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Station Profile: A Watch Tara Street

A Watch at Tara Street show Adam Hyland around DFB HQ.

I hadn’t anticipated being treated to an aerial view of the city when I went to visit A Watch in Tara Street, but given the station’s location in the heart of the city centre, and the eagerness of the crew to demonstrate their 30metre ladder, I couldn’t refuse.

Being part of the station that also makes up HQ for the Dublin Fire Brigade means the Tara Street members are equipped with many of the specialist units that are required on an increasing basis, and need the skills to operate them expertly, explains D/O Derek Cheevers.

As well as two water tender ladders, two turntable ladders and two ambulances, the station also has several command unit vehicles, an advanced medical support vehicle, two river rescue boats moored at the Liffey, and a foam and environmental unit.

“Operating these is a lot of responsibility… not the type of things you want to damage,” Derek tells me.

SKILLSETS

That responsibility means A Watch need the skillsets to match the equipment. “Obviously, everyone is trained as a paramedic but we also have two advanced paramedics here. We also do a lot of training in marine emergency response, given our proximity to Dublin Port, but as our skillsets are quite specialised, in order to work here, you will be trained on a number of skills,” Derek says. “You may come in as a recruit and not have those skills yet, but over time you will have to be trained up, and to maintain all of these skills we have to do a lot of training and drills.”

Given their location, A Watch cover the city centre, “but we will respond to other districts, just as other districts will come into the city centre. We are just part of the overall bigger picture of the DFB,” Derek tells me.

The crew of A Watch has a broad mix, Derek tells me as he shows me around the first two floors of the HQ building that make up the operational station. “Our oldest firefighter is 51 years of age and has 29 years of service, and we go right down to guys who are in their early 20s who have a year of service, but in general, we would be a relatively young group. It is important to have that mix of experience and youth, with the fitness that brings, and the new gym is a great help with that.”

That recently refurbished gym is one of the benefits of working at HQ. “Most guys are attracted to the fire service because it involves teamwork and fitness, and having the gym on the premises means that a lot of guys use it as part of their daily regime,” Derek says.

CHALLENGES

The facilities and layout at HQ do make Tara Street unique, but its location also presents unique challenges.

“We have a huge population, which changes depending on the time of day,” Derek points out. “We have people travelling to work on a number of transport types and there is always the chance of an incident. The Liffey has its own challenges, and we are also looking at the challenge of high-rise buildings.

“Trinity College is right beside us, and there is a lot of research going on there, with biochemistry, etc, so we need to have a hazardous materials response plan built around that. 

“We also have an EMS Support Vehicle with 40 trauma kits. You could have a situation where you have enough personnel but not enough equipment, but with this it means everyone has their own trauma kit, we can have stretchers, we can triage large numbers.”

On the subject of traffic congestion and responding to calls, Derek says that it can be a unique challenge trying to get out the doors to a call. “The volume of traffic means it can take time, but we can also use the Luas tracks, which saves us a lot of time,” he tells me. 

The city centre location also means A Watch are constantly busy with EMS calls, especially at weekends, which S/O Keith Leeson agrees with, telling me that “the busiest aspect of Tara Street is the EMS work, with the ambulances constantly on the move, especially at weekends”. 

CAMARADERIE

Camaraderie is important in order for A Watch to meet those challenges, and Derek says the working relationship between the crew is very good.

“There is always enthusiasm and a good atmosphere,” he says. “It can be difficult and there can be challenging times, but it is also very rewarding. We see distressing things, but it all comes back to camaraderie when dealing with it.

“You get to know people very well, from the FF/Ps to the admin staff to the control room personnel. There are a lot of people here, but they all get on very well.”

It’s in the yard where I meet FF/P John Foster, Sub Officer Paul Stanley and FF/Ps Aaron Maloney and Derek King, who are keen to get me into the cage on the 30metre ladder to show me what it can do. They strap me into a harness to join Paul on the ladder platform, bringing me up to the full height over and onto the roof of the building to show me the hydraulic extension at work.

Back down on solid ground, Derek then shows me into the control room where S/O Kevin Finn is overseeing operations. Kevin explains that when there is a spike in calls, the Sub-Officer can call on 11 personnel to come into the control room. 

This is increasing, with 171,000 calls taken in 2018 – 124,000 for the ambulance, 24,400 for DFB and 20,348 for rural calls to Leinster.

Kevin says that as with the FF/Ps out on calls, there is great teamwork in the control room, where people can take distressing calls. “We have a system in place to flag these things, but because of the camaraderie, you tend to know when someone needs to talk, or take a break, before any sort of crisis management is even put in place.”

That is evident from the great atmosphere of dedication and camaraderie I saw at A Watch Tara Street, from both ground level and from 100 feet in the air.

A Day to Remember

St Patrick’s Day proved to be another great experience for DFB members and visiting firefighters alike.

The Dublin Fire Brigade once again took centre stage for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations, with the Pipe Band leading the way as members of the Brigade represented the Guard of Honour for Lord Mayor Nial Ring.

With all members in full uniform, they presented an eye-catching spectacle for the 500,000 people lining the route on what was a busy but very enjoyable day.

Of course, activities started long before the parade, with a huge amount of preparation going into the event, and enormous thanks must go out to all involved in its organisation.

The DFB played host to a large number of firefighters from overseas over the weekend, with many staying at the OBI Training Centre in Marino, and a number of these were treated to a tour of the facilities and the museum by Pipe Band Major Damien Fynes and Museum Curator Paul Hand on the day before St Patrick’s Day.

As well as firefighters from Plantation, Margate and North Lauderdale in Florida, guests from Southampton, New York, London and Tasmania were also hosted, while visitors shown around the OBI included “The Chicago Ladies” from the Naperville and Bolingbrook areas of the city, Ryan Orseth from the Central Pierce Fire Department in Washington State, and Scott Knolton from Montgomery County, Tennessee.

St Patrick’s Day itself thankfully enjoyed better weather than the previous few days, and all DFB personnel and guests set out on a busy day with the sun overhead.

The first stop was Phibsboro Fire Station, and after the marching body, honour guard and pipe band had breakfast, the national flag was raised with a roll call of all members who have passed away in the past year.

Gifts were also presented to CFO Dennis Keeley by representatives of the visiting fire departments, before everybody formed up and began the march out through the gates of No.3 and on to the parade start line, where Lord Mayor Nial Ring greeted the group.

The DFB marching body was met enthusiastically along the entire route, and judging by the pictures, enjoyed the attention as much as the crowds enjoyed the spectacle.

The Pipe Band didn’t stop at the finishing line, instead continuing their tradition of playing a few tunes and getting the crowds involved later in DTwo.

It was at DTwo on Harcourt Street where everyone met up for some well-deserved pints and a chance to catch up with colleagues and visitors to talk about the day and to plan future endeavours. 

For DFB members, it was another successful St Patrick’s Day, and for overseas visitors, the experience was hugely enjoyable.

Bill McGrath, Battalion Leader with North Lauderdale Fire Rescue, who are featured elsewhere in this issue, said that for him, it was a memorable experience.

“We had such a great time and the whole experience showed the true brotherhood of the fire service,” he told me. “The DFB were incredible. They were so hospitable, and we vowed there and then that we would be back next year. In fact, the trip is already planned.

