Eamon Dunne and Brian Morrissey at Monasterevin Fire Station
Becoming a firefighter ranks highly on most youngsters’ list of dream jobs. In Monasterevin right now, someone could make those childhood dreams come true.
Kildare Fire Service is trying to recruit three more people to retained firefighter posts in the town. There are just seven men currently on the roster, so the crew is looking forward to getting some new recruits on board.
The Leinster Leader met with two of the town’s firefighters at the Main Street fire station last week to find out what day-to-day life in the Kildare Fire Service is like. Acting station officer Brian Morrissey and driver Eamon Dunne, both local men, are steeped in their community and obviously proud of the important, and demanding, job that they do for family, friends and neighbours.
But they, and their dedicated colleagues, are also at the pin of their collars due to the shortage of staff at the station — and so they’re putting out a call for those who have always wanted to be a firefighter, or who think the job could be for them, to get on board.
Firefighters at the station, which has been in the town since 1949, serve from Rathangan to Nurney and points in between, including the busy M7 motorway, which bypasses the town. Although it is the quietest Kildare station behind Newbridge, Naas, Athy, Maynooth and Leixlip, it still ranks in the busiest 10 percent nationwide, according to Brian.
The station has been in the same Main Street location for over 70 years — but moves are afoot to relocate it to new premises, likely on the town’s Dublin Road, in the near future.
Retained firefighters are not on duty in the fire station full time. These men and women usually work at other jobs — either full or part-time — but are ready to drop everything and run to the engine once the beeper goes.
They are paid decently for their service (see panel, below), but they have to fulfill a certain number of criteria — one being that they live and work (if they hold another post) within five minutes of the fire station.
Monasterevin, which had a population of 4,246 in the 2016 census, has become, in recent decades, a commuter town. Many residents are working outside of the area and that’s not compatible with fire service life. Nevertheless, both men point out the area’s attractions for potential firefighters who want to move to town. Rent is cheaper than in the towns further north — and there is great training on offer in what both Brian and Eamon say is a rewarding, enjoyable job.
Brian joined the fire service aged 27, some 24 years ago, shortly after he married. “It was another income to help, and it did. It took years off my mortgage,” he said. The Monasterevin station has become busier since he joined, he says, going from 80 to about 200 calls yearly — although it has been quieter over the last year because of Covid-19.
His day job is just across the road from the fire station in The Muiríosa Foundation, located in Moore Abbey. “We all carry alerters and as soon as that goes off we have five minutes to be down here as quickly as we can. I’m lucky that I only work across the road, so I’m always tipping around down here.”
Eamon, who works for a construction company in town, laughs that “Brian codded me into it about 11 years ago” after they got talking about the job at a football match. He was 39 when he was recruited, “but I should have joined it 20 years ago or more. It suited me”.
He notes, “it’s a rewarding job. You could be doing anything — you could be in the shower — when the alert goes off. You could be eating your dinner. It could be two o’clock in the morning and you’re going from zero to a hundred miles an hour and you’re gone. You’re down the hall and away.”
A roll of honour of past firefighters hanging in Monasterevin Fire Station
Eamon says that ‘you’ll know very quick if it’s for you or not’. Before their interviews, prospective firefighters are checked for how they tolerate heights and being on ladders, and how they deal with claustrophobia.
There are also supports in place for firefighters finding it difficult to deal with the aftermath of an event such as a horrific crash or fatal house fire, including peer supporters in each station and access to psychological support.
“It’s not that you get used to it, when you’re in the moment, what you’re trying to do is help someone so everything else is blocked out and you’re just focused on the job,” said Brian.
Firefighting seems to run in extended families, with several of the Monasterevin crew second or third generation firefighters. Everyone at home ‘joins up’, say Brian and Eamon, and families know that outings and special events such as birthdays or evenings out have to be planned around the on-call beeper.
