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The Firefighter 'It's never a good time to have a fire in your home, but Christmas is especially upsetting'

Those of us with kids will rise early to see if Santa came to visit, have some breakfast, exchange gifts and then wish our loved ones a Happy Christmas as we leave for work.

THIS YEAR, just like 2013, the task of manning Dublin Fire Brigade’s Fire Appliances, Ambulances, and Control Centre falls to the men and women of ‘A-Watch’. Those of us with kids will rise early to see if Santa came to visit, have some breakfast, exchange gifts and then wish our loved ones a Happy Christmas as we leave for work.

The shift in DFB runs on a 28 day cycle throughout the year so whichever of the four watches happens to be scheduled to work Christmas goes to work as they would on the 25th of any other month. There can be a run of a couple of years where a watch will have Christmas off, and other times where we may have to work a few Christmases in a row. It’s just the way the job is and everyone knows how it works and tends to just get on with it.

This year Christmas falls on a Thursday, and it happens to be the Thursday in the month that ‘A-Watch’ are on a ‘day shift’, we will also have worked Christmas Eve, and will be scheduled to work St Stephen’s night and the night of New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately these would traditionally be times when family and friends would get together so we may miss out on a few parties.

Christmas Day will officially start at 10am, although some of the lads may be in work early by prior arrangement to allow the off-going crewmembers to get home to see how generous Santa was. As with any other day or night shift, there will be a work parade where each person is assigned a duty for the day, and a position on either a fire appliance or ambulance. Once all of the equipment is checked, the kitchen is usually the first port of call, and a small meal will be prepared and eaten around midday, leaving room for a few mince pies in the afternoon and the Christmas dinner that our families will have kindly delayed until we arrive home to eat. The station will be decorated and will have a tree up, and there will be a good mood about the place on Christmas Day.

Christmas can be a very busy time for the emergency services. Out on the road we will come across our colleagues in the National Ambulance Service, An Garda Síochána, and the Nurses and Doctors of the Emergency Departments throughout the Christmas period. We all know how tough it can be to be away from home at Christmas so there will be good humour, and Christmas and New Year’s wishes passed between the services, which can help keep the spirits up.

The type of calls we will get at this time of year will be as varied, as they always are. Domestic house fires tend to be more common with many people lighting candles and overloading sockets to get those extra few lights on the tree. It is never a good time to have a fire in your home, but it’s especially upsetting to see a family who have lost all of their Christmas presents to a fire.

Domestic disputes tend to be particularly bad at Christmas time, with people consuming alcohol at home and perhaps drinking a little more than usual. Those of us who will be assigned to Ambulance or Control Room duties will know to prepare for a particularly busy shift over Christmas. Christmas night, and New Year’s Eve are notoriously busy nights with assaults and falls adding to the regular calls that have the service stretched even on a good day.

Road Traffic Collisions can be common on Christmas morning, as people tend to speed a little more on empty roads, which can be especially dangerous if the temperatures are below freezing. Unfortunately, like our colleagues, we will see some things at Christmas that are upsetting but like any other day at work, we deal with it either through chatting to peers or through the counsellors that are available to us if we feel we need to talk to someone.

At 6pm, ‘A-Watch’ knock off duty and pass the station over to ‘B-Watch’ who will cover the following 15 hour shift. My brother John will be working Christmas night on ‘B-Watch’ so I will see him for a few minutes at the change of shift before rushing home to see my wife and family, and asking my little boy how he got on with his new toys.

Steve McNally is a firefighter and paramedic with Dublin Fire Brigade.

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