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Dublin: 14 °C Saturday 21 July, 2018
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'It’s like being part of a football team': 10 months of Carraroe's first fire station

“Someone from the crew knew someone involved in nearly all of the incidents – that’s the toughest part of the job.”

Source: Mikey Ó Flatharta/YouTube

“There were only two places left on earth without a fire station,” begins a documentary aired tonight on TG4. “Hell, and An Cheathrú Rua.”

After 50 years of campaigning, the community on the west coast of Connemara were finally granted a dedicated fire station – and in the first 10 months they would receive 90 calls – 50% extra than were expected.

Tonight’s documentary, Fir Dóiteán an Cheathrú Rua (or ‘The Firemen of Carraroe’) which airs tonight on TG4 at 7.45pm, follows the nine local men as they train to become firemen, and how they cope with the various situations around the local community – often happening to people they know personally.

The Galway Fire Service held two information nights in Carraroe that was open to the public and for people who were interested in joining the new fire station. Over 100 people showed up to these sessions, and interviews were conducted to narrow it down to a panel of 26.

The Carraroe Firemen 3 Source: Mikey Ó Flatharta

11 trainees were given the opportunity to go on a three-week intensive recruits course in Clifden, Co Galway, which involved going into getting used to heat of up to 200 degrees, making decisions in high pressure situations, and knowing how to react once an alert has been made.

Mikey Ó Flatharta, who is a part-time fireman and the producer of the documentary, spoke to TheJournal.ie ahead of the release of the documentary tonight.

He said that he put his own name forward after attending the information night, for the simple and selfless reason that he thought he fitted the criteria that they were looking for: “I’m living close to the station and am self-employed so I have the flexibility to attend the calls.”

He said that the course in Galway gave a great basic knowledge on how to operate all the fire equipment:

For example, we were shown how to use the water pumps on the appliances and we practiced with the cutting equipment needed to deal with Road Traffic Collisions.
We also learned how to stabilise a car that was involved in a collision and how to cut the roof off the car and extract a casualty safely.

Throughout the training in Galway and later in Bray, the sentiment was that the team helped each other through conditions they found difficult – with the trainers putting particular pressure on them to make tough decisions when tired or overwhelmed by the heat to see how they would react.

Fir Dóiteán Source: YouTube/Screengrab

The Station Officer Edward Ó Shea said the fact that the nine men already knew each other, helped greatly to make everyone stronger during the gruelling training.

Ó Flatharta also says that although their training was in English, being fluent Irish speakers also came in handy.

“I remember on the Breathing Apparatus course, I had forgotten the brief that was given to us. I was in a team of three people and we were going into the training building in total darkness, smoke and very hot conditions. I asked one of my teammates in Irish to tell me what the brief was and he told me. I said it in such a way that it didn’t sound like a question.

“The instructor was right beside me but he didn’t know what I had just asked. If I had asked it in English he wouldn’t be too happy but I got away with it by asking in Irish.”

When we are together around the station and attending incidents, we work in the Irish language. All nine firemen are fluent and living within five minutes of the station. If we are working with other crews at an incident we would use English, especially to communicate via radios so that everyone knows what is going on.

The Carraroe Firemen 4 Source: Mikey Ó Flatharta

The team of nine spent around two months of training – that means simulated calls and mock accidents – before the station went “live”.

“We weren’t told beforehand when they would happen,” says Ó Flatharta. “We all had alerters and they could go off at anytime – I think that we had a call at 4am one morning.

This was a great help, as it got us used to being on call 24/7 and mobilising to a call. By the time we went live on the the 22 February, we were used to responding to calls, even though they were real calls now.”

The crew went about 8 days waiting for our first real call, which involved them constantly checking pagers, for fear they would go off at any moment.

“Our first call was a Road Traffic Collision with two cars. When we arrived, the ambulance was there and we helped them with the casualty. We closed the road for a short period for the safety of the casualty. Then we did traffic management until the scene was secure.

“Everything went very well for us on the first call, we were very happy with it and the pressure was off then.”

The Carraroe Firemen 1 Source: Mikey Ó Flatharta

The team have dealt with a lot of gorse fires in particular, because of a dry spell of weather and the high number of boglands in Connemara: “we have attended to a lot of gorse fires, which can be dangerous if they happen near houses or roads”.

The toughest part of the fire station job is dealing with casualties that involve people you know. Because these firemen live in the local area, they can respond within minutes – An Ceathrú Rua averages a 4-minute response time.

The downside to this is when you respond to a call, you’re likely to know they person or the people involved in the incident.

This is the toughest part of the job. Someone from the crew knew someone involved in nearly all of the incidents.

fire brigade Source: YouTube/Screengrab

“But on the other hand, it’s great to be there for people you know when they need assistance. Working as a retained fireman is a little restrictive, but it is very rewarding when you manage to help someone, there is a lot of satisfaction to be taken from the job and working with a team is great.

It’s like being part of a football team again. The camaraderie and the banter is great fun, and being part of a team helps us all deal with difficult situations – you are never left on your own.

Before An Cheathrú Rua’s fire station, communities in south Connemara were relying on the Fire Brigade coming from Galway City or Clifden to respond to calls – which could take an hour because of the distance.

Ó Flatharta says that the new fire station has gathered positive reactions from the public:

“I think that the community are very happy with the new fire station, and feel a lot safer now knowing that there is help closeby if it’s needed.”

The documentary Fir Dóiteáin, An Cheathrú Rua will be screened on TG4 tonight at 7.45pm.

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