“Walking in the Parade was amazing. I mean, we have parades, but that was on a different level. It was wonderful – the DFB personnel were great in organising what we could do, and made sure that we could not just march, but really enjoy the march. They were great.”

FF/P Michael Houghton, also of the North Lauderdale Fire Service, said: “What an amazing experience it was. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for a lot of us. I’ve gained memories on this trip that I will keep forever. The Dublin Fire Brigade treated us like family and welcomed us with open arms. The Brotherhood is strong!”

FF/P Charlie Gandia of Margate Fire & Rescue said: “What an amazing privilege! Seeing the beauty and history that Ireland had to offer, coupled with the experience of marching in the St Patrick’s Day Parade with the Dublin Fire Brigade truly left a mark in my memory forever. That is the type of fellowship I could never forget.”

Dave Radzivill, a Firefighter/Driver Engineer from Plantation Fire Department in Florida, said: “The members of Dublin Fire Brigade were awesome. Their kindness and hospitality made me feel like a part of their organisation. From the early morning assembly to the social gathering following the parade, and along the entire way in between, I felt honoured to be a part of such an amazing group, and privileged to have been given the opportunity to participate alongside them. The members of the DFB were the exclamation point at the end of an amazing day in Dublin!”

Iraldo Curbelo, EMS Battalion Chief with Plantation Fire Department, was also full of praise, saying: “Magnificent experience, a must-do bucket list for all firefighters! I felt extremely proud to represent the Plantation Fire Department, our city, state and the United States of America, and to participate alongside the Dublin Fire Brigade. Many thanks to the DFB for their hospitality and accommodations. I made lifelong friends.”

Once again, many thanks to all who took part in the day and to all those who helped organise every aspect of the weekend. DFB’s involvement in the St Patrick’s Day Parade was another great success, and this is down to the hard work and dedication of those who go above and beyond to ensure everything goes to plan and that all involved enjoy being part of it.

A New Era

CFO Dennis Keeley talks to Adam Hyland about the changes faced by the DFB and the great work of all its personnel.

Reflecting on my experiences over the last 33 years as a proud member of the Dublin Fire Brigade, there have been a lot of changes,” new Chief Fire Officer Dennis Keeley tells me. “But looking forward, I expect the pace of change will likely accelerate in the next decade, we’ll see a developing City and County, new technology and inventions bringing even greater opportunities and changes. I see one of my roles as providing a base for a very agile brigade that can adapt to change quickly, that provides a safer environment for firefighters and the public, and a service that takes advantage of technology, and continues to develop the skillsets of its personnel.”

Providing that base for change is just one of the roles CFO Keeley will focus on as he officially becomes the head of the Dublin Fire Brigade, having acted as CFO since the retirement of Pat Fleming in July of last year.

“It’s a very challenging role,” he tells me. “The DFB is an organisation steeped in history and with its own distinctive culture. I am honoured to take on the position of CFO, building on the work of previous Chiefs and previous senior management who have steered the DFB over generations. I believe the decisions made over the years have held the DFB in very good stead – both strategically and operationally. I would also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the great work of the previous CFO Pat Fleming and wish him and his wife Lorna every happiness in his retirement.”

CAREER

CFO Keeley joined the fire service in 1986 and was first stationed at HQ before transferring to a number of different stations on both the north and south sides of the city. After a number of years attached to B Watch Donnybrook, he was promoted in 2001, which saw him on the move again, operating within the ERCC and HQ as a Sub Officer and later as Station Officer before being promoted in 2009 as a District Officer at Phibsboro Station. In 2013, Dennis returned to HQ following promotion to Assistant Chief Fire Officer.

During this time, he developed a valuable expertise in emergency management, and spent a number of years seconded to what was then the Department of Environment, working on the rollout of the Framework for Emergency Management. His work in this area also took on an international context as he was involved in the development of the European Civil Protection model, and had the opportunity to train in UN Disaster Assessment Coordination. He also acquired an MSc in Emergency Management in DCU and a Degree in Business with IT Carlow. 

“During this secondment I also had the opportunity to attend training of both the EU and UN roles,” he tells me. “I also had the opportunity to respond to a number of international emergency missions – for example in 2010, flooding in Pakistan, and then in the same year at an environmental mission in Ukraine.”

Though time limitations have restricted CFO Keeley’s participation with the EU and UN, it has led to his involvement in and participation with a number of European emergency response agencies, working in partnership with them to provide operational management training under the banner of civil protection. He was instrumental in bringing this Operational Management course to the DFB Training Centre.

“That course brings an international profile to our training centre, and we hope to continue that, further raising its status,” he says. “The course is high-profile, a flagship course under civil protection, and it makes it possible for people – DFB personnel and others – to be involved and develop their own expertise around this area.”

CFO Keeley is keen for DFB members to consider the course, in order to further improve their skillsets. “It prepares our Firefighters and Officers not only for international missions but in many other aspects of crisis management. If Ireland was ever required to seek International assistance, these people would become liaison officers with civil protection.”

DEVELOPMENT

That view towards improving skillsets and ability is at the core of what CFO Keeley sees as the development of the Dublin Fire Brigade, and something which requires cooperation and partnership across the board.

“We are fortunate to have a very bright, well-educated and motivated workforce. It is important that all our personnel feel a part of shaping our future, and I would like to develop that so all personnel feel they can have a bigger role to play, and a bigger say,” he tells me, and emphasises the need to adapt to and utilise new technologies.

“We are at a crossroads in terms of the technological developments that are at a very critical point,” CFO Keeley says. “We will introduce the new National Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system along with the National digital (TETRA) radio system that will come online in the very near future. A lot of our current infrastructure is nearing end of life, the current processes and technology is restricted in development, but we are at a very good point in the development of the DFB whereby automation software and hardware are developing. We also have our e-learning package currently being rolled out, and we see that as a huge advantage for everybody, enabling us to efficiently capture the training records and better manage and monitor the competencies of our crews.

“A lot of technological enhancements have been converged, which I believe will see the DFB advance technology-wise, and I would like to be at the forefront of that. Fundamentally, what I hope it brings is an ability to do things more cleverly, to have more transparency – for everybody. The challenge is that we avoid using technology for technology’s sake, ensuring that it has value, a purpose, and use. 

“That ranges from both back-office systems – dispatch systems, radio systems, etc – to the equipment on the ground. We are continuously looking at our fleet of vehicles, the technology we need for operations. There are huge advances in this area and it is something I would like to harness. It is all with the primary purpose of making the role of a firefighter safer, in every aspect. My role is to steer that, oversee various functions our senior management are involved in, trying to assure that we are all going in the same direction.”

When asked how he sees the DFB changing over the next ten years, CFO Keeley also mentions infrastructural and logistical changes.

“Our vehicles and stations are a key focus for me in terms of modernisation, and we are definitely looking at improvements,” he tells me. “Some of our stations need modernising. In the very near future we need a new station in North Strand, with architects looking into the construction of a new station, and we are also looking at the possibility of rebuilding Dolphin’s Barn on their existing site.

“We are also looking at our garage workshop and stores area, with the likelihood of moving from that area to an alternative site, either in Tallaght or North Strand, so we have architects looking into this too. These are all big projects.

“We also took delivery of three new tenders in April, and we are monitoring the requirement for additions or replacements to the fleet, but parallel with that, we have a comprehensive updating process in place. We have a program to identify vehicles suitable for refurbishment, and we invest in these with our program for upgrading existing vehicles. We are also getting three new EMS vehicles this year. We have a very large fleet and our garage, workshop and stores staff work very hard in maintaining those vehicles, so it is a constant challenge.”


