eighty dublin fire brigade tallaght justin burns bravo district – crumlin
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Dublin Fire Brigade district officer Justin Burns is explaining some of the details of Bravo District – Crumlin, Walkinstown, Clondalkin and on to Tallaght.
It is a 225sq km area in which some 380,000 people are served by four fire appliances, two ambulances, one heavy rescue tender and the district officer’s Mercedes Vito incident control vehicle.
It’s 8pm on Saturday, the Saturday before Halloween.
The first incident reported is a car on fire in an estate in Greenhills. They’ve got a minute to get on to the road but usually do it in 40 seconds.
We tear along the roads to Greenhills in the Mercedes – siren on and blue lights flashing as the fire tender in front cuts a path through the traffic.
We arrive simultaneously and yet by the time the Merc empties, firefighter Gordon Lambe is already out of the tender, wearing full breathing apparatus (BA) gear and hosing down the Volkswagen Scirocco.
The car is an inferno with every bit of combustible material burning with a violent intensity and occasionally spewing out blazing globules that sizzle on to the road.
“Magnesium,” says Burns, adding that the average car today contains some 4,000 carcinogens, hence the breathing equipment.
Lambe and colleagues douse the blaze swiftly, the coup de grace delivered by fuel-smothering foam.
When the NCT road worthiness test came in first, they’d get maybe 20 cars a day on fire. It was a way of getting rid of them; now these calls are rare enough.
This job’s done; no one injured; gardaí arrive and take over what’s left, which isn’t much – just a roadside mess on an estate and an owner wondering how it happened. It’s back to base in Dolphin’s Barn. On the way, the next callout crackles from Tara Street control centre.
Burns hits the accelerator and the Merc careers back through Crumlin, into the Coombe, up and over Christchurch (by which time there’s a Garda Armed Support Unit Audi 4X4 close behind us) and on along the north quays.
On Seán MacDermott Street, there’s a blizzard of blue flashing lights on the road between Our Lady of Lourdes Church and St Mary’s Mansions. On the pavement, Dublin Fire Brigade advanced paramedics and ambulance crew are standing over a man lying beside a dirty white, blood-stained eiderdown.
He is eased on to a stretcher, his head held in place to protect his spine as he’s lifted into the ambulance.
A second man gets into the ambulance with him and, for a moment, all is calm as the medics look after the injured man.
The heavily armed gardái mingle with uniform colleagues and paramedics, asking a few questions of locals, listening for answers, hoping for something to go on. The crime scene tape has appeared and onlookers watch, as onlookers do, and talk among themselves.
“Don’t think they’ll be forthcoming,” says a garda, who looks like he’s been here before.
Just then, there’s a clattering from inside the ambulance. Guards go over and moments later, the second man is hauled out through the side door and wrestled almost to the spot where his stricken friend had been laid. Three guards are on him, pinning him down with their knees.
“You’re being awkward,” shouts one. “Hold still.”
The man is bundled into a waiting Garda van which starts to rock as he bangs on the inside.
Outside on the road, all is night-time calm on Sean MacDermott Street, as the Armed Support Unit Audi purrs off into the night.
The man in the van is Ross Hutch (25), a nephew of Gerry “the Monk” Hutch, a reported target of the Kinahan gang and a survivor of the feud eating away at his family.
No one is really sure what happened. There was no shooting, the phone call to control was inaccurate, perhaps to get a quicker response. But there was a hit and run. Ross Hutch wasn’t hit but the other man was, whether by design or accident. Hutch was left unscathed but in a highly agitated state.
Back at Dolphin’s Barn, dinner is Thai chicken curry, rice and chips, eaten in the Mess while watching Katie Taylor fight (and win) on TV. The walls are festooned with photos, newspaper cuttings and framed fire fighter T-shirts from all over. There’s a wall of photos in a corridor of late colleagues, cabinets of fire service memorabilia, a small gym and a snooker room with a full-sized table.
Firefighter jackets hang on hooks and on the ground in front of them are heavy-duty trousers with the legs left sitting over their boots so that when the callout comes you just dive in, grab the jacket and helmet and run.
Eighty firefighters man the Barn, on duty across four watches – A, B, C and D. They work 39 hours a week on a 28-day rota, a mix of nine-hour days and 15-hour nights.
There are seven women firefighters at the Barn. For 15 years, horse-lover and advanced paramedic Eithne Scully has been one of them.
“I fell in love with the job,” she explains.
“And we fell in love with you,” says a curry-chewing male colleague, pulling her leg.
Fabio Pederlynn and three friends from Italy were ambling along when set upon by a swarm of youths. Wanna fight? Come over here and say that-type stuff.
Fabio took a blow to the face.
“It was so random. Nothing!” says his friend Matteo, who has been living in Ireland for two years. “So random.”
By the time we arrive, Fabio is in the back of an ambulance, his nose bleeding, maybe broken, but otherwise he’s okay. His friends are mystified.
“It’s early yet,” says Burns.
This is sorted before we get there and so we divert back to the Ashling Hotel on Parkgate Street where, at 10.10pm, an elderly woman is reported to have taken a turn.
The ambulance and a fire tender attend and care for her, comforting her family.
By the time we get there minutes later, the tender is leaving, the incident dealt with and over, nothing more to see.
