Rewind - Dublin Fire Brigade

By Sean Heffernan

For this week’s piece I thought I would change tack and focus on one of our most venerable and crucial public services, Dublin Fire Brigade.

Often if it’s a nice sunny day I will head to Clondalkin for my regular tea and chat with a friend on foot.

rewind DFB

If you were to do the same, as you walked up the far end of the Belgard Road you too will stumble across a building that is nestled off the dual carriageway - blink and you’d miss it if driving - Tallaght Fire Station.

There are 11 other permanent fire stations in our capital city, (Donnybrook, Dolphins Barn, Phibsborough, The North Strand, Kilbarrack, Finglas, Rathfarnham, Blanchardstown, Tara Street and Dun Laoghaire) there are also two ‘retained’ (part-time) stations in Skerries and Balbriggan, but plans are afoot to make one of them a full-time station too.

The first fire prevention teams in Dublin are said to have originated in the 1600’s, and were setup by the insurance companies as a way to lessen the amount of claims accruing to buildings as a result of fire damage.

Buildings that were insured had a mark placed on them, and if they went on fire the prevention service would kick into action to try and save it; but if your building was uninsured you unfortunately could do nowt but grin and bear it.

 Archives from 1711 that have been unearthed show that a Mr John Oats was paid the sum of £6 a year (around €1,200 in today’s money) to supervise a group of six men who operated a water truck in the event of a fire.

The 1862 “The Dublin Fire Brigade’s Act” was implemented which lessened the need to have private insurance company linked services.

In 1909 Dublin received it’s first ever motor pump which was developed by the Leyland Group in the UK.

Fire Brigade's Act

In 1940, with the onset of war seemingly looming ever closer to our shores, a nationwide “Fire Brigade’s Act” was passed by The Dáil, which mandated every council in the country to provide fire fighting services in their area.

A report in 2015 (The latest available) showed there were 765 Full-Time and 20 Part-Time fire fighters working for Dublin Fire Brigade in 2015.

Currently Dublin Fire Brigade has a total of 22 fire engines, 12 ambulances and 2 rescue boats in it’s fleet, and an average of 133,000 callout’s are responded to every year.

There is also a training centre located just off the Malahide Road in Marino.

There sadly have been a number of serious incidents since that first motor pump arrived, which DFB played an integral part in dealing with the aftermath.

The year 1913 is firmly etched in the minds of many as the year that workers across Dublin were “locked out” by their employers due to them joining the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.

It is also the year two buildings on Church Street - numbers 66 and 67 to be exact – collapsed on the night of September 2nd, resulting in the death of seven people who all lived in 66, and the injury of up to 20 more.

It all started when the chimney came crashing down with the force of bringing the back walls with it, and in a flash very little of both dwellings were left standing, with rubble covering the entire road in front of it.

Three years later Dublin was ablaze as a group of armed fighters took over strategic buildings in the city centre, amongst them the General Post Office and Jacob’s Biscuit Factory in a Rising against British occupation of the country.

While those brave enough to venture outside a few days later passed many destroyed buildings they would be witnessing, from a distance, many men in their distinctive helmets battling many fires that were still raging.

Skip six years to 1921, where on May 25th many centuries of documents detailing Ireland’s past were destroyed, after an IRA Brigade burnt the Custom House, along the quays, to the ground.

This attack caused incalculable damage to the process of piecing together the people, places and traditions that permeated our whole island.  How much a hole this has pierced in the official narrative of the past we’ll never really be able to quantify.

In 1941, four high-explosive bombs were dropped on the North Strand area resulting in the death of 28 people, with over 90 suffering injuries of varying degrees.

There are two theories that abound as to why it was bombed by the Luftwaffe, some claiming the Germans had mistakenly thought they were over Liverpool, with the bad weather disorienting them and putting them off course.

Others maintain that it was no accident the bombs were dropped, and that it was in revenge for the Dublin Fire Brigade travelling north to help their Ulster colleagues when Belfast wad ravaged by a devastating series of bombs.

While “Lord Haw Haw” William Joyce gave this explanation in one of his infamous “Germany Calling” radio bulletins, the overflying Liverpool narrative is a more widely accepted version of this event.

Recently there was consternation and outrage when some vital life-saving equipment was stolen from an ambulance as paramedics were inside a public house in Cabra attending to a seriously ill person.

Thankfully the conscience got the better of the robbers, and the equipment was returned to Phibsborough station by a tradesman they had originally tried to sell the equipment to.

Besides plans to build a permanent fire station in North County Dublin, also in the pipeline is a proposed new station between Clondalkin and Lucan.

Given the massive new housing schemes planned for that area, I believe this development cannot come soon enough.

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