CFO Keeley receives a presentation from Tasmania Fire Service on St Patrick’s Day.

GROWING WITH THE CITY

The rapid growth of Dublin city presents a significant challenge, CFO Keeley tells me, but he is confident the DFB can not only continue to provide the high-quality service needed, but play an integral role in the city’s development.

“The city’s development is to be welcomed and we must consider what challenge this may bring for us as a Brigade. How we provide that service to the city and county, how we maintain our standards for response, how we deliver all of that with efficiency as a modern, efficient and safe brigade – those are the real challenges.

“It’s a city that is growing out as well as upwards, and the vision I have is to take a holistic view of the city and county of Dublin, and the developments taking place. We recognise that Dublin has a range of infrastructural projects unfolding such as the children’s hospital and the Metro – and we will see the DFB at the forefront of discussions on that.” 

He continues: “When you encompass that with the need for fleet maintenance, building stock, and the likelihood of additional stations into the future – maximising the response model in terms of location – those are big decisions, and are built upon a very solid base of current station locations that were decided on many years ago.

“There is a lot of work going on in terms of future-proofing the brigade to meet the demands of a city that is growing, and the most likely outcome is that there will be a need for more stations into the future. How that will be delivered and what the actual model will look like is still under discussion, but I would like to think that the evolution of that will be done in partnership with the staff groups, trade unions and working groups. 

“My mantra would be partnership,” he adds, “in order to successfully deliver a modern and efficient fire service. That evolution should happen with and fully involve all staff, the people at the coalface, and that will be a big part of how I would like to move forward, maintaining and developing relationships with the trade unions and staff.”

He adds: “I also want to review diversity and inclusion issues across the brigade with a specific focus on gender equality. I believe we need to acknowledge, embrace and reflect the diversity of a modern society in Dublin and Ireland.”

With the city growing upwards, as CFO Keeley mentions, comes further challenges presented by the growing number of high-rise buildings that need to be kept safe. The Grenfell disaster in London is still in peoples’ minds.

“Following the Grenfell tragedy, it is likely that there will be changes and revisions of fire safety in terms of both legislation and operations,” he tells me. “We are directly engaged with our colleagues in the Fire service, particularly Brigades in the UK, and have held workshops with a number of their brigades looking at the challenges of high-rise and the lessons learned in procedures and tactics.

“We also have several working groups following on from the Metro fire in Ballymun looking at the lessons learned, and these groups are working hard to ensure that all elements are developed to complement each other. In addition, we are developing proposals for training for high-rise.

“There are also developments in operational intelligence, we are engaged in pre-fire planning and working in partnership with staff to develop our operational intelligence unit, which will with an improved structure capture the risk profiles of station areas to help identify and manage the risks.” 

Fire safety in general is also something CFO Keeley must continue to promote through his position.

“One of my roles as I see it is to constantly use my position to drive home the fire safety message at every opportunity. We have a very well received social media presence that strikes a good balance between the delivery of the fire safety message and humour, with a visual element that attracts people. 

“We are very conscious of the brand and the esteem that DFB maintains with the citizens of Dublin, but we have to protect that and not take it for granted. Fundamentally, our message is a very serious one, to do with fire safety. The objective must be to try to reach all members of the community with our fire safety message, which is challenging, but through our social media, our community fire safety and fire prevention work, that is a big focus.”

CFO Keeley returns to the subject of change, the challenges this will bring, and how the DFB is working to improve the lives of its members.

“There has been an evolution in the perception and delivery of the traditional fire service that just deals with fires,” he says. “We have moved on a lot from that. We are still a fire and rescue service but also an EMS service, and within that title we provide a range of roles that a modern society requires. Some DFB functions are statutory requirements, others are statutorily-enabled, a number are provided in accordance with national policy or by agreement/arrangement with those who hold relevant statutory responsibilities. For example, we are involved in high-line rescue, swift water rescue and off- shore response, we are involved in the aftermath of rail accidents and Road traffic collisions.

“That too will have to evolve in the next ten years. How we fight fires, what technology will bring us in terms of our equipment, will require adaption from everybody. The Metro underground project, as an example, will present a new challenge, but as a brigade, we faced a new challenge with the Port Tunnel, and we developed procedures, trained people, and put in place a response model. 

“As a modern, developing capital city, these challenges will continue, and we will have to evolve in terms of our tactics, response models, equipment, how we do things. 

“Certainly, when I look back over my 33 years of service, it is a very different brigade now than it was back then. It is very difficult to look into the future and know what to expect, but I see technology and other advancements such as our drones and the work we are doing in research and development, in clothing technology, our understanding of the continuous evolution of developments in health and safety of our personnel as very important.”

Given his position regarding emergency management, CFO Keeley is also keen to point out that the DFB is also playing a very active part in crisis management and emergency management. “That is another skillset to master, and we are looking at supporting the city in terms of emergency shelter, evacuation centres, with requirements in place for on-site emergency coordination centres. We have people trained for this, so overall, the range of services we provide now is more diverse than it was, and having the agility we have allows us to provide all of these services in an efficient way.”

CFO Keeley adds: “The development of our ambulance service in terms of skillsets and crew abilities is a magnificent feat, certainly very different to what I experienced as a firefighter/paramedic, and should not be underestimated, but achieving and maintaining these skills poses a specific challenge in terms of training requirements.”

On the subject of ambulances, I ask CFO Keeley about the ongoing controversial discussion over the future of the service as part of the DFB.

“What I am clear on is that all parties acknowledge that DFB will continue to provide an Ambulance service,” he tells me. “All parties have acknowledged that the service provided by DFB in terms of Ambulance provision, both historically and today, is a valuable service, and it is clear to me that DFB will continue to maintain and manage its Ambulance service. The question of what that service looks like are currently part of ongoing negotiations, which are at a very critical phase. I am very supportive of and recognise the challenges for operational crews and control room staff at the moment, so we are hoping for a resolution and clarity on this issue.”


CFO Keeley marching with the DFB during the St Patrick’s Day parade.

GIVING CREDIT

As the new CFO, Dennis Keeley is also keen to get his message across to all DFB members.

“As a serving firefighter who has gone through the ranks and achieved the very honourable position of CFO, I want to acknowledge the commitment and good work of all of our staff on a daily basis. It isn’t always acknowledged, because given the scale of the organisation it isn’t always possible to reach out, but it certainly isn’t underestimated. Management are very appreciative of the great work being done by all personnel in the brigade, the valuable work of not only our frontline operational staff but also the fire-prevention, administration, training, technical and workshop staff who together keep the DFB functioning every day. 

“We are very mindful of the difficult work being done on a daily basis and the impact both physically and mentally on our staff because I know it can be very challenging at times.” 

Team Spirit

Firefighter and Dublin Ladies GAA star Lyndsey Davey talks about teamwork on and off the pitch.

It’s never easy to find a good work/life balance, but when you do, things can turn out pretty sweet. That’s certainly the case with Dublin Ladies Footballer Lyndsey Davey, who has managed to combine her role as a firefighter in the Airport Fire Service with her hugely successful career as a triple-All-Ireland-winning GAA star.

Having previously worked in finance at Croke Park after completing a business degree at DCU, Lyndsey jumped at the chance to join the fire service at the airport three years ago.  

