Fighting the good fight

Saturday, 8th June, 2019 1:06pm

Fighting the good fight

Firefighters Andy Murray, Olga Brady, Pamela Donohoe with station officer Joey McDonald..jpg

Thomas Lyons

The emergency services. The support workers who come to our aid in crises times are a vital part of our community. Across the country highly trained volunteers attend at fires and accidents in bright red fire tenders almost every day.
The fire service in Cavan County Council is recruiting 'retained fire fighters' in Dowra, Ballyconnell, Killeshandra, Cootehill, and Virginia. This isn't a job for the faint of heart or the non-committed, but to those interested it's particularly rewarding.
“There's a training programme before you are taken on. You are brought in and kitted out, then put through your paces,” Joey McDonald, the Senior Officer with Cavan Fire Service, outlines the rigorous three week programme that prospective fire fighters go through before taking up the job.
The training is not easy. It includes working with the hose, working at height and in confined spaces, and dragging a heavy dummy. This phase is about giving prospective candidates a flavour of the demands of the job.
Talking to Pamela Donohoe, Andrew Murray and Olga Brady you get the impression this is more than a job. The word vocation springs to mind. Being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week isn't a commitment that suits everyone. The three fire fighters, along with the Senior Officer, were in the Station Lane Fire Station in the county town last Thursday to talk to The Anglo-Celt about their job.
The demands are not only physical, but also mental: “You do an aptitude test when you start,” Olga recalls, “but you really have to have a good level of fitness.”
Pamela, who is based in Cootehill, remembers when she first though about becoming a first responder: “My brother was in a car accident three years prior to me joining. He was trapped in the car and I arrived on the scene and I saw what all the lads were doing for him and I thought - wouldn't it be great to be able to do that. Then it came up and I applied for it and I got it. It wasn't that I always wanted to be one, it was just seeing what they did and wanting to be a part of it.”
Pamela has little nicks on her forearms, but they are nothing to do with the topic under discussion: “I'm a gardener, that's from thorn bushes, nothing to do with the fire service. We're too well protected,” she says. The job is part time, but because of “on call” demands requires the co-operation of volunteers' main employers.
Her colleague Olga wanted to get involved from early on: “It's something I always want to do, from when I was young. When the opportunity arose I took it.”
She finds it hard to identify the appeal of the job, “I'm not sure, saving people in an emergency situation, there's an adrenalin rush to it, a challenge. I work in an office, so it's very different.”
Both firefighters are involved in the newly formed Women’s Fire Service Network (WFSN). It was officially launched earlier this month. Chatting to the ladies the automatic noun to refer to them is firemen. It's a word in the public consciousness that's hard to shake.
“To be honest I don't know if it's changed yet,” Pamela tells the Celt. “We are still know as firemen,” Virginia firefighter Olga says.
Andrew recently became a firefighter: “It was by chance. A good friend of mine joined the fire service a few years ago. He spoke to me about what it involved and said it was a good job to be in. I was a wee bit younger at the time and there were other things going on in my life. Then later when I had a family I was more settled I put the application in and got the interview.”
He says the demands of the job are multifaceted: “It is fitness, but there is a lot more to it. You could be the fittest man in the world, but you have to be mentally tough and able to think under pressure,” the Cavan Town based fireman says.
With 14 years under his belt Joey is the longest serving in the room: “I have gone through the ranks of firefighter; from to the labourer on the end of the hose, crawling through muck and dirt, through cavities in houses when attending at chimney fires to senior officer. There are opportunities to progress. It can be a struggle with a young family. There is no point airbrushing it. Things like a change of job, a promotion or change in family circumstances may make it difficult to commit, that's just the way it pans out, but it is very rewarding on a personal level.”
The thought of being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year can be a bit daunting: “You adapt to it. You work out leave and time off and things like that between the crew. Everything you do is planned. We have to have 74% of the working group available at any time, so we plan around that. That allows two or three off at any one time.”
There is a clear bond between the groups: “It's like a family really, you have to get on,” Olga says. “You know that everyone has your back and that you have everyone's back,” Pamela adds. “Everyone is looking out for everyone else.”
If you are over 18 years age you can apply for the post of retained firefighter through Cavan County Council website.

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