tracey agrees with S/O Whelan that a one pump station is a great place to learn your trade. “I think everybody should have to serve in a one-pump station at some stage,” he says. “You are involved in every aspect of what is going on. Also, I think everyone who comes into C Watch here feels like part of a family and that is all you can ask for in a job.”

As the other senior member of the crew, FF/P Philip Evans has moved across several stations, but is happy to now be settled at No.8. “When I got to Rathfarnham I said, you know what, this isn’t a bad spot to stay,” he says.

Other members of the crew are also quick to point to the very positive atmosphere at No.8, as well as the benefits of working at a one pump station.

“You get great experience on a day-to-day basis,” FF/P John McGrane, who has been at Rathfarnham for just over a year, tells me. “I love the togetherness of a smaller station. I have to say this is one of the best crews I could imagine in terms of positive experiences.”

FF/P David Reilly is also relatively new to C Watch here, having joined in 2016 but moved from Tallaght just before the first lockdown and says: “I was just getting adjusted to the crew when the pandemic started, but I love it. The crew is very close-knit.”

FF Gary Halpin, cousin of the late Ian “Frodo” McCormack, is also in his first years here, having joined C Watch at the end of 2018, and he too praises the experience of working at a one pump station.

“I’m enjoying it here,” he tells me. “In such a small crew there is nobody I haven’t been on the ambulance with, and you get to know people very well as a result. Nobody feels jaded because there is a very enthusiastic atmosphere. The best thing to say is that it doesn’t feel like work.”

FF/P Barry O’Reilly joined DFB in 2016, moving to No.8 six months later, and he too enjoys the experience.

“Having so much time on the ambulance is a major advantage in terms of experience and expertise,” he says. “I didn’t think I would be that interested in the ambulance side until I started, but it is something I love. You are calling the shots yourself.”

Newest member FF/P Anthony O’Meara, who joined in November 2020, also emphasises how easy it was to fit in.

“I was nervous at the start because you don’t know how you are going to fit in with such a tight-knit team, but straight away the lads made me feel at ease,” he tells me. “They were very accommodating and helped me through the first period, with a bit of slagging of course. I really feel like I have hit the ground running.”

FF/P Rob Mullervy, who has been with C Watch for seven years, agrees. “I know I have my S/O sitting beside me but I am honestly very happy here,” he tells me.

He is also keen to stress the positive atmosphere at the station. “You never dread coming into work here,” he says. “It is a very exciting job anyway, but the job is made so much easier when you have a great crew.”

FF/P Mark Ryan, who has been here since May of last year, joins the conversation: “There is great camaraderie. It’s a great station and Watch to be on because you get so much experience working on the ambulance as well. We are like a family here, but without any of the drama.”

FF/P Ian Nugent, who grew up around the corner from the station, joins the call. He is on mess duty, which leaves him open to a lot of slagging, as FF/P Ryan says the crew need to “leave their taste buds at the door”.

“You could be Gordon Ramsay and they still wouldn’t be happy,” he replies. “But seriously, I get on great with everyone. Morale is very good. There is a brilliant community spirit here, and we get a lot of messages from people we have helped, a lot of thank you cards and messages of support”.



The role of DFB within the community is something S/O Whelan stresses is very important. “Having worked across the watches and districts, I am taken aback by the well wishes we receive,” he says. “It is a huge morale boost to the crew to see their work is acknowledged.”

The major community work is done through the hugely successful annual Open Day that in recent years has seen thousands of people visit the station, and S/O Whelan is keen for me to talk to FF/Ps Tracey and Evans about this.

Every year since 2015 it has raised much-needed funds for local charities, amounting to more than )30,000 in total. It was the brainchild of senior members of the crew, after a local woman called Alison Behan, aka “Cake Boss”, asked if she could help raise money for the station through a coffee morning. Instead, the Open Day idea was formed, with the nearby Dublin and Wicklow Mountain Rescue team chosen as the first beneficiaries, and from there the event has grown.

“We pick smaller charities because they are operating on a shoestring budget, and we know the money is going directly to where it is needed,” FF/P Evans tells me.

FF/AP Tracey adds that the Open Day has really helped form a community spirit. “We pulled back the curtain on what we do, because the station has big gates and big doors, and you don’t get to see inside at what life is like, so we opened the doors and it really made a difference.”

He too recalls how the idea for the Open Day began. “We were worried it might be a tough PR exercise to run, so we planned to keep it low key so we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves,” he admits. As luck would have it, the job itself provided some valuable publicity ahead of the event.

“A week beforehand, we were finalising the details and we heard screaming coming from the forecourt,” FF/AP Tracey says. “When we ran down, we found a woman named Siobhan giving birth to her child in a Ford Mondeo. We helped deliver the baby, called Sky, and when we opened for the Open Day, Siobhan was the first person through the doors as our guest of honour.

“The following year, Sky was the guest of honour, and we unveiled her birth cert in the muster area, where it remains to this day, with her place of birth saying ‘Forecourt, Nutgrove Fire Station’.”

Despite it not going ahead this year, community interest is still very high, and FF/AP Tracey says the station is inundated with messages from community groups asking if they can visit when lockdown is over.

“Once it is viable, we will give them all the time we can because we know how important it is to keep close ties with the community,” he says. Those close ties are mirrored within the crew of C Watch Rathfarnham, and even though we spoke over Zoom and phone, their sense of camaraderie and commitment to serving their community is tangible. I look forward to one day being able to visit them in person.

Retired Member Profile James “Buzzer” Leigh

Adam Hyland talks to Buzzer about his career, retirement, and living life to the full.

Retired Sub Officer James “Buzzer” Leigh describes the idyllic setting of his home in Carne, Co Wexford as we speak on the phone. His home in the Canary Islands, which he bought in 2004, is just as idyllic, by the sounds of it, but after hearing about his long and colourful career in DFB, the impression is that he is more than happy to take a step back now and enjoy the fruits of his labour.

With his father serving in DFB until just before he himself joined, Buzzer grew up very familiar with the life of a firefighter, and was well known to his father’s colleagues.

It may have seemed inevitable, but he didn’t originally want to follow in his father’s footsteps. “I wanted to be a chef,” he says, “but I couldn’t get into the College of Commerce, so I did everything from working for CIE to security.”

During the 1970s and into the 1980s Buzzer also served in the FCA’s 6th Field Military Police at the height of the Troubles and carried the battalion’s flag in the St Patrick’s Day Parade for ten years.

After landing a job with Clery’s, he joined DFB at the second attempt in 1978, putting this partly down to his experience in the FCA and knowing how to carry himself at interview. After training in Kilbarrack, he went to B Watch Tara Street to learn the ropes.

Known initially as Junior Buzzer, he lost the “Junior” tag after an ambulance call out with Willie Bermingham, who dropped the Junior part for the first time.

Between 1981 and 1988, Buzzer was also the union rep for Tara Street HQ and up to five sub-stations, in what he describes as “a very strange time” and enjoyed an ongoing back and forth with the then-spokesperson for Dublin Corporation via newspaper letter pages.

He moved out to the then-new station at Blanchardstown, but after two years, was called into the office and told he was moving back to Tara Street. “I asked what I had done wrong, and they said ‘nothing, you’ve been promoted!’” he tells me.

After two years as Sub Officer on A Watch, he then moved to C Watch Dun Laoghaire after the amalgamation in 1994, and continued to enjoy the hands-on nature of the job. “Over my 19 years as a Sub Officer, I always wanted to go into the fires with my crew,” he says, “because I always felt worried waiting for them to come out. I know that sounds irrational, but when you live as a family, you act and react as a family.”

In 1999 he moved to North Strand, where he remained until his retirement in 2009. In all that time, he always went by the Buzzer nickname, regardless of his rank or seniority.

“People did say to me that as a Sub Officer I should be called Sub Officer Leigh, or at least James or Jim,” he says, “but I always thought that if we were at an incident and there were ten units on the scene, there could be five Jims there, but there would only be one Buzzer, so you knew when you were being called.”

For Buzzer, every station he worked at had its own unique personality, and he says he learned something everywhere he went from different people with different characters and skillsets, and from the experiences he had.

“I remember one night in Tara Street getting a call from the Harbourmaster telling me there was a boat in distress coming into the Port,” he tells me. “That wasn’t so bad, but then he went on to say it was carrying chemicals, and these chemicals were not supposed to come into contact with water, so I knew that would be an interesting night.”