“My dream job had always been to be in the fire service,” Lyndsey tells me. “I wanted to be a firefighter ever since I was very young. As a child, every time I saw a fire engine drive by, I was always drawn to it, but I have always wanted to be involved in helping people, and I always like getting hands on to do that, so it was those things that drew me to the job. When I heard they were taking in recruits in the Airport Fire Service I thought I would apply and see what happens. I was fortunate enough to get the job, and I haven’t looked back since.”

Success on and off the pitch is all about teamwork for Lyndsey, and she finds many similarities between the two. “I actually think that one of the key aspects that helped me get the job in the fire service in the first place was that I was heavily involved in the Dublin team,” she says. “I definitely think the fact that I was able to give examples of when I showed strong teamwork abilities was one of the reasons I got the job.

“Teamwork is a massive part of being a firefighter, especially, for example, when you are wearing a BA, when teamwork, leadership and communication are so important. If you are going into a situation wearing the BA, you are in pairs and obviously depending on the situation, your visibility might be low, so you are relying on good communication, and I think that has a direct correlation with football.”

Asked about the differences between her fire service and Dublin team roles, Lyndsey says: “I guess there is the unpredictability of the job. When you go out to play a match, you know pretty much what you are up against, but when you are called to an emergency incident or are called out to a fire, you tend to only have the bare minimum of details and don’t really know what you are going into. But that’s where you go back to your training and experience and rely on those to deal with the situation.”

The similarities, however, are much more evident, Lyndsey says, and if anything, her job with the fire service has actually helped Lyndsey to thrive on the Gaelic pitch. Not only does her varied role – aviation and terminal emergencies, airfield safety, wildlife management, attending vehicle accidents and running inspections – keep her active every day, but the support of her colleagues and flexibility of her shift work mean she can usually find the time for training and matches whenever she needs to.

“I’m very lucky to work with such a great bunch of lads and ladies,” Lyndsey says. “If it wasn’t for the crew, I wouldn’t be able to play football, because I can get shift cover from any of them and pay them back by covering their shift another time. If it wasn’t for them, I’d be lost. I’m also lucky in that I can sometimes work a shift in lieu and then have the time off to train or play a match, and there is such a supportive working environment full of camaraderie that enables me to do what I do, so I am very lucky where I am.

“It’s great that in work we also have a fully-equipped gym so I can keep my fitness and strength levels up, and that is really beneficial to me and makes a difference because if I can’t get to a training session with the Dublin team, I can do my own session in work.”

That gym work, Lyndsey believes, is one of the reasons behind her success, and that of the Dublin Ladies team. “Fitness has always been a big part of playing GAA, but I have seen a massive difference on the strength and conditioning side of things,” Lyndsey tells me. “When I first started with the Dublin panel 14 years ago, we wouldn’t have done any conditioning, it would all have been pitch sessions. But now we have a dedicated conditioning coach and we do gym sessions as well as pitch sessions every week. There’s a massive demand now for the proper conditioning. You can see the conditioning of players now, especially in our team, they all look so fit and strong, and that is down to the work we do with the strength and conditioning coach.”

That strength and fitness, not to mention an enormous amount of skill and dedication, has seen the Dublin Ladies team and Lyndsey enjoy a lengthy run of success. This year’s All-Ireland final victory over Cork was their second in a row, and while Carla Rowe, the daughter of a DFB member scored two goals, it was half-forward Lyndsey who gave a Player of the Match performance.

“There is definitely nothing sweeter than putting in such hard work all year, training hard for nine months in the gym and on the pitch, and when you get to an All-Ireland putting in a really good performance. It’s very satisfying, especially when you are playing in front of such a big crowd, it’s the biggest day of the year. Everyone wants to play well, but sometimes nerves get the better of you, and sometimes games just don’t go your way. But when you walk off the pitch a winner and you know you have put in such a good effort, you know yourself that you played well, it’s very satisfying that all your hard work has paid off.”

That win adds to a long list of Leinster and Division 1 titles in Lyndsey’s career, but All-Ireland final success is something every GAA player finds extra special. “We lost three finals in a row to Cork, and then we won the last two All-Irelands. I wouldn’t say winning three makes up for the five losses I was involved in,” Lyndsey tells me. “You always look back at those losses with regret and wonder where you might have changed things, and where things went wrong, especially the first year when we were ten points up against Cork. I look back on that one and think, if only we had done this or that, but those losses definitely made the wins more special, because when you have been on the receiving end, you definitely appreciate the wins a lot more. Especially after we lost the three in a row, winning last year was unbelievable, and beating Cork in this year’s final made that a little bit more special too, because we had been on the receiving end of losses to them in the past.” Lyndsey adds: “It made it that little bit sweeter.”

On a personal level, Lyndsey has now won her fourth All-Star nomination and this year was shortlisted for the Player’s Player of the Year Award, but like a true team player, she hoped her team-mate and captain Sinead Aherne would win out (which she did).

“It’s a really special nomination to get, because it is voted on by the players you have been playing against all season, and I think it’s great for Dublin as well that there are two of us up for the award – to have two of us nominated is really special,” says Lyndsey.

“I think this is Sinead’s third year in a row to be nominated. She is a fantastic captain to all the girls, on and off the pitch, so I think it would be lovely to see her get it. She deserves the acknowledgement.”

Recent rumours have suggested that 28-year-old Lyndsey is thinking of retiring from the Dublin panel she has been a part of for half her life, but she tells me she is still “in two minds about it”.

“It’s one of those things where after having won the All-Ireland for the second year in a row and having had such a good year that it wouldn’t be easy to walk away, but I also have to weigh up the amount of commitment involved, the number of injuries picked up every year,” she tells me. “But then there is the temptation of going for three in a row. It’s also a lot easier to say you are walking away than it actually is to walk away, so I will have some big conversations with (manager) Mick Bohan over the next couple of months I’m sure. That will probably happen after Christmas but for now I am just trying to enjoy the downtime and put that to the back of my mind for a while.”

Whatever Lyndsey decides to do, she will be busy in the future. She will continue to play with her club side Skerries Harps, and one day would like to take part in a triathlon, though with a more relaxed approach than she is used to. Before that, though, there will be some more hard work. 

“At the moment I am next on the list to do the paramedics course. I’m really hoping that comes up shortly. We do all our training with the DFB paramedics. It takes two years to complete the course, so that will definitely keep me busy because there is a lot of study involved that will keep me occupied.”

Given her career to date, it’s safe to say Lyndsey will only continue to become an even more valuable member of her team.

From within the Circle

Dublin Fire Brigade Pipe Band Major Mark Toner reviews the band’s recent activities.

You won’t be surprised to hear that your band has been extremely busy since the previous issue of Firecall, sliding into the year’s end and a well-deserved Christmas break after an extremely busy 2018.

The band finished off the summer months with a number of high profile engagements. A place at the final of the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Drogheda saw the band once again in the competition circle, taking a solid second place against a small number of similarly graded bands from County Down. Retired member Paul Shannon, one of the band’s earliest members and tenor drummers, accepted the prize on behalf of the band. A good base to draw on and continue to improve, and the experience only adds to future performances.

Immediately after this the band were thrown head first into preparations for the now annual FESSEF celebrations, and once again led the DFB contingent in the march from Parnell Square to Dublin Castle. Our involvement in FESSEF didn’t end there, as we were centre stage in the National Concert Hall for the Emergency Services concert, along with our colleagues from the Irish Prison Service and the National Ambulance Service pipe bands, for what was a magnificent concert. 

