Dublin, Ireland, Municipal Fire Brigade

by George H. Potter

Ireland is famed for being home to some of the world’s finest race horses, leprechauns, the Blarney stone, and, of course, Molly Malone. It is also home to the energetic Dublin Fire Brigade, the principal public fire service of the island republic.

The Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB) is a public service fire brigade under the auspices of the Dublin Fire Authority, one of the four such authorities in the greater Dublin area. The national Department of Environment and the local government serve as an advisory, legislative, and policy-making entity, coordinating the activities of the republic’s Fire Authorities. Northern Ireland’s public fire protection is guaranteed by the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service and is completely independent from the Republic of Ireland’s Fire Authority structure.

The DFB protects a  million-plus populated region of some 355 square miles. The city of Dublin itself takes in about half the population in a typical downtown-suburban mix that also contains the republic’s major seaport that handles very heavy cargo and passenger traffic, several industrial complexes (mostly adjacent to the port), the international airport (ICAO category 9 with its own specific fire service), the island’s primary passenger and cargo railway hub, a three-mile road tunnel, and a new surface rail passenger line. The River Liffey, which empties into the port, divides the city in two, North Dublin and South Dublin, while two canals, perpendicular to the river, further divide the city. Most of the major historic sites are in South Dublin. North Dublin hosts most of the city’s new commercial and business buildings and complexes.

The municipal brigade is composed of 12 full-time operated fire stations plus two on-call stations in suburban areas. The DFB headquarters on Townsend Street houses the operational management of the brigade, the technical branch that performs building inspections for the issuance of fire safety certificates (the Irish version of the Fire Prevention Bureau), and the station covering the city center.

The DFB has some 900 responding firefighters and officers plus 200 support personnel, including some of the staff of the central control center, the “999” alarm reception, and the dispatching center for fire and ambulance response. An interesting feature of the control center is that all operational firefighters periodically staff the center on a rotating basis. All of the firefighters are certified paramedics and, again, on rotation are assigned to respond on fire apparatus or on one of the 12 advanced life support-equipped ambulances, one at each fire station.

The mobile fire apparatus fleet is composed of 21 pump engines (Irish and British Class B pumps) equipped with Godiva 600-gallons per minute (gpm) rear-mounted pumps; a 45 foot, three-section extension ladder with stay poles; two 16-foot, two-section extension ladders; and one 10-foot straight ladder; hydraulic rescue equipment; various sections of 2¾-, 1¾, and 1-inch I.D. hose plus a 1-inch booster line; various nozzles; fittings; and a myriad of other tools and equipment.

Most of these pumpers are British-built Dennis “Sabre” units built on purpose-designed chassis. This builder ceased manufacturing fire engine chassis some two years ago, and the brigade is now incorporating engines with Dennis bodywork fitted  on Swedish-built Scania commercial truck chassis with extended crew cabs. The distribution and mounting of equipment on all engines is standardized so that firefighters from any station can be assigned to another and be able to respond on any engine without doubting where materials are located. The new pumpers are equipped with compressed air foam systems.

DFB runs two 100-foot aerial or “turntable” ladders and one hydraulic platform, with another on reserve status. This seemingly reduced fleet of aerial devices is based principally on the fact that there are almost no high-rise buildings in the city; the tallest building is a 15-story office block less than one-quarter of a mile from the central fire station. The aerials are the classic European design–a four-section fully hydraulic extension ladder fitted over the rear end of the straight vehicle chassis, a fitted rescue cage on the new ladder whereas the older one has a cage that must be mounted when needed, tools and equipment in roller-shutter lockers along the sides of the coachwork, and not much more.

Both are German-built Magirus mounted on Scania chassis. DFB’s aerial operational procedures are quite similar to those of most other European fire services: Get personnel and equipment to heights over 45 feet. Up to that height, the DFB will use the three-section, 45-foot extension ladders, as is done in England. They do not have specific truck functions as in the United States.

Other mobile equipment includes a specific-built foam transporter, a purpose-built truck designed for emergencies in a three-mile tunnel under part of the city, a new mobile command post truck that has just replaced an older unit, and vehicles equipped for fast water rescue as well as possible incidents in the very extensive harbor.