He recounts one story in which he was seriously injured while working in North Strand. “While we were dealing with a diesel tank on fire on a CIE bus, the back wheel exploded and sent myself and my colleague Ken flying across the road. We ended up in hospital because we were hit by shards of metal, and I remember saying to Ken that if only he was a little bit taller, I would have escaped undamaged, because he had been standing in front of me, but because he was so short, I got the top end of the blast.”

Other incidents are also recalled with a laugh. “We did an ambulance case one time involving a woman who was giving birth at home,” he tells me. “We were busy delivering the baby when the priest came in and saw what was going on with the baby and mother. We delivered the baby and asked the priest if he would mind holding it while we cleaned the woman up. The poor man didn’t know what to do with the baby.”

This delivery was one of nine Buzzer was involved in during his career. “That got me mentioned in the paper one time,” he tells me. “I was standing outside the Rotunda watching the Women’s Mini Marathon, waiting for my wife to run past, when a reporter came up and interviewed me. When I told him I was a firefighter, he said ‘oh you must have delivered a few babies in your time’. I told him I had delivered nine, and he asked me who I was there for. Next day it was in the paper: ‘Man who delivered nine babies cheers on his 94-year-old mother in the Mini Marathon’. I don’t know where they got that from, but the wife wasn’t best pleased.”

When asked what he thinks was the best part of working in DFB, Buzzer says it is “definitely the camaraderie”. He continues: “Even now in my retirement, modern technology means I am able to stay in touch with everybody. Even if I am out in the Canary Islands, I am just a call or message away.”

Anybody who follows Buzzer on social media can attest to his very active presence that includes being an online archive of firefighter material, posting items of interest to DFB members and other emergency services, sharing advice and keeping in touch with a huge number of people.

“I keep very active on social media,” he says. “For example, every morning I have around 25 people all over the world I wish a Happy Birthday to, and put up a night scene from Ireland every night, so I am active online all day. You could say my page is collective. Eclectic is another word for it.”

Buzzer’s posts about DFB members past and present are of particular interest, and he sees this as a way of keeping context and background for the organisation.

“It’s very important to keep a record,” he says. “You can hear names of DFB members but people might not be able to put a face to them. I have thousands of photographs here and I try to match them up to the people in question to keep that record of who people were and are.

“There’s no point in putting up a mention of someone and to have people not know who they are, but if you can put up an image and some context, they can learn about other members, and it can jog their memories about people they worked with. It’s about keeping that community together.

“I do try to focus on DFB and fire service material, but I put up anything of interest to me. You can put together a good community of emergency services events and activities. It used to take me ten minutes in the morning, but at this stage it is taking an hour and a half to put up everything I want.

“I invite anybody to have a look at my Facebook page. It’s important to have a shared community of resources like that, especially when your former colleagues may be scattered to the four winds.”

On the subject of leaving the job, Buzzer is very happy to say he is content to now be enjoying
his retirement.

“It is great that retired members can still be involved through social meetings, although obviously not at the moment, but I am glad that I am near enough to be able to see what is going on within the job, but far enough away in Carne and the Canary Islands, that I can step back and lead my own life,” he tells me.

The big message is not to take life seriously. If you start taking your work home with you, it’s time to retire. When you retire, you have another life ahead of you, you are no longer tied to DFB. You worked there, you had mates there, you should keep in touch with them, but think of your own life, think of your family. I retired more than 12 years ago and I have a whole new life that I enjoy.”

Operational Management

District Officer Mario Lodola talks to Adam Hyland to provide an insight into the role and responsibilities of the DFB Mobilisation Officer.

The role of Mobilisation Officer, or “Mobi” as the position is colloquially known, has a long and proud tradition within Dublin Fire Brigade. Initially established more than 50 years ago, it is the role of the Senior Operational District Officer on each Watch and involves planning and overseeing the effective and efficient management of the delivery of a wide range of services to the public on a day-to-day basis.

“When people outside of Dublin Fire Brigade hear of the Mobilisation Officer, they might think of somebody who gets things moving, and to some extent this is true,” D/O and Mobilisation Officer with C Watch Mario Lodola tells me.

“The role has many responsibilities, but the primary one is the daily management of all operational Brigade resources, and to ensure DFB is maintained in a state of operational readiness at all times. I manage operational personnel and utilise available resources to ensure adequate Fire and EMS cover is maintained across the city and county at all times.

“The Mobi also provides leadership and sets the standard across the Watch, providing a command and coordinating role that ensures each fire station across the city is fully crewed at all times.” He adds: “This sometimes requires overtime to fill these positions, and as you can imagine, this can make you very popular or unpopular!”

Working not just within our own organisation but with other emergency and essential services including An Garda Siochána, Coastguard, HSE and Civil Defence means regular inter-agency coordination/communications is often required, particularly during protracted and larger incidents, or extreme and severe weather events.

“We also have a commitment to the provision of Marine Emergency Response in the event of a fire or other emergency on a vessel at sea, when a request for assistance may be received from the Coastguard,” D/O Lodola tells me. “This requires DFB to provide significant resources including firefighters and paramedics, and my responsibility is to coordinate activities and ensure this happens in a timely manner and as seamlessly as possible.”

At large scale incidents, specialist equipment and other resources are often requested to attend by Incident Commanders and can be in use for a considerable time, and this can put undue strain or pressure on the system.

“My role is to ensure this does not have a disproportionate impact or deplete our ability to respond to other incidents in our functional area,” D/O Lodola says. “Redeploying resources to different stations around the city to ensure resilience is maintained is a crucial element of that.”


Ensuring the provision of all DFB services requires an extensive amount of skill and experience in frontline activity, planning and management, something D/O Lodola’s career to date has provided.

Having served with the Irish Defence Forces for eight years, including seeing overseas service in Lebanon in 1982/83, he joined the fire service in 1987 and spent seven years with Dun Laoghaire Fire Brigade before they amalgamated with DFB in 1994.

“During this time, I was seconded to GOAL and had the opportunity to respond to Congo/Rwanda during the humanitarian crisis in 1994,” he tells me. “This gave me great insight and experience dealing with international agencies and organisations in often very difficult conditions.”

He transferred to B watch North Strand in 1994, continuing as a firefighter for seven years until promoted to Sub Officer in 2001 and subsequently Station Officer. Initially stationed on A Watch Phibsborough, he floated in fire stations across the city before settling in C Watch Kilbarrack, and “worked with a great team for five years”.

During this time, he also completed a degree in Local Government and got involved with many different training courses and projects, both as instructor and student, to further his expertise and experience.

“This included the development of procedures for incidents in Dublin Port Tunnel,” D/O Lodola tells me, “that initially involved attending an instructor training course with colleagues in Switzerland and rolling out training for Brigade personnel.” More recently, he led the development and delivery of the training programme for Station officers.

2009 brought promotion to D/O and “six enjoyable years on D Watch HQ”, with a short period as Mobi, but D/O Lodola saw the opportunity for further development. “I had an interest in enhancing my knowledge and understanding of fire safety in buildings and completed a Post Graduate Fire Safety Diploma in Trinity College, and in 2015 I moved to Fire Prevention,” he says. “The work in Fire Prevention was different to Operations and required a different skillset, but was extremely interesting and it allowed me to apply the knowledge I had gained on the course in Trinity.

Some of the duties involved unannounced inspections of various types of premises, events and concerts, ensuring they complied with fire safety regulations and best practice. This also included nightclubs, public houses, nursing homes and hotels.

“The interaction between Fire Prevention and Operations has increased significantly in recent years and is to be welcomed,” D/O Lodola points out. “The staff in Fire Prevention are a great team, a pleasure to work with, and always on hand to assist if required.”


Two years later, D/O Lodola made an unusual move. “After two happy years in Fire Prevention I felt it was time to move on and wanted to move back to operations,” he tells me. “An opportunity arose, and I moved back as Mobilisation Officer on C watch. This was unusual at the time because it was the first time a District Officer had done this, but operations was always what I found the most enjoyable and challenging.”

This means that while it is a challenging role, D/O Lodola enjoys the role immensely, and the involvement with DFB members it brings. “One of the more enjoyable aspects of my job is interacting with staff across the Brigade on a daily basis,” he tells me. “I provide support, guidance and direction to operational officers and fire and ambulance crews. This could include a fire safety or a child welfare issue that the crew is unsure about, or the provision of restricted medications for our Paramedics. The one thing staff can always be sure about is they will get an immediate decision on any matter or clarification sought – even if sometimes the answer is not always what they want to hear!”