As you know, the band is made up of volunteer members, however, this did not detract from the monumental amount of effort and practice required from the playing members, and of course support from our families and friends, in preparation for these high-profile events.

The long hours of preparation during the summer months for these events continued to pay dividends as once again the band were well received on the evening of DCC’s Culture Night in City Hall, where we played to large gathering of locals and tourists alike. 

Tenor drummer Paul Shannon accepts the 2nd place prize at the Fleadh.

This was followed by a number of charity events the band were happy to be a part of. Elements from the band were also part of recent DFB sporting occasions when a piper and drummer led our GAA team onto the pitch in Croke Park in a friendly game against our NIFRS colleagues, and again when our rugby team recently played the Dáil Seanad team in Donnybrook stadium. Proud to help represent DFB on both occasions. 

Requests we try extremely hard to honour are those from our own members and representative organisations. None more so than the biennial DFB Sports and Social club retirees function, this year held in the Castleknock Hotel and Country Club. The band were proud to perform for DFB’s recently retired members at the reception on the evening, many of whom have been loyal supporters of the band over the years. Our own piping stalwart, Paul Byrne, was one of the recipients, and still managed to strike up a few tunes on the evening. Well done Paul, and we wish you a long and happy retirement from all in the band!

We finished off the year with the bands’ AGM, whereupon the current executive of Chairman Paul Keyes, Secretary John McNally and Treasurer Stephen Pender were voted back into place, and a new appointment of Alan Corcoran to leading drummer was made. 

So if you think you have what it takes to become a band member, why not come along to the OBI any Monday night from 1930hrs onwards and earn the right to wear the band’s crest on your shoulder! Beginners are very welcome – and don’t worry, musical ability is not necessary, you’ll be thought and provided with eveything you need! Our door is never closed, so if you are a previous member and find yourself with a little more time than before, we’ll be glad to have you back.

The band can be reached at any time through any band member or by email at [email protected] or via any of our social media pages. It’s your band!

Oireachtas Report

The DFB Rugby Team met an Oireachtas XV in a fundraising game for Suicide Or Survive.

The DFB Rugby Team played out a close-fought match against an Oireachtas XV on 24 November, and though they couldn’t come away with a victory, the real winner was the Suicide Or Survive charity, with much-needed funds raised for them on the day.

Having beaten the Defence Forces and our friends in the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service this year, it was time for the newly-reformed DFB Rugby Team to take on the Government itself at Donnybrook Stadium.

Suicide Or Survive focuses on breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health issues, and ensuring those affected have access to quality recovery services.

As Firefighters and Paramedics, we are often the first help to arrive after a person has, has attempted to, or is thinking about taking their own life. We see first-hand the devastation that suicide or mental health issues unleash on a family. We, too, recognise that under our uniform we are people, and are also as vulnerable as the next person, so this match was an important event.

Before a ball was kicked, bucket collections took place in St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre on 27 October, and in the city centre in November, and this was added to by the donations made at the match. 

Unfortunately, on a cold and dull November day, the combined Dáil and Seanad XV came out on top in a closely fought 7-0 win, with a youngster called Leo Varadkar playing alongside TDs, senators and government officials. Former Leinster and Ireland prop Mike Ross also togged out and played a section of the match for each team, while DFB Tallaght’s Sara Phelan, club captain with Clondalkin, and the Oireachtas team’s Mairead Carty, club captain with Navan, were also notably getting stuck into their male counterparts.

The DFB and Oireachtas XV teams.

The game, which was free to attend, kicked off at 11.30am, and was ably overseen by referee Su Carty, the former player, coach and now IRFU representative to the World Rugby Council. 

Played over four quarters, there were a few other rule variations that allowed for team switches and for veterans to tog out and be a part of what was a day of fun and fundraising.

The only scores of the closely contested game came when the Oireachtas XV managed to notch up a converted try by captain Senator Neale Richmond before the close of the first half, with the DFB team coming close to parity a few times but unable to break through themselves.

After the game, a reception lunch took place in Old Wesley Clubhouse, with politicians, senior DFB officers and family members all coming together to raise awareness for mental health wellbeing and suicide prevention.

DFB Rugby Team Chairman Keith Mason said: “It was a really enjoyable day. In the end, the score didn’t matter. What was important was to keep the charity in mind, raise money, and have some fun. 

“We got to play a good game, got together as a team, and kept the social side of our club up, but the main focus was to raise money for this great charity.”

The DFB Rugby Team would like to thank all who took part in this important fundraiser, including the Dáil and Seanad team, our own players, ref Su Carty, the fans, the DFB Sports and Social Club, sponsors on the day Sky Ireland, the High School Rathgar for supplying us with new Gilbert balls, Ken O’Dwyer of Flashpoint Medical Systems for supplying water bottles and cones, the fundraisers and volunteers from Suicide Or Survive.

If you wish to support Suicide or Survive you can do so by going to www.suicideorsurvive.ie/how-to-donate/

Station profile: C watch Phibsboro

On a cold December day, C Watch in Phibsboro show Adam Hyland around.

The day was dull when I went to visit Phibsboro Fire Station recently, but the same could not be said of life for the crew of C Watch here.

As part of Charlie District, Phibsboro station is tasked with handling calls from the north inner city to north west Dublin, providing support for both the Blanchardstown and Finglas stations, so they can expect to be faced with a range of incidents and challenges.

“A normal day isn’t really a normal day, because no two days are the same,” Station Officer Kevin Sheehan tells me. “Some days you can see RTC after RTC, depending on the weather, but we can also see days where we get a lot of calls to the local homeless hostels, where we see the effects of the major drugs issue in the north inner city. We can be extremely busy with overdoses, dealing with unresponsive patients who are still breathing and require a paramedic response. We can do five or six of those calls in a day.”

Because of its location, Phibsboro Station can also respond to river rescue call outs as part of a normal Pre-Determined Attendance from HQ, but the number of specialists in C Watch also means they are in high demand for other incidents.

SPECIAL SKILLSETS
Kevin, who moved to the Phibsboro Station from the OBI in September, and Johnny Eastwood, are both advanced paramedics, and this results in the crews being called out frequently to serious incidents.

“With both of us here there is an extra workload, because paramedic ambulance crews can and do call for an advanced paramedic back-up, and if that’s the case then the truck gets called out. One or the other of us will be called out, because of the skillsets we bring to the incident.”

The Phibsboro crew also includes the DFB’s high line rescue specialists, which again means C Watch are in high demand. “The rescue truck has all of the high line gear for rescues from height – cranes, towers, etc – but we have the only lads here who are trained in this,” Kevin tells me.

“Those calls aren’t that common – usually protesters who have climbed on to a building, or people threatening to jump from buildings – but it is great to have the resources at our fingertips.”

Although the station has been around for a long time and hasn’t seen much in the way of renovation (apart from new gates), it serves the crew well, with the large yard perfect for drills, and the rec room and mess are both cosy and relaxing places for C Watch to unwind. A walk through shows that when able, the crew are relaxed, happy to talk and joke. A welcoming and laughing Mark Keogh takes a moment away from making a cup of tea to pose beside the many badges from other fire departments on display, then the newly-erected Christmas tree.

