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Dublin: 19 °C Friday 14 August, 2020

Column: 'Some treat the ambulance like a taxi' - Christmas for Dublin Fire Brigade

A firefighter and paramedic gives us an insight into what it’s like over the busy Christmas and New Year for an already over-stretched Dublin Fire Brigade…

Ros Mac Cobb

WITH A POPULATION of over one million people and over 90,000 incidents annual, it’s always a busy time for Dublin Fire Brigade but the build-up to Christmas is a traditionally a very active and incident-packed time of year.

Unlike other fire services in the country within Dublin Fire Brigade, we provide a firefighting and paramedics service meaning we have to handle crises affecting both people and property, often simultaneously.

Christmas time for firefighters delivers a multitude of emergencies – from births to deaths, we see it all. Festive revellers keep the ambulance crew busy as well as the other every day-to-day emergencies that firefighters have to attend to. The weather can play a big part in how many call outs we get as well.

Particularly problematic at this time of year is the Christmas reveller who over indulges at the work party in the city centre and adds to an already over loaded Emergency Department system. These people are often abandoned by workmates, friends who ring for an ambulance in so as it can take the inebriated soul off their hands. At times people treat the ambulance service like a taxi it’s that blatant, but you cant refuse to transport someone.

These people end up clogging an already overloaded Emergency Department system bursting at the seams with patients occupying the ambulance stretcher from as long as 30 minutes to 14 plus hours and often with eight plus ambulances tied up at Emergency Departments. This can lead to other people waiting for over an hour on an emergency ambulance.

The citizens in Dublin are lucky that paramedics also respond in fire engines to serious medical emergencies where they can stabilise the patient without the ambulance being present. But often they respond to medical emergencies knowing that an ambulance is unavailable and they end up “babysitting” the patient while waiting on the arrival of an ambulance.

This wait on an ambulance happens often but in the winter months becomes more regular. As an example of how stretched services have become, one critically ill patient had to be transported by a Garda van with paramedics in the back treating them on the floor of the van.

In another instance, a patient was moved from the scene of an accident on a spinal board into the warmth of a nearby shop while there was a lengthy wait for an ambulance. This has been going on for years but there seems to be no improvement.

‘The tragedy can take its toll… but you try and forget it’

We are one of the few groups of people who get to see behind people’s doors in their time of need. There are sights that we have witnessed that you could never have imagine would go on in a so-called modern society.

We get to see it all at Christmas, from people who celebrate Christmas on their own, be they on the streets or sitting in their house, to families who, after a day of eating and drinking, get so tense that there ends up being violence. Or else they have over indulged on the food and are suffering from heart burn and indigestion. They fear the worst and ring for an ambulance but it is better to be safe than sorry to be fair to them.

For others Christmas amd New Year can be a time that they would rather forget. With the economic turmoil that has taken over Ireland, people are hurting. We get to see this first-hand on an almost daily basis. Their cries for help can go unheard and those who see no other way out can make a life changing decision. For others we are unable to do anything for them. It’s too late for any intervention to save them. Seeing such tragedy can take its toll on crews but you try and forget it.

Like a number of people who have to work on Christmas Day you learn to live with it but it does affect your family life. It can be hard for some especially the kids waiting on Mammy or Daddy to come home from work before they can open their Santa presents.

There is the possibility of being out at an incident and not getting back for your finish time, adding an extra pressure to the few hours you have at home to meet family, have Christmas dinner and then get back to work.

It’s not all doom and gloom. There is a lot of charity work done over Christmas, be it selling firefighter calendars on the streets to dropping presents into the children’s hospitals in the fire engine, which is very rewarding.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Dublin Fire Brigade. Keep safe out there and enjoy yourself!

Ros Mac Cobb works for Dublin Fire Brigade and is a member of the Irish Firefighter and Emergency Services Association

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Ros Mac Cobb

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