The Mobilisation Officer also needs to have a good working relationship with the Officers, and particularly D/Os on the Watch. “This ensures they maintain regular contact and seek clarification if they have concerns about a particular issue at District level, or at a complex operational incident,” D/O Lodola explains. “This is one of the reasons the Mobi is such an important cog in a very large and complex organisation, and is available to all staff 24/7.”

Also 24/7 is the need to keep the public and media informed of any developments or updates, whether they relate to an ongoing incident or a general enquiry about a previous incident, and dealing with media queries that can come in at any time of day or night is also part of the job.


Another major part of the role is working with the Eastern Regional Control Centre located at DFB HQ, which processes more than 150,000 999/112 emergency calls per year. Mobilising fire appliances in the Leinster region as well as Cavan and Monaghan, it also mobilises DFB’s EMS resources including the 21 frontline fire appliances, 14 ambulances, Advanced Paramedics and other specialist equipment based strategically around the city and county.

“This allows DFB to provide a first-class combined service to the public,” D/O Lodola says, “and requires a significant commitment from our ERCC staff. My role is to ensure this runs as efficiently as possible and address any day-to-day operational issues that may arise. From time to time our resources are also requested by other fire services in adjoining counties, and this again requires coordination to ensure adequate resources are deployed and allows a safe system of work for all concerned.”

As a Principle Response Agency, DFB plays a significant role in Major Emergency Management, and the Mobi has a number of key responsibilities if a Major Emergency is declared. Daily interaction occurs between the Mobi, senior management and many other sections of DFB.

“We have a large fleet of ambulances and fire engines that are maintained to a high standard, and this requires timely facilitation to ensure operational resources are not depleted significantly if vehicles or equipment require servicing or replacement,” D/O Lodola tells me.

“Unfortunately, from time to time some of our fire and ambulance crews do receive injuries or vehicles are damaged, and this has to be managed, recorded and investigated. The Mobi appoints a District Officer to investigate and make a recommendation on how to mitigate this in the future. Our staff attend very sad and difficult incidents too, and it is important they have an available resource like our Critical Incident Stress Team (CISM), so the Mobi, when alerted, also ensures this is provided and may require crews to stand down for a period of time.”


The past year has been a difficult year for DFB, but D/O Lodola is quick to praise his colleagues. “It presented significant operational challenges to all our staff and I have great respect and admiration for them,” he says. “The COVID-19 pandemic initially tested traditional thinking within the organisation, but our Officers and firefighters adapted and dealt professionally with providing reassurance to the public”. This often required working on fire appliances and ambulances in difficult conditions and turning up for work day and night even when safety concerns within the general population were heightened. To me, this was a true indication of their commitment and professionalism.

“The Brigade has a very rich tradition as an agile and problem-solving organisation. We faced many challenges across the organisation during the pandemic, and it is important post-COVID-19 to ensure that we rigorously assess our performance at all levels during this period in order to see if any lessons can be learned.”

Other challenges also lie ahead, D/O Lodola points out. These include the proposed Metrolink across the city, which will involve significant planning and consideration from Fire Prevention and Operations regarding fire safety, operating procedures and tactical training.

“The continued expansion of the city and county and the provision of a Fire/EMS response that the residents of Dublin have come to expect will need consideration in the future,” he adds. “People who previously worked in the city are now working from home, so it will be interesting to see how this will affect the city centre occupancy in the future.”


Having worked within the fire service for 34 years, D/O Lodola says that he has seen many changes within DFB through his various roles.

“One thing that always amazes me is the quality of the firefighters and Officers that come through the system,” he tells me. “The standard of education has increased significantly within the organisation, and this is to be welcomed. However, managing expectations with regard to promotion will be a challenge in the future. We are lucky to have staff who often operate in difficult environments on a daily basis in a way that is professional, committed and practical when dealing with people who are sometimes very distressed.

The Brigade has a new cadre of recently promoted District Officers coming through, and I am looking forward to getting to know them and giving them the benefit of any knowledge and experience I have gleaned. After all,” he adds, “some of them will be the Mobilisation Officers of the future!”

Stepping Up to the Challenge

FF/P Ray McMonagle talks to Adam Hyland about DFB involvement in the dance craze raising spirits during lockdown.

One of the more uplifting sights of the most recent phase of the pandemic has been the Jerusalema dance challenge that has gone viral across the globe. Originally hitting our shores when the Swiss police challenged their Irish counterparts to match their efforts, gardaí took on the task with gusto and produced an eye-catching video that showcased their commitment to community spirit, but DFB members were more than keen to join in, and were part of a routine that was aired on the Late Late Show in February. Though suggestions had been made within the DFB about doing their own version, the TV appearance proved to be a perfect way to take part.


“We had seen the Garda dance and it was certainly one of the best videos out there in terms of raising community spirits,” says FF/P Ray McMonagle. “It really showed what they were about in terms of community, the place they fill in Ireland, and they put their own spin on it with the Irish dancing and the horses that were the star of the show.

“There were a few leaks on social media showing Gardai dancing on rooftops, so we sort of felt something was coming down the road, and we were almost braced for it. There were a lot of people suggesting that maybe we should do our own version and there was some interest in the job. I started to get a lot of calls and texts about it, but without anyone really coming forward themselves to volunteer to take part.”

Management was approached and backing received, with the proviso that it must take place during volunteers’ free time, as the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and general day to day duties obviously meant resources were needed elsewhere.

That request was made on 2 February, with Ray tasked with gathering members happy to take part and show off their moves, but coincidentally, the very next day RTE got in touch asking DFB to be part of a multi-agency version of the dance to appear on the Late Late Show that Friday. Time was of the essence.

“That invite forced our hand, and to be honest it got us out of a hole to some degree because it meant we didn’t have to find enough people willing to take part to do our own version of the dance,” Ray tells me. “News of the invite came through on the Wednesday afternoon, so there were lots of calls and texts and lots of ‘I’d love to, but…’ conversations, and in the end we did find five people who were happy to do it. We actually had a few more than that, but could only take five, and for some the time restrictions ruled them out. One or two jumped at the chance while some had to be gently persuaded. I was delighted with the uptake we finally did get because, at first, I thought it would be nearly impossible to get the numbers with such short notice, and I ended up having to practice myself the night before we got the volunteers on board, just in case.

“You might ask why I didn’t put myself forward,” he adds. “I did consider it, but I thought back to my recruit class when for a while I got slagged because I was all right hand, right foot – I had absolutely no coordination, so I didn’t think I was up for it.

“By Wednesday night we had our group of participants – S/O Dave Connolly, and FF/Ps Alex Daly, Kevin Conroy, Nicola Sheil and Stephen Breen – but the routine was to be pre-recorded on the Thursday, so the volunteers didn’t have much time to practice, to watch the YouTube videos and get the choreography down, but they managed it.” There was an unexpected connection to DFB at RTE when it turned out the choreographer Stuart O’Connor, who also choreographed the Toy Show, was the son of the late Phibsborough D/O Seamus “Raff” O’Connor.


The first of four pre-recordings took place on Thursday 3 February at 6pm, with another filmed later that evening, with Alex, Kevin and Stephen taking part in the rooftop and plaza versions, while Friday saw a pre-recording at noon in the studio featuring Nicola, and another at 6pm featuring Dave. The results were viewed by millions across the country on Friday 4 February, with many more watching on YouTube after that, showing DFB’s willingness to contribute to community-led events that help brighten these dark days. As it turned out, after the pre-recordings, B Watch were on duty that night, meaning Nicola, Alex and Stephen were all in work watching it when it came on TV. The banter can only be imagined.


“As firefighters we are very community spirited and we like to get involved with what is going on in the community,” Ray says of the importance of taking part in such efforts. “We are seen as jovial at times, and we are always ready for a challenge, so we are always happy to take part in this kind of thing when we can. We are part of the community. Unfortunately, when some people see us, it is usually because it is one of the worst occasions in their life, whether it is a fire or an accident, so we want to show that there is another side to us. We want to give back to the community when we can.

“The dance has gone viral now, and everyone is trying their own version, but for us, it was a way of easing pressure for frontline workers – and that doesn’t just mean blue light workers – it includes all workers going out to work every day to provide services – it is a pressure relief, and gets the whole country involved. It meant a change in conversation, however briefly, from COVID to something more positive and uplifting.

Our members didn’t all perfect the moves or light up the stage,” Ray says, “but the thing about it is that it wasn’t about getting the moves down perfect, it was about taking part, enjoying a bit of fun. Something like this was needed to give a positive side to things and to boost morale.”