One unique feature at Phibsboro is the Garden of Reflection, which is also used as a place to unwind. Built by the crews here, it honours DFB members lost over the years, and is always immaculately maintained. “It’s a nice place to go, especially in the summer, and just sit and gather your thoughts after a busy day,” Kevin notes. “In a very built up part of the city, it’s nice to have a secluded and quiet area with a nice water fountain, a few fish, where you can sit and enjoy the peace.”

There is rarely much peace and quiet though, as Kevin tells me. “Your day is normally set out for you, punctuated by call outs. Mornings see daily checks on equipment that can go on until 11am, then you have duties throughout the day. The afternoons are usually spent doing exercises or drills, or familiarisation, because there are so many new builds going up. For instance, the student accommodation in Phibsboro, and then Grangegorman is huge as well. Just getting familiar with that, even just driving around to learn the layout and access to hydrants.” This rising population in this area also adds to the workload for C Watch.

“The high density of the area increases risk factor – Grangegorman has 6,000 people there now, for example – so you have the added risk of high-occupancy apartments. You have to be very careful when you go into those places,” Kevin says.

Despite being so busy, all of the crew seem in good spirits and enjoy a lot of banter that shows how well they obviously get on. That becomes immediately evident when members of the crew return from a call out to find me taking pictures of Kevin, James Courage and Ger Corcoran as they check equipment, and are only too happy to get in on the act and joke about the worthiness of each other.

High line operators Alan Brady, Keith Wilson and Dermot O’Reilly are also keen to provide some pictures, and go back up the training tower to, literally, show me the ropes, while Richie O’Sullivan is “busy hiding” from the camera.

A GREAT TEAM SPIRIT
On any given day, there are usually 13 crew members, as well as the DO and Kevin, and they range in age and years of service. “Paddy Dunne is here a long time,” Kevin tells me, “and he is due to retire in March 2019. We also have to give a hat tip to Gerry Sweeney, who is unfortunately out sick for a long time. He is sorely missed in the station because he really is the life and soul of it. He’s a great guy. He is due to retire soon too. Mark Keogh is probably in 25 years now, so he has given great service too.

“Then we go all the way down to lads who are only here a couple of years. We have two young lads in their 20s – James Courage and Daniel Simpson – both good guys. Even though they are no longer recruits, we still call them that, and will keep doing that until someone newer arrives.” Despite their varied experience, C Watch get on very well with each other, and work together exceptionally well too, as Kevin tells me.

“The camaraderie here is fantastic, and the entire crew are genuinely great. Nothing is ever a problem to them. The Open Day we ran in November, for example, was done just among the on-duty staff at the station, and they were all happy to do it. Anything you ask to be done gets done without any issue.

“They keep the place well, nice and tidy, but particularly on scene, on the fire ground, nothing is an issue. You ask for anything to be done, or for a piece of equipment to be retrieved, there is never a question, it is just done.”

That work ethic and camaraderie remains strong, despite the fact there has been a lot of changes in personnel over the last few years. “In the last year alone, we have had three lads come in from other stations, as well as two recruits, to replace lads who were promoted from here, and we have a new recruit joining us for his first shift on Christmas Eve night, so welcome to the Fire Brigade! But the camaraderie has always stayed strong, and everybody gets on really well.”

The Open Day Kevin mentions was organised to raise money for the Movember charity campaign for men’s health, and C Watch in Phibsboro is very much the HQ of the Frontline Mo Bros, the group set up and captained by firefighter Jonathan Forbes to help raise funds and awareness for male cancer and mental health issues.

“Johnny does get help from a few regulars, but he almost single-handedly set that up and runs the show, and he does an amazing job of it,” Kevin tells me.

Many of the C Watch crew were sporting impressive moustaches on the day, grown out over the course of the month of November, and to see them freshly shaved required a second look to recognise some faces I had previously met. Hundreds of people showed up for the Open Day, and for C Watch, being part of the community is very important.

“The door here is always open and visitors are always welcome,” Kevin says. “Obviously it depends on our schedule, but if someone passes by with their child and they want to have a look, if they want a picture taken or anything, we would never turn them away.” I’m delighted to say that spirit included my visit, so thanks to all at C Watch Phibsboro for showing me around.

Simulated terror attack exercise

The DFB took part in a major simulated terror attack and mass casualty training exercise at DCU on November 16.

The inter-agency training exercise, Operation Barracuda, was led by An Garda Siochána and involved specialist response units, the Defence Forces, the National Ambulance Service, as well as recruits from the Dublin Fire Brigade. It was designed to test the capabilities of first responders in the event of a mass casualty incident or terror attack, with the focus on saving saveable lives. The assailants and victims were played by 50 recruits from the Garda college at Templemore.

In the real-time tiered response, the simulated operation began when the Garda control centre received a 999 call at 7pm reporting a road traffic collision at DCU campus. Local Garda units responded first, and quickly determined that mass casualties were involved.

Crews were mobilised from the OBI to attend, but within minutes it was elevated to a major emergency when a number of “assailants” primed their car with explosives before getting out and stabbing and shooting people on the campus. A second call for ERCC Communications and Mass Casualty Units was then made.

As gunfire erupted, the DFB and NAS crews were tasked with the rapid extrication of further casualties, and to take cover in safe areas.

Blanchardstown Station Officer Mark Fay is also a recruit course trainer at the OBI. He was Initial Incident Commander at Operation Barracuda, tasked with the role of liaising with the other agencies and coordinating the emergency response from the DFB. For him, the way the operation played out was realistic, and a useful training exercise for the DFB recruits.

“When we arrived, we were told that there were still active shooters in the area, so we were prevented from going further into the campus by the Armed Response Unit and Garda officers, which is realistically what would happen. For us it’s about working in a safe area. We wouldn’t be sending a crew into an area that wasn’t cleared.

“Some of the lads found it hard that we had to hold back,” he added, “but to make it as realistic as possible, we had to wait for the other agencies to make the area safe for us to do our job.”

The recruits were given no advance warning of what they could expect from the exercise, but Mark was happy with how they handled it. “They did very well,” he said. “It was a bit daunting for some of them because it was the first time they had to work with another agency, but they triaged every casualty. 

“It was a good incident for the recruits to see what they could expect,” he added. “From what we saw, and regarding our role in it, it was a success.”

As the exercise continued, one of the assailants was shot dead before the two remaining terrorists retreated into a building and shot more casualties, taking a number of hostages.

The Garda Armed Support Unit moved in, while a joint DFB/NAS team of paramedics established a Casualty Triage and Clearing Station in an adjacent building, where they could remove and treat casualties it was possible to save.

As fire erupted in the main building, armed gardaí stormed the area, shot the assailants and retrieved the hostages, before DFB firefighters were allowed to enter to extinguish the fire and remove casualties to paramedics.

As members of the Defence Forces Explosives Ordnance Disposal unit dealt with the booby-trapped car, DFB and NAS paramedics continued to triage, load and transport the “wounded” to hospital, and after an hour, the exercise was wound down.

Although performed in real time, each agency had prepared for the training exercise individually, starting with desktop scenarios and building gradually to the operation itself.

Greg O’Dwyer, Senior Fire and Emergency Management Officer, was involved with the operation from the start and acted as the DFB’s lead in its planning and preparation.