“They’re too good,” Burns says, pleased.
The lane is jammed with people milling around the entrances of various bars and clubs and in varying states of dress (fancy and otherwise). The scene is like a mix of a Fellini film and one of Hogarth’s London gin scenes.
Seven minutes after the call is received in Tara Street Control, the bouncers and staff at Zozimus usher the paramedics into the toilet where a woman is on the floor in a cubicle.
As men in high-viz gear and surgical gloves come and go, tending the woman and eventually taking her out through the crowded bar and dance floor on a stretcher, the partying goes on uninterrupted – either oblivious or unconcerned about what has happened.
Inside the ambulance, the woman is conscious but shaking like a leaf.
“C2H5OH,” says a paramedic.
C2H5OH is alcohol. It’s an explanation that looms large over the next few hours.
Inside the back of the ambulance, a young man is sitting, his head slumped forward, chin on chest. The paramedic lifts his head up and shines a light into his eyes, hoping to see the pupils dilate.
The head flops back down like a rag doll’s. He’s alive but only in a manner of speaking.
Heroin this time, not drink.
At the house, a 65-year-old man was found by his family lying, face down. Dublin has one of the highest heart attack survival rates (after Seattle, apparently) in part because of the paramedic training of firefighters and their team approach with ambulance paramedics.
But not now.
“It’s not looking good,” someone on the scene tells us.
A few minutes later, the advanced paramedic “calls it” – takes a decision that nothing more can be done – and the scene is turned over to the gardaí and the family.
The Mess Room alarm goes off. A woman has been found unconscious on the pavement at the Brazen Head pub near Christchurch. Probable C2H, says control.
We get there and find a man standing by an ambulance in a black tie outfit but no dinner jacket, with a Phantom of the Opera mask shoved up on to his forehead. There’s also a woman who is totally incapable of standing unaided being helped into an ambulance. She’s being watched by a third woman whose face is painted and who is also wearing some sort of theatrical-cum-fancy dress costume.
They had come from a bar on Dame Street and, thanks to a passer-by who stopped his car when he saw the woman collapsed on the pavement, were now bound for St James’s Hospital.
We’re on our way to a house fire in Clonsilla when control calls for an ambulance to go to the Regency Hotel in Whitehall where a 23-year-old woman has been found in a room unconscious, apparently from prescription drugs.
Others will do that; we’ll go to the fire. But the call is soon stood down. The fire was apparently a blazing bush behind an apartment that appeared, when seen from the outside and through the apartment, to be the property on fire with the assumption of “person’s reported” – the belief that people were trapped inside.
We’re on our way to an assault at the Red Cow when Control alerts, at 2.06am, to a male in the water outside the Laughter Lounge on Eden Quay.
Homeless man Shane Matthews was on O’Connell Bridge when a man got on to the bridge and made to jump in. Matthews grabbed the man’s leg and tried to stop him. But the man hit the water.
Matthews ran off the bridge and on to Eden Quay where he found a buoy and threw it into the Liffey and ran along the boardwalk shouting at the man, urging him to save himself.
Fire fighters with water gear pulled the man out and he was put into an ambulance, shivering and alone with his troubles as Matthews looked on.
Matthews didn’t want to talk about it, and left the scene clutching his bag of possessions.
Two men from England, over for a stag, are walking back to their hostel, the Dublin Central on Blessington Court when they see a man urinating on Dorset Street.
They give him a wide berth.
But we’re told he finished and ran after them. After catching up, he stabs one of the visitors under his arm, the other in his stomach. Flesh wounds but stabwounds nonetheless.
The ambulance came and they were looked after.
“I apologised to them on behalf of our city,” said Tara Street station officer Pat Teehan. “It’s okay, it’s not your fault,” one of the men replied.
A 40-something woman is lying on the pavement, which is wet from drizzle. Her legs are tucked up under her, her handbag his open, its contents scattered about her and she is mouthing incoherently. C2H5OH
“Leave me along,” she tells the three gardaí trying to help. “I don’t want her f-ckin’ near me.” (A reference to a second, older woman standing near).
It is not clear if there has been an attempted robbery or a row or what. It transpires the pair left the George Pub together, fell out and fought.
The ambulance takes the woman from the pavement; the other walks off on her own.
We head for Harcourt Street, waiting for an alert from Control but knowing from experience that it is full of clubs and people.
In front of us at traffic lights, the passenger door of a taxi opens, a woman leans out, empties her stomach on to the street and closes the doors again.
The taxi driver pulls over, the woman and the taxi part company.
Harcourt Street is black with people, taxis and bicycle rickshaws.
Between 8pm and about 3am, we covered some 200km between central Dublin and Tallaght and witnessed but a fraction of what firefighters, ambulance crews and gardaí responded to.
Few of the first-responders knew who I was, as I wore a firefighter high-viz jacket. I witnessed not a single example of poor professionalism or poor conduct by a guard, firefighter or paramedic. The very opposite, in fact.
According to firefighter Trevor Hunt, manning Control social media account on Saturday night, this year there have been some 92,500 ambulance call-outs and 19,380 fire service call-outs.
“This has been a quiet night, a very quiet night,” says Burns. “Exceptionally quiet for a Saturday.”
He wasn’t joking.