A Day of Remembrance

This year’s St Patrick’s Day remembrance of deceased DFB members was smaller but no less poignant.

A modern tradition on St Patrick’s Day is for serving, retired and visiting firefighters and officers to gather to remember and honour deceased colleagues. Normally, this takes place at No.3 station before DFB personnel make their way to O’Connell Street to start the annual parade, and as the COVID-19 pandemic meant there was no parade and no visiting firefighters this year, the remembrance of those colleagues who have passed away was instead held at the Training Centre in a small but dignified event.

CFO Dennis Keeley led the remembrance ceremony celebrating their legacies in the company of members from the DFB Sports and Social Club and the DFB Pipe Band, with the Irish flag hoisted to half-mast as the national anthem and the lament, The Sleeping Tune, were played.

In a speech posted on social media, CFO Keeley said: “Traditionally St Patrick’s Day has been a great time for Dublin Fire Brigade to re-engage with and thank family, friends and visiting colleagues, and all our partner organisations for their ongoing support.

“Today we gather to not only celebrate this St Patrick’s Day, but to remember and honour all our deceased members, those who have made such a valuable, indeed crucial, contribution to the safety of our society.

“Our prayers are also with their families. We remember them and salute them. These were extraordinary people that we honour here today. They set an example for us all. May their shining example inspire all of us in our own lives.”


Eugene O’Donoghue; Noel Cunningham; Joe Brennan; Paul Knowles; Gerry Sweeney; Michael Gray; Hugh Kenny; Seamus Fagan; Terry Potts; Adrian O’Grady; Brian Joseph McGeehan; Mark O’Brien; Mick Kelly; Mick Shore; Donal O’Hannigan; William Murphy; Pat McDonald; David McLoughlin; Joe McGrath; Tony Archbold; Joe Riordan; Dan Lehane; James Landy; Paul O’Brien; Danny Davern; John Delaney; John Pender; Patrick Kavanagh; Michael Savage; Leslie Naghten; Frank O’Keeffe; John Grogan; Malachy Ryan; Noel Monaghan; Paul Carey; Noel Kelly.

Training in Lockdown

Class 1/2020 have just completed their training under the most unusual circumstances. Course Director Tom Doolan tells Adam Hyland how hard work and discipline kept everybody safe.

In previous issues I have followed recruit training at the DFB Training Centre, but in the current pandemic, how the latest class has been prepared for service has seen dramatic but necessary changes and a monumental effort on the part of everybody at the OBI. I met with Course Director A/D/O Tom Doolan in July as the class neared the end of their training, and after going through sanitising and temperature checks, was shown around the grounds to witness just how this class of 54 were trained in complete safety under strict isolation guidelines. The spreading out of lockers, changing rooms and classrooms, and the separation of the group into syndicates of six who worked and ate together without ever mixing with other syndicates immediately brought home the amount of work done to ensure recruit and instructor safety, and the challenges the Training Centre faced in preparing this class for a career in the DFB. In itself, a class of 54 (48 from Dublin and several retained firefighters from surrounding counties, ranging from 21 to 46, plus nine instructors) is large and presents its own challenges. “It is a very broad group,” Course Director Doolan tells me.

“We have eight females included, and because of the COVID-19 plans in place, we actually have an all-female syndicate of six for the first time, as far as I am aware. Due to the requirement to isolate each syndicate in their own locker room we had to create an all-female syndicate.” With COVID-19 at its peak in April, the fact that training even went ahead is amazing, and testament to the work of the OBI staff, who were themselves unsure whether the course could go ahead.


“The class started on 27 April, two weeks before we planned to, to give us two weeks of breathing space if we had any issues or if we needed to pull back or catch up on any training that may have been missed due to the disease,” Course Director Doolan says.

“We were right in the middle of COVID-19 and cases were going up, so the reality was that we were going week by week. We didn’t know how far we would get, but we had planned to get through the whole training programme. “There was uncertainty amongst the recruits and among senior management, because there are obvious risks to running training courses during a pandemic. So, the recruits got a bit of a surprise when training did go ahead, and especially when they heard it was brought forward by two weeks.” Given the seriousness of the situation, the class was immediately faced with the strict guidelines necessary to undergo training in safety, on what must have been an unusual first day. “From the minute they came in here they were cordoned off from each other into their groups or pods,” Course Director Doolan tells me.

“We planned out our syndicates of six in advance and allocated where they were going to be lockered, where they were going to sit in classrooms, and the morning they arrived they were lined up outside, two metres apart, and brought in one by one, brought through COVID checks, hands washed, temperature checked, signed in, and then brought straight to their designated classroom space. Once we had everyone on site, I went around and explained exactly what was going to happen. So, the welcome to the DFB was pre-empted by the message of ‘this is COVID-19 and this is what we are going to do’.”

The Training Centre was closed to everybody but the recruit class and instructors, which meant the group could be divided into isolated pods and spaced out properly, using many areas that wouldn’t normally be used for training and keeping each group separated from others. Keeping such isolation measures in place were crucial, Course Director Doolan explains: “The general rule was that anybody coming in from the outside was considered a risk of cross-contamination to the class and instructors. It’s not a nice way to look at it but that was the reality.” With such measures in place from the outset, even the traditional first day photo of the class had to be re-thought, and a drone was brought in to capture the image of the recruits standing two metres apart in the drill yard, rather than on the front steps of the building, although each syndicate did get their photo taken there, at a safe distance from each other.


To ensure this distancing remained in place meant a huge amount of preparation and constant monitoring. “My team planned well in advance,” Course Director Doolan tells me. “We came out to the OBI and put whatever plans were needed in place. The staff at the OBI had set up the place really well. They showed us what they had done to prepare and then handed it over and told us to do what we needed to do, to adapt it, improve it, whatever we needed. BTO Carroll, A/B/T/O Kiernan and all the staff had done a huge amount of great work to make it possible. “The mindset of everyone here now is different to what it was back in April. Even though COVID-19 hasn’t gone away, it is natural for people’s mindsets to change, but when we first came out here the situation was very bad. What we were coming up with was extremely cautious, but that’s what we needed to do because we had no choice.

We had to be as strict as possible with distancing.” As a walk around the grounds showed, this included strict signing in and temperature checks every morning at each pod, eliminating any chance of cross-contamination between syndicates during downtime, separate toilet and shower facilities, and an emphasis on reporting any signs or symptoms immediately. Gone too was the shared dining area, which meant extra work for the canteen staff, who had to prepare and hot-box all of the food for nine syndicates into takeaway carts and send it over to each pod. It also meant training courses had to be done differently, which required a lot of consideration. “The classrooms were a huge issue because we couldn’t fit everybody into the one class anymore due to the need to maintain social distancing,” Course Director Doolan tells me, “so they were broken into groups of three syndicates – 18 people in total – with the same classrooms, same desks each day, same people. Each desk was a minimum of 2.5 metres apart.

The problem we faced then was that we had three different rooms in which the same lecture had to be delivered. “We had to come up with a way to do it. There were IT options, but it isn’t the same as having an instructor in the room. I made the decision to group the lectures into groups of three, based on their natural place in the course structure and their length, giving three different lectures at the same time, so classroom 1 got lecture A, classroom 2 got lecture B, and so on. At the end of those lectures the instructors would then move to the next classroom, where they would deliver the same lecture, maintaining strict social distancing in the classroom at all times. “The advantage of this option was that the workload on instructors

was not trebled, because they were delivering the same lecture three times, rather than three separate lectures. Secondly, the consistency of delivery was assured.” When external lecturers were needed, such as for Health and Safety or HR, three lecturers were requested to provide the class to each group at the same time.


Practical training also presented challenges to overcome. “We were very conscious that recruits would not move between their syndicates when training on the drill yard, so when they were doing ladder drills, for instance, that syndicate and their instructor worked together as a unit and didn’t mix with any other.

Basic training was done this way, and when we went on to specialist courses, we used the same three-group approach, so one group of 18 would be doing RTC, one group of 18 would be doing BA, and so on. In previous recruit courses it would be normal to break up the syndicates after basic training and mix them up for the specialist courses so they could get to know each other, but obviously we couldn’t do that this time.

“New instructors would come in to do those courses, but we podded them as well, so within that course there was very little cross-contamination.” For other courses and in other situations, alternative measures or barriers to close contact were introduced. Social distancing couldn’t be maintained in the BA workroom where space was confined, for instance, so each recruit had to wear a surgical mask. Each recruit, however, was issued with a single BA mask for the entirety of the course, which had to be washed, disinfected and dried, then placed on their desk away from everybody’s else’s.