“We started planning in February, and had a workshop that included a full scenario briefing,” he said. “After that we had monthly, then bi-monthly planning meetings and in the run up to the operation we had weekly meetings to go over what was going to happen. In September, we had a tabletop exercise that went through the full inter-agency involvement, before it became a reality in November.”

On the night itself, he and the Chief Fire Officer Dennis Keeley acted as narrators for VIPs and media present to witness the events unfold via security cameras and the various comms, and he was keen to see how inter-agency cooperation would work.

“There were two key purposes behind the operation,” he said. The first is to test inter-agency communication and coordination. How we take the 999/112 call details and how we share that information with each other, ensuring that responding crews have the best information possible. Then ensuring that any further information coming from the first responders at
the scene, is also shared to all responding agencies. 

“The second is to test each of the agencies’ individual preparedness for such an event, their procedures for dealing with it and the coordinated incident command system, ensuring a safe and efficient response and scene management.”

Greg also thought the exercise went very well.“The real takeaway for the DFB was how well we worked together with the HSE’s National Ambulance Service. Obviously, we needed a lot of coordination and on the ground organisation between the two agencies,” he said. “In a mass casualty incident, your training is important, but so too is coordination in trying to get through all the casualties, and bring them to safe locations for treatment. If such an incident was to happen today, after that exercise I would be very confident we would work very well to get the best possible outcome.

“Of course, we could have more personnel on hand, but with what
we had on the night, and what we have to work with, I think we are very well-prepared.”

Testing skills: Mass casualty training

Firecall looks back on a Dublin Fire Brigade mass casualty training exercise held last July, with trainee paramedics responding to a simulated large-scale terrorist attack in Broadstone.

Trainee Dublin Fire Brigade paramedics were given a baptism of fire last July, tasked with responding to an unknown mass casualty incident on the Luas line between Broadstone and Cabra, revealed as a terrorist attack with a large number of injured and deceased civilians.

Dublin Fire Brigade has had a working relationship with Luas over the past number of years concerning the Cross City works, ensuring they can respond to emergencies in and around roadworks adjacent to the new Luas line. The track is due to open to the public by the end of the year, but DFB officials wanted to run an exercise with Luas before trams hit the tracks. And, given events of the last year or two in London, Manchester, Paris and Nice, it became clear that the opportunity to train for a potential terrorist attack on Irish soil could prove highly useful.

Third Officer John Keogh made the initial contact with Luas and other stakeholders – a long process involving indemnities, insurance and other administrative tasks, with final approval coming just four weeks before the deadline. The Luas line between Broadstone and Cabra was chosen because it’s one of the few sections isolated from the main roads, winding along the old rail network.

“Using Broadstone as the base, we saw the opportunity of checking out some of the scenarios that might be in place if an incident happened on the Luas track where we hadn’t got direct access off the road. It was an opportunity we didn’t really want to miss out on,” T/O Keogh explains.

The scene of the training exercise. Photos courtesy Trevor Hunt and John Keogh

ORGANISATION

With permission granted for the exercise to go ahead in Phibsboro, the task of organising the incident itself fell to paramedic tutors A/SOFF Karl Kendellen and A/S/O Derek Rooney, charged with fleshing out the details and looking after everything from logistics to compliance with health and safety, traffic management and more. They crafted a highly realistic scenario for what would be the largest mass casualty exercise in DFB history, with 44 trainee paramedics, 60 casualties, and members of the gardaí, ERU, ASU, the Civil Defence, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Luas among those involved on the day.

Testing both the skills of the paramedics and communication lines between DFB and Luas, the exercise began with a call confirming a potential terrorist incident on the line, with an ambulance manned by two recruits arriving from Phibsboro fire station – the station that would turn out to a real incident along this route. The scenario saw four terrorists crashing a car into a tram, overturning the vehicle on the tracks before entering the tram and shooting and stabbing passengers. A second incident later in the day saw an attack on another tram by a second terrorist cell.

“One of the things we did differently from previous years, and to try and make it more realistic, was that we staggered the response and the numbers that were allowed into the incident at any particular time,” says A/SOFF Karl Kendellen. “If an incident happened for real in Dublin, we wouldn’t have 30 or 40 paramedics turning up at the same time – you might only have one or two fire appliances or ambulances, depending on the information that’s given.”

Members of the Garda Emergency Response Unit (ERU), backed by the Armed Support Unit (ASU), cleared the scene before the paramedics could begin triage as per the PHECC clinical practice guidelines. Patients were removed by order of severity to a treatment tent before transportation to a field hospital set up in No. 3 and manned by Dr Niamh Collins, a consultant in emergency medicine who is heavily involved in the DFB training programme – a training exercise for her team also.

“It’s really important for us to build up links with these people. These are agencies that we are working with all of the time – a smiling face of somebody you know helps, particularly in a highly tense environment like this,” says co-organiser A/S/O Derek Rooney, whose primary brief was to produce a risk assessment for the exercise, identifying potential hazards and ensuring the risks were controlled. “[The recruits] were brilliant, in fairness to them. They had a carry, from the initial incident near Broadstone, of approximately 400m. They were in full PPE, which obviously is hard work anyway, carrying 15 or 16 stone – colleagues and members of the public who volunteered and were moulaged (mock injuries), so they had real-life injuries, and a lot of them were shouting and roaring which put a lot of pressure on the recruits. It went very well. A thorough success from everyone concerned.”

Trainees in action.

LESSONS LEARNED

The exercise was a huge success, a large-scale operation that went off without a hitch, and the paramedic trainees excelled on the day. The exercise also highlighted where DFB’s response to such an incident could be improved and further strengthened the links between the emergency response agencies and medical crews who would work side-by-side in the event of a real attack.

“It was great to be a part of, it was a real achievement by everybody. The work that the paramedic tutors and the paramedic trainees themselves put in into making it a success just can’t be quantified,” says T/O Keogh, who notes the efforts made by Broadstone, Luas, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, Dublin Civil Defence, Sisk, the Order of Malta and St. John’s Ambulance in ensuring everything went as planned, and for facilitating their every need on the day. “I just can’t describe how much of a success it really was. To have everybody fully compliant, doing what they were tasked to do without any problem whatsoever – it was a pleasure to be involved in.”

Syria to Swords

Above: Joanne Doyle with crew members in Swords.

Defence Forces NCO Joanne Doyle spent a year working with Dublin Fire Brigade as part of her postgraduate advanced paramedic internship.

Lebanon. Liberia. Chad. The Golan Heights. Swords. One of these is not like the other. The latter, along with Finglas and Tara Street, is where advanced paramedic Sgt. Joanne Doyle – a non-commissioned officer (NCO) with the Defence Forces – spent the best part of a year attached to Dublin Fire Brigade while completing her AP internship. Joanne is usually based in the Defence Forces Training Centre in the Curragh, Co Kildare, but her drive to improve her skills within the medical and paramedic fields have seen her career take an interesting tangent.

“I joined the medical unit earlier on in my career – I liked the medical end of things. I did a paramedic course in 2005 – all of the trips that I’ve completed overseas have been from a medical perspective. The opportunity to join the advanced paramedic course came up after my return from the Golan Heights, so I thought it was a good opportunity and decided to do it,” she explains. Joanne’s background is in training, and she taught in the medical school in the Defence Forces training centre for a number of years. She was promoted several years ago to the rank of sergeant, and is now in charge of the outpatients department for the training centre. “It deals with occupational medicine, primary healthcare – any soldiers presenting sick, for annual medicals etc.,” she says. “I still teach in the Defence Forces and you’re still expected to be a soldier as well as a paramedic. I have been trained in different spheres, not just the medical aspects. In that respect not every day is the same – no more than working on an ambulance here! Every day is different.”

