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Dublin: 7 °C Wednesday 18 September, 2019
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Column: Working as a firefighter over the festive period can be hard – but it’s worth it

Our control centre handles fire and rescue calls for the whole of Leinster, so we’re always busy, but Christmas and New Year can often be when we’re needed most, writes Trevor Hunt.

Trevor Hunt

THIS YEAR “A watch” will be working Christmas for Dublin Fire Brigade. Christmas day for “A watch” starts at 10.00 in the station with parade which is similar to a roll call. I started operationally as a firefighter/paramedic with Dublin Fire Brigade in December 2005.

This is my ninth Christmas in DFB and my fifth working, this year I have Christmas Eve off but that’s it for Christmas and the New Year. I don’t mind, everyone who applied for the job knew what they were required to do. There is no choice about working, if that’s the way the shift pattern falls, then you are on duty. Dublin Fire Brigade provides the same level of fire and medical response on every day throughout the Christmas period, in fact one of our busiest nights of the year is New Year’s Eve.

In recent years Christmas Eve has become my Christmas day; I swap my presents, go out and generally make the best of the day. I even proposed to my wife on Christmas Eve as opposed to the more traditional Christmas day as I was on duty but this had the added benefit of being ahead of the posse.

Firefighters with young family at Christmas

Normally on Christmas day, the day crew will start early for the off going crew if they have small kids at home. Everyone on the watch will try to accommodate firefighters with young family at Christmas. The station will have a festive feel; we always get a tree and decorations to brighten the place up. On any normal working day food is prepared and cooked by the watch on duty but for Christmas day, we generally only have a light snack as most of the crew will have dinner at home with their family that night. The three sections of the organisation that will be on duty that day (fire engines, ambulances, control centre) are backed up by departments that are on call throughout the festive period such as our logistics, garage and fire prevention sections.

The types of turnouts you get are varied. The fire engines tend to get more house fires. People have rapidly drying trees in their living rooms, candles and a lot more electrical equipment switched on. It’s very distressing for any family to lose their house and possessions in the early hours of the morning but it does happen, more regularly then you may think. Thankfully, for the Christmas fires I have been at, we have managed to rescue the residents with no loss of life. Another frequent call we get is revellers coming home from a party or pub, switching on the cooker and falling asleep with the obvious dangers that brings. Sometimes a take-away is a safer option.

Alcohol, family disputes and loneliness

For ambulance calls a lot of them are related to alcohol, family disputes and loneliness. On my first ever Christmas working, we received a call to a city centre Garda station for an intoxicated woman. Everyone, the guards, even the prisoners were in a festive mood. As we stood in the cell treating the patient, there was a radio blaring out the lyrics from “Fairytale of New York” about the drunk tank and the NYPD. It was very surreal to see it in the flesh. Accident and emergency is the last resort for most people, and especially so on Christmas day, but through a combination of loneliness and depression there are people who want to go or see no alternative to a chair in a casualty waiting room.

The city centre generally looks like a scene from 28 Days later, the normally bustling streets deserted of all life, with the exclusion of Parnell street where for the recently arrived nationalities it is business as usual with every restaurant and shop brightly lit and most definitely open for business. Travel 30 feet onto O’Connell St and its back to darkened shops and empty streets.

Our control centre handles fire and rescue calls for the whole of Leinster and is always busy but especially so if inclement weather is present over the country on Christmas day. High winds or pluvial flooding can cause havoc, power cuts and structural damage – all of this handled by the firefighters on duty in the control room. “A watch” will work till 18.00 on Christmas day then “B watch” will take over and work till 10.00 the next morning. “A watch” start again on St Stephen’s Day and it’s generally a hectic day as retail outlets begin their sales and the bars and clubs reopen.

Overall it is a different experience to work the festive period compared to the rest of the year, it brings its own peculiarities and challenges but on the whole it is something everyone in the fire brigade is happy to do.

Trevor Hunt is a firefighter with Dublin Fire Brigade.

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