Despite the overriding issue of COVID-19, there wasn’t a specific course on dealing with it, but Course Director Doolan says that the overall emphasis on distancing and COVID guidelines meant each recruit clearly got a deep level of understanding of what was required. “The DFB Health and Safety Unit standard presentation on safety that is given to all new recruits had COVID-19 protocols added to it to reinforce everything we had already told them. We may as well have been doing standalone COVID courses because of the amount of time we spent talking about it. The class is constantly reminded of the safety protocols and their own role, and I have put a huge emphasis on each recruit taking personal responsibility both in the training centre and while off duty.

“It is absolutely drilled into them at this stage. The overall factor in this course has been COVID-19, but we can’t let that get in the way because we have to train each recruit to the same standard and they have to achieve the same competencies as anyone else. But each recruit has been fully drilled on how to operate within this environment.”


Another challenge faced by the recruit class was the barrier towards group bonding, both within and outside the Training Centre, and the emphasis on working as a unit that can be so important in getting through the tough training process, but the group has managed to get by in other ways. “As a class overall there are people who won’t get to know each other well, especially those in other groups,” says Course Director Doolan, “but on the flipside, the syndicates have spent more time together than they ever would have previously, so they certainly got to know each other, and the groups of 18 have been together through the whole course. So, what they have lost out on in some ways, they gain in other ways when it comes to camaraderie.” Another difference for this class was that because of distancing and uncertainty, they didn’t begin marching training early in the course. “We didn’t know how far we were going to get with the course, so we were trying to get as much practical work done as possible,” Course Director Doolan says.

“When COVID-19 cases started to settle down, we thought we might just get to the end of training, there might be a pass out, so we would need to teach the class to march.” Within their final weeks, marching training was in full swing, with each recruit wearing a mask, but this too led to some very different situations. “When they started marching as a group, people who didn’t have much contact with other groups were all of a sudden thinking: ‘Who is that?’ because they were seeing people they swore they had never seen before,” Course Director Doolan laughs. Despite these challenges, the recruit class has got on very well, he adds.

“You will always have a broad mix of character types, and this class is no different, even if they know they will probably be called the COVID class forever. But they are achieving the same standard as any other course, absolutely, because we can’t afford to let anyone out of here who doesn’t achieve those standards. COVID makes no difference to that whatsoever.” One addition to the course was a new wildfire fighting module, which has yet to be delivered operationally. “We may as well train the class in everything we can while we have the 54 here,” Course Director Doolan explains. “When they are scattered to the four winds, to bring them all back in for another course or module is almost impossible, but if we can train them when they are a captive audience, then it makes sense to get it done.”


At the time of writing, pass out is due on August 19, but there has been uncertainty about this too, due to changes in Government guidelines on social distancing and restrictions, as Course Director Doolan explains: “We don’t yet know what format it will be, but it is now on the table, and it is brilliant to have been able to do that. At the moment we are prepping for a proper pass out where the recruits will do their display. The initial plan was to film and livestream it, with no guests in attendance because the regulations at the time were for no more than 20 people, which is obviously quite minimal.

Then things moved on where you could have 100 people together, and now it is at 200. It was supposed to go to 500 but that has been rolled back, so 200 is quite tight for us, especially for a class of 54. This is reviewed again on August 10, which is nine days before pass out. If it is 500, we are in a good place, but if it is 200, we are going to have to restrict it to two people per recruit. “Irrespective of what the number is, this will be a ticketed event, so nobody without a ticket will be allowed in. We need to be able to control the numbers and know exactly how many people we have there, and who they are.

This includes everybody from the Chief Fire Officer to the Lord Mayor. We need to maintain a list of every single person who is here so we can do contact tracing. “Throughout this course I have had to make three or four plans for everything, because we don’t know where things are going. With pass out it is exactly the same. We are still going to livestream it, even if we are allowed to have 500 there, because we need to have back up plans in place. We have no choice. “I’m very mindful of how this affects people and I’m not happy that recruits might not be able to bring all of their family on the day, because they are the ones who have sacrificed a lot in terms of having them here training so hard for the last few months, but we can’t go against the guidelines.

The pass out day is all about the recruits and their families and it is a big regret of mine that there is a possibility we will not be able to bring all of their family.” Another bonus for us is that rather than having some recruits assigned to stations while others stay on to start the paramedic course, all of the class will start paramedic training after two weeks, apart from four previously qualified paramedics. Course Director Doolan sees this as a positive, as he says the whole class can complete their Paramedic training together and nobody will have to wait until the next recruit class.

By the time this comes out, we will know what form the pass out took, but congratulations are due to all of the recruits for passing the course in such strange and challenging circumstances. Congratulations and thanks are also due to all of the people who helped make this recruit training programme happen, and Course Director Doolan says he is very grateful to them all. “I’d like to thank all of the staff at the OBI,” he says. “Many thanks to B/T/O Brendan Carroll and A/B/T/O Frank Kiernan, as well as D/O Paul Lambert, all of the Admin office staff and those working from home but who were always available, the FF/Ps attached here permanently, and all of the catering staff. We also had huge assistance from DFB Logistics who pulled out all the stops to get equipment and uniforms to us ahead of the original planned dates. “I’d also like to express my appreciation to all of the specialist instructors who gave up their time to provide vital training to the recruits.

“Lastly, I’d like to express my appreciation to my Assistant Course Director Peter Sherlock and to all of my syndicate officers who did Trojan work to overcome massive complications that would not normally be a factor in a recruit course. Training recruits is normally a difficult and time-consuming task, but the effort put in by the instructors for this class has been unbelievable. “All of these people can’t be forgotten. They have all had their workloads massively increased in order to see this happen, and I’m extremely grateful to all of them.”

Station Profile B Watch Phibsboro

On a sunny day, B Watch at Phibsboro show Adam Hyland that life is never dull.

With social distancing still very much on everyone’s minds, it was fortunate that I got to visit B Watch Phibsboro on a clear and sunny November day, which meant it was possible to meet and talk to the crew in the yard.

S/O Gregg Hannon, who has been with B Watch here since 2017 following time at HQ and Swords, welcomes me in and we sit by the station’s Garden of Reflection to talk about life at the station.

“I like it here,” he is quick to tell me. “We are lucky at this station that we have enough space to be able to do our drills and exercises under current circumstances. And we are kept busy with a large variety of callouts.”

With two fire appliances, a rescue tender, an ambulance and a D/O’s vehicle, the station handles calls from the north inner city out to west Dublin, with fires and RTCs the main incidents.

With rivers nearby, there is also an SRT team with a floating platform on the rescue tenders as well as a specialist High Line team, who are busy doing a drill in the tower behind us as we speak.

“Ollie Dunne, Alan Moore and Peter Conroy are up there now,” S/O Hannon tells me. “The High Line entails a lot of work in terms of training and upkeep of skills. It’s not just about the skills each individual has, but also how everybody works as a team, so on weekends when we are not on calls out, we do a simulated rescue.”

The high-density areas surrounding Phibsboro also mean that B Watch are kept busy, and there have been many changes that keep the crew on their toes.

“There has been a massive development in the last two years in Grangegorman, with a lot of student accommodation, while Stoneybatter is always a vibrant, growing area, and there has been a lot of change in terms of traffic flow,” S/O Hannon tells me. “That requires constant familiarisation, having to go out and assess whether there are any problems, and that all takes time.”

The biggest change in recent times, however, is of course that brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even with COVID, there is still a lot of building and development around us,” S/O Hannon tells me. “While there aren’t as many students at the moment due to restrictions, that in itself can present a challenge because buildings are designed to be lived in. There is a risk in having so many unoccupied or semi-occupied buildings. In some ways an empty building can be more dangerous than an occupied one.

“The prep and after care with the ambulance also takes longer. People have to gown up, but what tends to take longer is the aftermath, the proper cleaning. But it just has to be done, and the procedures brought in ensure that we have reduced the time it is taking as much as possible.

“Looking at the latest figures, DFB will go beyond the 100,000 mark for ambulance callouts this year soon, and it is only the start of November, so when you consider the amount of ambulances we have, it shows how busy the people on the ambulance are, and at our station it’s no different. You really have to take your hat off to them, and not only the people on the ambulance but those who train them. We are lucky to have an advanced paramedic here in Niall O’Reilly.”