All Defence Forces recruits follow a similar path – 17 weeks of basic training, followed by 3 Star training, and specialist training courses at a later stage. Joanne always had an interest in further education and set her sights on joining one of the core units – staffed by soldiers with a specialised skill. Her first step was to complete a ten-week military medical course in the Curragh followed by ambulance-based skills, including the use of a defibrillator. In 2005 she undertook a paramedic course with the National Ambulance Service, learning skills that would stand to her on a number of overseas missions. Deploying overseas with other United Nations peacekeepers can be an interesting experience, not least because you have an opportunity to work with people of different nationalities and backgrounds and see how they approach certain challenges or situations.

“When I was in Syria I worked with Fijian soldiers. A lot of them were civilians who were contracted in to work for the army for two years – they spent two years overseas. They come with huge clinical backgrounds,” says Joanne. “The two types of missions that we do are peacekeeping and peace enforcement. Normally all personnel are based in a camp and the situation would dictate whether you would do a ten-day patrol or whether the area needs to be patrolled. But everything that leaves the camp, such as patrols, there’s always an ambulance and there’s always a doctor. Sometimes you’re just based in a camp looking after the medical welfare of the personnel – there are always slips, trips, falls, different types of injuries. Spending six months overseas, people get sick or they get injured. [But] you’re still a soldier, so you’re still carrying a weapon, you just carry all your other items and a medical bag [too].”

Joanne Doyle

BACK TO THE BOOKS

It’s more than two years now since Joanne first began training as an AP through University College Dublin (UCD), having decided to take the next step in her career, a process she describes as challenging, though made easier by the Defence Forces’ policy of allowing students like Joanne to focus on their studies. Although her work in the Defence Forces won’t make use of her skills as often as a shift in Dublin City might, she felt that the ability to make greater clinical interventions, particularly in difficult situations overseas, would stand to her and those under her care.

“You need to be able to provide interventions, give some sort of medication for pain relief, utilise a more advanced set of skills to provide more clinical benefits to the patient that you’re dealing with,” she tells me. “If we deal with Irish soldiers that are injured, they usually aren’t injured badly. But we don’t always have helicopters to evacuate them. If I need to move a patient you don’t always have that facility, so you’re managing the patient for that bit longer – you could be waiting a few hours before air support arrives. Here you’ll get an ambulance within a reasonable length of time; you don’t overseas because the operational situation is obviously different.”

Her first contact with Dublin Fire Brigade occurred during the Block 3 internship, a six-week stint on the road supervised by a doctor or professor in medicine. Once she had passed her exams, Joanne was keen to complete her postgraduate internship with DFB, realising that it would provide her with a wide range of experiences and learning on the job, not to mention a rank structure and a team spirit ethos similar to that of the Defence Forces. Some informal enquiries were made, followed by a formal meeting – the issue of indemnity from the Department of Defence had to be resolved among others, although Joanne describes this process as ‘straightforward’.

“I thought that Dublin Fire Brigade was a much better option for the volume and variety of calls, and exposure to different types of clinical situations. My interaction with the Defence Forces was limited for the year, because the Defence Forces will let you gain your exposure and your experience for 12 months before you return,” she explains.

Her initial point of contact in DFB was Third Officer John Keogh, a former member of the Defence Forces himself, who investigated the possibility of Joanne coming on board for the year and worked with EMS Support Officer Martin O’Reilly to sort out indemnity, insurance cover, Garda clearance and the myriad administrative issues that had to be overcome. During her 12-month stint Joanne worked on C watch, primarily between Swords and Finglas, with weekly shifts on the AP car based out of HQ and several weeks in No 8, broadening the range and type of incidents to which she responded.

“Martin O’Reilly dealt with my schedule. He was absolutely fantastic, I always received it weeks in advance,” she says. “I always knew where I was going – it was very professional.” Those three stations were chosen to give Joanne a broad overview of the incidents DFB APs and paramedics deal with on a daily basis, with different population profiles and risk factors in each location.

“We tried to give her as much scope as we could to get a good view of everything that was happening. Her primary location was in Swords fire station with C watch out there, which was a great benefit to her at the start because we had three APs on the watch. Any time she was responding on the ambulance, more than likely she was going to be with an already qualified and experienced AP,” Third Officer Keogh explains. “We had a few priorities when we went to introduce her to the station, [including] the local protocols that DFB has as regards dealing with RTCs, medical cases, any cases where the fire tender is involved. Additionally, there was a recruit class going through the training centre at the time so we were able to slot her into several modules that provide recruits with an overview of the incident command system that we operate, and how the officer falls into the equation.”

Joanne with Third Officer John Keogh and EMS Support Officer Martin O’Reilly.

BACK TO WORK

Joanne has since completed her year with DFB, which she refers to as one of the highlights of her 19 years with the Defence Forces. She returns to a perhaps less hectic life at the Curragh where any given day could see her leading driving courses (she’s also a driving instructor), joining heavy armament shoots in the Glen of Imaal in case of injuries, or simply tending to the medical needs of personnel on the base. “It’s an absolute adjustment!” she says with a smile. “I’ve been out of the Defence Forces for two years on and off between being in UCD and working with Dublin Fire Brigade. I will work as an AP but I won’t work on a daily basis on a frontline ambulance.” Still, Joanne brings back a wealth of experience having had the chance to practice her newfound skills in a more clinically busy environment than she would experience with the Defence Forces, and to shadow and work with DFB APs who have been practising for a number of years.

“In her time here she probably spent more time on the AP car in DFB than any of our own APs, so she received huge exposure to incidents. She’s going back to a job now where she won’t do anything like what she’s done over the past year. It was a great asset for her, and a great asset for the Defence Forces to have that kind of background going back into their service, a good understanding of how the civilian EMS side operates,” says T/O Keogh, who notes that by the end of her year with DFB Joanne was well-known across Foxtrot District, deferred to as the clinical lead if she was the only AP on site. “She also got on really well [with the crews], she got involved in all of the social events that were run between Finglas fire station and Swords fire station. She was fully involved really with everything that was going on in the station, and they treated her just like one of the crew.”

The relationship with the Defence Forces also continues to blossom – a second AP has since begun his AP internship with DFB, a good sign of things to come. “We’re hoping that continues with Darren McDaid – he’s going to be with us for a year. Hopefully we will continue that development between ourselves and the Defence Forces because it’s great to be able to do it. We’d love to be able to facilitate it more,” says T/O Keogh, a sentiment echoed by Joanne.

“The Defence Forces is delighted because they would like to have a relationship with Dublin Fire Brigade and to keep that relationship open,” she tells me. “I absolutely loved every shift with Dublin Fire Brigade. I’ve met brilliant people, I’ve made great friends. I think Dublin Fire Brigade has some of the best APs – there was always something to learn, as every clinical case is totally different. It was brilliant to work with really experienced advanced paramedics who have seen everything and done everything. It was a great opportunity to work with them. If I wasn’t retiring in two years I would definitely consider applying for Dublin Fire Brigade. I think it’s a great opportunity for people who have any interest in the EMS or the firefighting side. I think it’s a great career.”