However, the Monasterevin firefighters say they work with each other as much as they can to make sure that special time off for communions or Christmas mornings, for example, is protected.
Kildare firefighters receive an initial three weeks of paid training to cover the basics such as CPR and ladder and pump drills. During their first year ‘on the job’ they also attend several courses on topics such as using breathing apparatus and first aid.
“It’s really getting into the lifestyle the first year,” said Eamon. “It’s knowing your crew, and getting to know the workings within that crew and their strengths.”
Firefighters also bring skills from the ‘outside world’ into the job — for example, those who work in construction know where the weaknesses are in buildings, while those with experience working with steel have skills that can be used at road traffic accidents.
There are also opportunities for continuous learning throughout a firefighter’s career — such as learning to drive lorries, and even take further education and degree courses, with the support of Kildare County Council. This sets them up for life after retirement in their mid-fifties.
New recruits must be over 18 and under 50. Other requirements for the job are a basic level of fitness — ‘you don’t have to be running marathons!’ — the ability to speak English, and passing a basic maths and reading test.
“And a nice, balanced outlook on life,” said Eamon. “You don’t want someone who’s too intense and you don’t want someone who’s too laid back.”
Dealing with angry or scared members of the public, many of whom are having one of the worst experiences of their lives, is all part and parcel of a firefighter’s work. But the rewards are huge, personally and professionally, for those in the service.
“It’s very rewarding if you go to a car accident and the people are badly trapped, and you can extricate them efficiently and as fast, and when everything works right,” said Eamon.
“All the training and all the teamwork, you don’t even have to talk to each other, the lad next to you knows exactly what you’re doing. All it is is the move of a head or the movement of your eyes, and he knows exactly what’s what. He’s on the same wavelength as you.
“When everything works the way it’s supposed to — and generally it does — that’s very rewarding, and you can step back and you can say that was a good job, and that makes all the difference.”
Eamon added that they also try and do their best to save ‘the things that can’t be replaced’, if they can, when dealing with house fires.
“People are very thankful for that. Even if it’s only throwing something under your arm like a picture — but that picture looks like it was important, and you grab that, shove it under your arm and out you go with it. It could be the one picture they have of that person and that means a lot to them. That could mean more to them than that building, and that’s very rewarding.”
Both men talk about the respect in which firefighters are held in the Monasterevin community. They know — or know of — the vast majority of people they go out to help. As emergency first responders, they are called on by neighbours to ‘have a look’ at a bad cut; or know if there’s somebody in the community who needs a caring eye kept on them.
Though Brian added: “Myself or Eamon could be up at the Monasterevan pitch, and the alarm would go off and you’d go running to your car, and you’d get ‘oh you wouldn’t run like that when you’re playing football’! You get a lot of slagging like that but it’s all part and parcel of it.”
But although the job is rooted in the community, it is also open to everyone who fits the criteria, they say. Newcomers to Kildare and Ireland, men or women, and those from minority communities would be welcomed with open arms, as long as they pass the basic requirements.
“When you’re in here you don’t see people as nationalities, or a man or a woman, you see them as a fire person,” said Eamon. “They’re a work colleague and their sex, their nationality, their preferences, all that is left at the door. They’re part of the team and the team is the fire service.”
Monasterevin Fire Station will hold an open information session for members of the public in the station on Wednesday, October 6, from 7pm to 8pm. To register, please email email@example.com.
For information on applying for the position of a retained firefighter, please visit www.kildarecoco.ie.
Retained firefighter rates and allowances
Inclusive annual allowance: - €8,194.00 (0-2 years)
€9,106.00 (2-5 years)
€10,210.00 (5-10 years)
€11,221.00 (10 years +)
Clothing allowance: - €186.59 per annum.
Drill rate: - €21.61 per hour
Fire Fees: -
1st Hour Subsequent Hour(s)
Day Rate: - €43.23; €21.61
Night and Weekend Rate: - €86.46; €43.23
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