I ask how life within the station has been affected by COVID-19, and S/O Hannon is quick to point out that the emphasis on following protocols and procedures is helping to keep B Watch as safe as possible.

“Guidance has come from management, and there has been a lot of communication about it,” he says. “We run a system to keep pods in place, so whoever is on one engine or ambulance is on that for the entire shift, whoever is on the ambulance doesn’t do the kitchen, etc, trying to minimise the risks for everybody. We are so aware of everything we need to do before, during and after call outs, we are very diligent, so tuned in to the precautions we have to take.

“Everybody comes to work, does what they have to do, and there is a great sense of trust and belief that if we follow all procedures and relevant precautions, we are doing everything we can do to protect ourselves.


“Morale has been good. We have a sense of normality because we can still come into work and do our job, and there is always a good sense of camaraderie. There is some difference in that obviously we can’t sit around with each other, but we are busy enough so there is never that much downtime anyway. What we tend to do is let drills go on longer, and that becomes your socialising. As a result, there is still a lot of craic between all of us.”

This is clear when we are joined by FF/Ps Cathal Roche, Darragh Martin and Gareth Carberry, who immediately start up the banter. When I ask them how they are managing to keep morale high, FF/P Roche answers immediately: “We slag the crap out of each other.”

“Our most senior crew member is Cathal, who joined 25 years ago, while our youngest was brought in from the Class of 2019,” S/O Hannon points out between the jokes. “We have seen a few changes in the last couple of years. Our two Sub-Officers got promoted so they have left us, and we have had a few recruits come in. Because of the size of the place you have 17 people on duty, including officers and D/O Colm Kershaw, so there will always be a bit of turnover. But we have been very lucky with the new crew members.

“It’s great to have such enthusiastic young FF/Ps come in who are prepared to learn. The three most recent have been great additions to the team, and you need to have that, both for the work and the slagging. The older guys tend to feed off their enthusiasm.”

“Behind all the slagging, these new members are all very good people as well,” FF/P Roche points out. “Personally, I still look forward to coming into work. They are a great team. Best place I ever worked.

“There is great variety here too,” he adds. “There are so many different call outs in a wide area, so it keeps you interested all the time.”

As the newest member, FF/P Carberry, who FF/P Roche describes as “a local boy done good” because he hails from Cabra, agrees with the sentiment and says he thoroughly enjoys working with this Watch.

“It was really easy to settle in here, thanks to the lads,” he says. “I spent a few months on the ambulance at first, which was hard because I wasn’t spending a lot of time with them, and I am quite shy, but after that I got to know the lads better and they are always looking after me here. It was great to start getting my hands dirty on the engines and doing a bit of work with the other lads, and from there it was easy to fit in and be one of the team. I really enjoy it.”

S/O Hannon adds: “You can see that we are a busy station. The engines have been in and out all morning, so it is a great station to get that hands-on experience all firefighters need, and everyone here enjoys the job and gets along really well.”


As we stand in the yard, talk turns to the Garden of Reflection behind us, which for B Watch is an important part of the station. Some of the crew, including FF/P Martin, worked with B Watch member Leon Rafferty, whose passing in 2013 initiated its construction, and the group reflect on the fact that his anniversary is approaching in December.

“Leon was part of the clan here, and every year we give a gift to his wife and family,” FF/P Martin tells me. “We go up to the cemetery on his anniversary, and remember him in our Garden, but also all other firefighters who died on the job or who have passed away after retiring.”

“The idea to have a place where you could remember passed DFB members, or just sit and gather your thoughts was important,’ FF/P Roche adds. “We also remember other DFB members such as Ian Frodo McCormack, and most days after dinner a few of the team will come out here.”

FF/P Martin suddenly cracks a joke that brings laughter all round and lifts the mood at the drop of a hat. The sense of high morale and great camaraderie is once more brought to the fore as the group head off to test the Hi-Ab, focused on their work but still finding time to “slag the crap out of each other”.


With the annual Open Day cancelled this year, I ask S/O Hannon about the sense of community spirit that is always evident in Phibsboro, and how COVID may have affected it.

“The community spirit here is still very good,” he says, “and while we can’t have our Open Day, the team are all still very proactive in community events. We still get people coming up to the station and looking in the windows, and we are happy to talk to them at a safe distance and tell them that when all of this is over, they are very welcome to come back and we will show them around.

“The engagement and positivity from the community is still there, and it makes it much easier to keep the morale up when you know you are appreciated.

“You’ve got to put things in perspective and look at the big picture. Yes, we are under pressure with the COVID situation, you have to be extra cautious, but that is what we signed up to do, and yes there is the added stress of not wanting to bring home an infection, but that’s nothing compared to the stress involved for people who have lost their job during the pandemic – that’s real pressure.”

The banter and laughing in the yard continues, showing that while there is pressure involved with working here, B Watch have the morale and camaraderie to deal with it with a smile on their faces.

Operation Restoration

DFB Museum Curator Paul Hand tells Adam Hyland about his restoration of an 1884 Escape Ladder.

“This project started for me in spring of 2019, when a man named Martin Thompson called me and said he had an old escape ladder from the late-1800s, and was looking to find a better home for it,” DFB Museum Curator Paul Hand tells me as we sit in the museum at the OBI poring over photographs of the ladder in various states of disrepair.

“He was a collector of old fire engines and had about 25 of them at his home in Athy, but he was downsizing his collection, so it was a case of going out to see it and deciding, based on the amount of damage, whether it was worth taking it on and bringing it back to its former glory.”

As the photos show, a lot of work needed to be done to the One-Wheel Escape Ladder used as far back as 1884, which was extensively damaged and “in need of a lot of TLC” as Paul says. “As you can see, it is a fairly big piece of kit, going beyond 100 foot and weighing a couple of tonne,” he points out, “and I needed to gauge whether it was fixable, but when I saw it, I knew I wanted to take it on.

“It had originally come from Newbridge House in north County Dublin, but would have been based at one of the police boxes around the city. You would phone the police box and tell them you needed the ladder, which would then be brought to a building fire and used to rescue people from sometimes great heights. Ladders like this would have been used up until the time when the fire brigade started bringing their own turntable ladders designed by former CFO Purcell to fires, so there is quite a lot of history and a lot of stories attached to it. So, it needed a good home.”


The first task at hand was to get the ladder loaded up and brought from Athy to Paul’s shed. “The staff and officers at the OBI gave us the use of a truck – so a big thank you to them – and with the help of FF/P Richie Hunter and his son Conor, who both drive forklift trucks, as well as original owner Martin Thompson, we were able to load it on to the truck and bring it to my garden to start the repair work,” Paul tells me.

That was just the beginning of what would be a six-month labour of love, with Paul taking a methodical, step by step approach to the ladder’s restoration, with detailed photographs taken at every stage to illustrate what needed to be done next, and to follow the progress of the project.

“When I got it home, the first thing I had to do was soak the ladder in water for two weeks, just to get it moist again,” Paul says, “because it had been stored for years in a shed and was in a bad state, so I had to keep it wet to expand the wood and make it less brittle.

“It also needed to be washed with cold water to get rid of the red lead paint that covered it, then it had to be scraped clean. While every piece of the ladder had been kept, all of the parts needed to be restored. A lot of them had seized – the pulleys, the uprights, the extension parts – so it had to be stripped right back down into three sections and worked on bit by bit.

“The footplate on one of the sections had also seen some damage because a wire broke on it, one of the pins collapsed and the footplate had slipped, causing a fair amount of damage, but it was repairable. All told, I did about 80% of the repairs.”

Paul got valuable help with the parts he couldn’t repair himself from retired DFB member and carpentry expert Jack O’Rourke. “Jack was very helpful and did some great work,” Paul tells me. “Between us we had to decide whether the wheels needed to be replaced, if we needed to get a wheelwright in, or if we could do them ourselves, and he said he would be able to do it, and did a great job. He stepped in to do the repairs on the wheels and footplates, because you do need a specialist for that kind of work, and he also went out and sourced the timber that was needed. There was some rot in the wheels that he did a great job replacing.”

Paul also received a lot of help from local stores when it came to sourcing parts. “I went to a few places who said they didn’t supply them, but I was lucky enough to go to a company in Ashbourne called HLS, and explained what I was doing and what I needed,” he tells me. “They had the nuts and bolts and screws, and a man called Willie Tuite was very helpful. Whatever I needed, he got for me, and if he couldn’t get it, he told me where I could. I also got a lot of help from TJ O’Mahony’s, and must thank both of them.