This is Ireland’s primary seaport with an extremely high volume of cargo traffic including containers and bulk cargos in solid, liquid, and gaseous states, as well as numerous passenger ships of all sizes and capacities, from inter-island ferries to enormous ocean liners.

Seven of the city’s stations have two engines and their corresponding crews assigned; five others have only one pump. The specialized response vehicles are distributed around the city, although the Townsend Street headquarters facility houses the mobile command unit, the foam truck, the water rescue vehicles and boats, the two aerials, and two ambulances. One ambulance is assigned to each of the other stations except the two on-call stations.

We talked with both the brigade’s Chief Fire Officer Hugh O Neill and Assistant Chief Fire Officer Robert Hedderman about the brigade and their specific concerns. DFB suffers the eternal staffing problem, as indeed do most fire departments around the world these days. An average downtown fire call response will include two engines with an average crew of five; an ambulance with two paramedics; and depending on the nature of the building, one aerial with at least four onboard for  a total personnel response of 12 to 16 firefighters. Since the brigade has various stations distributed geographically and strategically around the city, if the arriving incident commander determines that more resources are needed, they can be summoned quickly within relatively short response timeframes. The brigade is looking into satellite-aided communications to guarantee reliable and safe emergency communications.

Another critical concern is precisely determining personnel response resources. Present shift scheduling has staffing of two consecutive 12-hour day shifts, a layover, then two consecutive night shifts, then three days off. DFB runs four shifts at this time.

Hedderman also discussed his preoccupations with handline and nozzle characteristics, especially for interior fires. Presently, DFB uses 1¾-inch hose for most interior fires with Elkhart combination nozzles (branch pipe). As his primary concern evolves around the possibility of the hose kinking at relatively low pressures, Brigade SOPs stipulate at least 100-psi nozzle pressure while maintaining at least 130-gpm flow, although he would prefer up to 150 gpm or more. He commented that the Brigade is studying the use of 2-inch hose for primary fire attack.

Recently, some of the British fire services have undergone restructuring, especially in London, where operational structures underwent massive remodeling. The formerly known chief fire officer is now known as the “Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning,” and the lower-echelon officers have also received titles that appear to have been taken from police or business positions–assistant commanders, area managers, watch managers, for example. This comment directly relates to recent attempts by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority to influence the Irish fire services to follow its new and supposedly “more efficient” operational procedures. Among them are revisions of staffing positions and response assignments, which according to the British “experts,” would improve the Irish emergency response capabilities.

A similar exercise was applied to the Barcelona, Spain, fire service nearly 20 years ago–personnel dropped from 1,010 to around 800 before somebody awakened and realized that the city was fast becoming “un-protected,” as it was discovered that the average age of a five-member first-response crew was more than 50 years old. So far, the Irish have been able to hold off and retain their own tried and proven operating procedures. 

A particular and rather unique aspect of this visit was that our hotel, the Trinity Capital, was incorporated into the former Dublin Fire Brigade headquarters and city center fire station. Several of the hotel’s rooms are in fact right on top of several apparatus bays and, until just a few years ago, were part of the central fire station. I found that the hotel facilitated my visit to the brigade. The hotel is Georgian architecture although a recently inaugurated expansion has incorporated a modern design five-story block of rooms. This is really the “ideal” hotel for anyone intending to visit the DFB during a stay in Dublin. The hotel is only a minutes’ walk from most of Dublin’s attractions: the Temple Bar pub area, Molly Malone’s statue, Trinity College, a variety of shopping areas, and so on.

However, beware, you may very well experience three seasons all in one day.

George H. Potter is a practicing fire protection specialist who has lived in Spain for the past 45 years. He served as an Anne Arundel County, Maryland, volunteer firefighter with the Riva Volunteer Fire Department and the Independent Hose Company in Annapolis and as an ambulance driver with the Wheaton (MD) Rescue Squad. He served six years in the United States Air Force as a firefighter, an apparatus driver/operator, and a crew chief. He has been involved in fire protection system installation, mobile fire apparatus design, and construction and fire safety training. He is a Spain-certified fire service instructor and a hazmat specialist, and is a member of the Board of Governors of the Spanish Firefighters’ Association (ASELF).

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