“It was the same with the paint I needed. I went to a place called McCarthy’s and explained that I was looking for a specific red paint, and they told me to come back in a week. When I went back, they handed over a tin of paint the size of a mug, so I said that I needed gallons of it, and explained what I was planning to do with it. In fairness, they got it for me within a week.”

With the ladder constructed in 1884, it was not surprising that not all of the parts would be easily available. “There were some parts that I couldn’t get anywhere, so I had to make them myself, and this was the same for some of the tools I needed to restore some parts,” Paul says. “A lot of parts were frozen in time, and to take brass caps off them, for example, I had to make the tools to take them off and get them back in working order.”


While repairs and replacements were underway, the frame needed to be constantly washed and wetted to restore the timber, then repeatedly treated with woodworm killer, but after three months the ladder had been stripped down into three sections.

“The ladder had to be taken off the gantry to be cleaned, and with that you had to prise it apart. There was a huge amount of metal parts attached to the framework, all of which had to be removed and cleaned thoroughly,” Paul tells me. “The runners were also frozen in time, one was snapped and needed to be welded, and there was a lot of damage throughout, but Jack did some great salvage work on it.

“I also got some great help from the crews from No.4 and No.6 when I needed assistance in raising and lowering the ladder,” he adds. “They came out whenever I needed them and am grateful to them for that.

“It’s not hard work if you use your head in your approach. I took it day by day, step by step, thinking if I could clean this brass today that’s good, if I can unfreeze these parts, grand, everything needed to be taken apart and restored to be put back on, but a lot of it had seized. I took photos as I went along so that I could see exactly what stage I was it with it, and what I needed to start on next.

“It was six months of work, but I looked at it as ‘work of sorts’. If I needed something like a trolley or a hop-up, I made it. Even with all the parts that needed to be restored it never get frustrating, I enjoyed working on it to get every piece and part right, and if another project like it came up tomorrow, I would do it again.

“When it was all restored, I painted the whole thing and it came out looking great. Overall, it probably took six months to get it back to its proper state, but all along I could see what it was going to be like in the end. I had a clear picture in my head, and that kept me going.”


Paul says that he was lucky that the officers and staff at the OBI showed interest in the project from very early on, with discussions ongoing about where the ladder can be housed. “They were saying this is something that needs to be shown, needs to be in display,” Paul says, “and from almost day one they said they wanted to see it come back to the DFB.

“The officers could see what it was and that if the restoration was done right, what it could be, that it was something they wanted to have, but it had to be done right. There was no point in making a mess of it. But they were very impressed with it.”

For now, the ladder remains housed at Paul’s shed, but with a plaque currently being made to detail the ladder’s history, there is talk of possibly housing it in a bigger DFBA museum some time in the future, where it would be an eye-catching and important piece of historical equipment.

“It was a great piece of equipment for its day, but they were nearly all scrapped, so to find one like this is like winning the lotto,” Paul tells me. “There can’t be that many still in existence, maybe one or two in a museum somewhere, but to get hold of one this size is a real find, and to be able to restore it to its former glory was an honour.”


Before talking about the ladder restoration project, Paul showed me another piece of historical equipment that he painstakingly restored and which is currently housed in the church building at the OBI.

The Trailer Pump built by Sigmund Pumps Ltd, and which has been loaned to DFB by collector Noel Cassalls in Kildare, was used during the Emergency in Ireland between 1939 and 1945 is possibly one of only two left intact, and as Paul says, “would hold pride of place in any museum”. Restored in 2016, it was brought to the OBI in 2017, but Paul says he hopes to find a good home for it.

“Trailer Pumps like this were common sights on the streets of Dublin and around the country, but of around 5,000 that were made, almost none have survived. It would have been housed in one of the fire stations around the city and manned by the Auxiliary Fire Service who would bring it to a fire where the DFB would take over, but often they would handle the fire themselves. They would have been kept very busy while in operation.

“They were taken out of operation after the Emergency because they weren’t needed any more and almost all of them were scrapped because the materials were needed elsewhere.”

This particular piece of equipment – number 4,206 of 5,000 – came with its hoses, branch pipes and helmets, as well as a very basic toolkit, and Paul restored every part and piece.

As with the ladder, the trailer was in a state of disrepair and took around six months to restore.

“It needed a lot of TLC,” Paul tells me. “It needed a lot of cleaning, as did all of the brass and the other equipment, and the tow bar had been badly damaged, so I stripped it right down and got to work on it before piecing it back together.

“The one thing I didn’t do in the restoration was spray it. The grey colour is because it needed to not be visible from the air at night. It had a single light to operate it in the dark to minimise its visibility.”

Thanks to Paul’s work, all of these parts and elements are easily identifiable and can be admired, and what was once ready for the scrapheap has been transformed into a working trailer pump that holds a lot of history, not just for the DFB, but for the city and country.

“I’m pleased that it turned out very well,” Paul tells me. “It really is an important piece of history.”

From Within the Circle

Lockdown hasn’t silenced the DFB Pipe Band, who are looking forward to playing again once restrictions are eased, writes Mark Toner.

This year, as with every other aspect of Irish and Brigade life, has seen a lot of our traditional band activities hugely curtailed. We’re promised that this is for the greater good – hopefully we’ll see the benefits soon.

The start of restrictions coincided exactly with the band’s intended trip to Savannah, Georgia, for which we had a group of 20 band members and colour party due to travel. A vast amount of logistical work, practice and planning went into this trip, which made it all the more bitter to taste when at the 11th hour the trip fell victim to the pandemic. We weren’t sure what to do with ourselves then, and the sound of the usual band practices and performances in the run up to St Patrick’s Day were replaced with the sound of grown men in kilts weeping into their sporrans.

Band practice and the traditional Monday nights in Marino fell victim to lockdown and restrictions, as we put our shoulder to the wheel in the national effort. A small price to pay, in realistic terms, to help keep the Brigade community, our families and our members safe.

Just because we couldn’t practice as a band, does not mean all was lost and that we couldn’t practice ourselves, as many members took the opportunity to get to grips with new tunes, and brush up on instrument maintenance and repairs.

The centrepiece of the band, and indeed every pipe band, is the Bass drum. For those who don’t know, this is the large double headed drum carried on the chest of burly souls like Tom McLoughlin, John McNally and Gerry Condron. This forced repair and maintenance period led the Drum section, under leading drummer Alan Corcoran, to review the bass drum design and ultimately led to the commissioning of a new drum head. This will be the pride of the band for many years to come. The lads are fighting over who will be the first to sport the new Bass at our first post-lockdown performance.

Although the national public health guidelines impacted band activities greatly and may have quietened us somewhat, it hasn’t silenced us altogether. Throughout the lockdown period it became evident that band members, our supporters and the hard-working members of DFB that we are very proud to represent, needed either a morale boost, a thank you or just a plain ‘auld tip of the cap. Take your pick.

So, in an effort to cover all three and acknowledge the efforts of DFB in general we decided to have an impromptu performance, distanced of course, in the OBI. We posted this clip to our social media platforms, with the band playing the traditional Irish air – “Thugamar féin an Samhradh linn”. Traditionally this tune is played at the start of summer, welcoming all that there is to look forward to in the season. We thought it apt to let our supporters, members and the wider community know that this too will pass and that you are not alone!

As it happened, the impromptu gathering-not-gathering gave us cause to celebrate a very special occasion. Since the band’s inception, one individual has remained a stalwart throughout our 35-year history. In fact, I think stalwart is not enough to describe a gentleman who has been a pivotal band member, holding almost all of the executive positions within the band, is a constant at every practice and performance, is both an inspiration and guiding light to younger members, and quite frankly without whom the band would be a lesser organisation. This individual is retired Sub-Officer Paul Shannon.

Paul turned 80 in the midst of lockdown. He is a founding member of the band and has been pushing us forward since that foundation in 1985. If there is one word that Paul and his tenor drum know the meaning of, that is dedication. Our motivational performance during the summer gave us as a band the opportunity to wish Paul a happy birthday and to say thank you for his years of commitment to DFBPB and all we stand for. Breithlá Shona dhuit Paul agus Míle Buíochas!

As the pressures of total lockdown eased and restrictions lessened, it gave the band vital room to gather for a short period in a now familiar controlled environment, to practice for a short while, allowing us to keep momentum going with some of our learner pipers and drummers who are advancing brilliantly. Hopefully as we exit this maelstrom and return to pipe band life, we will have a bigger and stronger band to show for it. Keep up the fantastic work lads!

For those who may have been hoping that lockdown has finally killed off the cat stranglers, we’re sorry, we’re still here and we have tried our utmost not to let restrictions interfere with our band duties. From day one the band has been requested to perform at poignant events such as funerals of serving and retired members, an honour we in DFBPB take seriously. 2020 has been no different. While we may have missed foreign trips, St Patrick’s Day parades, local parades and recruit passout, we still strived to fulfil our core duties. Along with playing at what seems an inordinate amount of retirement parades, special mention has to be paid to Seamie O’Rourke, Barney Mulhall, Paul McNally and John Halstead for giving of their time selflessly to perform at these events under trying conditions.

Speaking of retirements, the band’s current treasurer and former pipe major, Paul McNally, retired from service as S/O in No 4 District Station in September. Fortunately, we were in a position to play a small set as a tribute to Paul and his dedication to the band over the years at his off-going parade. We’re hoping the band will stand to benefit more from his increased free time. Go n-eírí leat Paul.

We hope to see you all when we emerge on the far side of this. If lockdown has given you pause for thought – to follow that pastime you always wanted, to try something different or to learn that musical instrument you always wanted to try – then we’ll be here. Monday nights in Marino will return and as always, we’ll be open to all ages, genders and rank from within DFB.

The band can be reached at any time through any band member or by email at or via any of our social media pages.

‘Tis your band!

Tasting Times

The DFB 1875 Club continues to keep the spirits up, FF/Ps Brian Treacy and Ollie Dunne tell Adam Hyland.

Lockdown has meant a lot of social club activity has been postponed or gone online. Despite this, the DFB 1875 Club, named after the Great Liberties Whiskey Fire of that year, is going from strength to strength.

“Membership has continued to grow steadily over the past few weeks and months, with word spreading within the DFB,” FF/P Brian Treacy, whose go-to whiskey is a Bushmills Black Bush or Power’s John’s Lane, tells me. “The longer lockdown goes on, the more people are looking for different things to do, and our online tastings via Zoom are an ideal thing to do at the moment. At the time of writing, it looks like restrictions are going to continue or get worse, so really the only way to keep the show on the road is to continue with the online tastings that people can do from home.

“It has been tough for the club because nothing beats going to your favourite pub and sampling some whiskey, but this has been a great way to overcome the boredom that can come with restrictions on movement, and provides a great way for us all to meet up, although virtually, and sample and talk about whiskey together. These tastings have been a big positive in a time of negativity.”

This positive was added to in June when the esteemed US podcast Whiskey Cast recognised the 1875 Club as their Whiskey Society of the Month.

Having organised a hugely enjoyable online tasting with the Dublin Liberties Distillery in April – probably one of the first online tastings done in the country – further tastings followed, including one with Teeling in May.

“We had originally organised with Master Distiller Alex Chasko to have a private tour of Teeling’s followed by a tasting, but that was obviously shelved for now,” FF/P Treacy says, “but the online tasting was very good.

“As part of our summer plan, we had looked at having tastings at several venues as well as walking tours with distillery visits, and all of that has now been put on the back burner but is definitely something we will be keeping in mind because there is some fantastic whiskey heritage to be had there. Getting into those distilleries in that historic area for whiskey production – Teeling, Pearse Lyons, DLD, Roe & Co – those will all be good days out, so when we can do it, and it’s safe to do it, I’m sure they will sell out easily.”

As well as being a very sociable event, these tastings involving experts in the field are also very educational. One held in October focused on age statements, with six whiskies ranging from three-year-old to 14-year-old on the table to see what the ageing process does to various whiskies.

Another tasting focused on whiskies matured in different types of barrel, illustrating the difference results when the spirit is finished in bourbon or sherry casks.

“This tasting was very interesting for me,” says FF/P Ollie Dunne, an ardent Teeling fan whose favourite whiskey is a Teeling Brabazon 3. “I’m very new to the whiskey scene, but the amount of information I got from tastings like this and from other members has been absolutely huge. If you have any kind of interest, and even if you know absolutely nothing about whiskey, they are a great place to start.

“There are so many different types of whiskey and you may not know where to start or what you like, but the tastings are a great way to try small portions of different types of whiskey to get a good variety of tastes. I found out very quickly that I like single malt, and I went down a rabbit hole of trying single malts, but then we moved on to a pot still tasting and that made me realise that I liked that too, whereas previously I would never have branched out to try another type of whiskey.

“The tastings are also done in a very friendly atmosphere with a lot of craic. Obviously, there is a big difference between meeting in person and doing the tastings over Zoom but it is still a very good, positive atmosphere. There are members from all across the DFB, and sometimes you are able to include a friend or family member, so it is very sociable.

“It is very interesting for me as someone who didn’t realise they liked whiskey. I have learned that I love whiskey, but its centred around the social side, where we can have a sip of whiskey at home and send a picture around to the group to start a conversation. It’s more than just having a drink, it’s about enjoying the taste and talking about it with like-minded people.”

For FF/P Dunne, the planned visits to whiskey distillers around Dublin are something to look forward to, when they are eventually possible. “Getting educational tours of these places will be a great day out,” he says, “but we have to wait until the current situation is over, so fingers crossed that will be soon. It’s something to look forward to anyway.”

In the meantime, plans are afoot for further 1875 Club ventures.

“We had to think of ways to keep people interested when some of our options were closed to us, so we started our cask programme,” FF/P Treacy tells me. “Through the Irish Whiskey Society and Dick Mac’s bar in Dingle, we were able to buy a share of a cask of Writer’s Tears from Walsh Whiskey, and we got about 40 or 50 bottles from that. It was a limited edition IPA seaweed cask from the old Dingle brewery and the whiskey was taken from it after 18 months, with a limit of two bottles per person available. That was a fantastic whiskey to buy into. Probably one of the nicest whiskies Walsh have produced.

“S/O Declan Rice did great work with personalising these bottles too, because he managed to get the number of the bottles to correspond with a number significant to a person, so for example someone in Dolphin’s Barn got either Bottle Number 21 or 22 or 24 because that was the call sign of the station. I got offered 81 or 84 because I work in Rathfarnham.

“That was sitting waiting for us during the heavy stages of lockdown, but we eventually got it in July. It was only because of the fact that one of our members was providing a course down in Kerry that we managed to get ours out, weeks before the Irish Whiskey Society got theirs.”

Ff/p Treacy adds: “We also have a share in a cask from Killowen, which will be ready in early 2021. We are also looking at doing something with Teeling or DLD – it is really down to finding the right entry point for the club. The cost for a full cask can be quite expensive so the cask share is a very good option.

“Then we are also looking at the possibility of merchandise such as polo shirts and tasting glasses that we could put the 1875 Club brand on, and they would probably prove very popular, and not just with our own members.”

Another great idea was the establishment of a bottle share group.

“We had a WhatsApp group set up purely for bottle shares so anybody who was interested could buy into a share of a bottle,” he says. “If a new whiskey came out, somebody would buy it but other members could buy a share of it – say a seventh or 14th of the bottle – so you would get 100ml, for example, and only pay for your share and the minimal cost of the bottle sent out to you.

“Rather than taking a pop on a !140 bottle that you may or may not like, you could buy into a share of that bottle and pay, say !14 for a smaller amount of it. If you liked it, you could always then go on and buy a bottle of your own. It’s a good idea because members can try something new and if they like it, it sends them on their own path to find the type of whiskey they really like, so it is all about learning about different whiskies and discovering your own personal tastes.”

This is particularly useful in the latter part of the year when in the run-up to the annual Whiskey Live event (sadly cancelled this year), a huge number of new whiskies are released. “I expect there will be a lot more new whiskies coming out,” FF/P Treacy says, “and there is going to be a big increase in our bottle share activity.

“A lot of distillers are innovating and making their product more accessible, and I think the bottle share approach is a great way to increase that accessibility further. With the current situation, the likes of DLD, Teeling, Bushmills, and many others, have had to become innovative, because they have had no choice, and we are embracing that innovation and finding new ways to share whiskey with our members.”

The online tastings have continued, with one held in November and possibly more to “keep us going up to Christmas” as FF/P Treacy says, and hopefully in the New Year those excursions will be possible.

“As well as visits to Dublin distilleries, we also planned on a trip to Dingle, but as with other things, that will have to be something we look at for next year,” FF/P Treacy tells me. “We are restrained by how quickly we deal with COVID and the restrictions. Fingers crossed we manage to deal with it as soon as we can and we can return to normality and do all the things we had planned for the club.”