Frankie marks 40 years as a fire fighter

Frankie Dolan outside Galway Fire Station. “There is one thing about the job – you go on duty at nine o’clock and you don’t know what time you’ll get home," he says. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Having been born in the fire station, it could be said that there was an element of destiny being fulfilled when Frankie Dolan became a fire fighter – but to give 40 years of his life to public service certainly takes a bit more than destiny.

Last month, Frankie celebrated this remarkable accolade, but as the man himself explains, when he started back in 1977, it was very much in keeping with the family tradition.

Frankie’s grandfather began what would become a four generation-long association with the fire and rescue services – something that continues to this day with Frankie’s son now working full-time with Cork City Fire and Rescue.

“The first brigade was in 1928 and my grandfather was the driver – my father was in the Second World War and when he came back, he took over his job.

“He had five brothers in it and it became known as Dolan’s Fire Brigade,” Frankie laughs.

In 1977, Frankie’s father passed away and he soon found himself following in his Dad’s footsteps.

Growing up in one of three houses connected to the Fr Griffin Road Fire Station, Frankie’s ambitions to become a fire fighter started early.

He says it took a push from the “right people” to get him on the road that has seen him spend four decades in the service – continuing to work as a Station Officer to this day.

“I was born in the fire station in 1960 and I always wanted to be a fire officer.

“The Chief Fire Officer, Brendan Sugrue, Seán Cleary, Walter Hegarty and John Philbin – between them, they were always pushing me in the right direction.”

Frankie says that he had to love the job in the beginning – because it certainly wasn’t for the money that he was doing it.

“There was feck all money really, £18 and it went up in stages – that wasn’t a lot, even in those days.

“But I have always said that I don’t think that there was any other job that would entice me.”

One of the most enjoyable parts of the job for Frankie is his work as an instructor – travelling the country training recruits and passing on the knowledge and experience he has built up over the years.

“I became and instructor for the Department, which is an honour – instructing other officers around the country.

“It’s was a tradition in Galway really with Brendan Sugrue and Sean Cleary and others working as instructors before they retired, so I was just continuing with that.”

To be in the same job from the age of 17 to 57 takes some staying power – and part of what has made that easy is the simple fact that no two days are the same.

“There is one thing about the job – you go on duty at nine o’clock and you don’t know what time you’ll get home.

“Every day is different and every day, there are different calls coming in – you’re helping people a lot.

“One thing that we are all trained in is Emergency First Response but we are not doing that at the moment and it’s something we could be doing.

“We’re in around the city and we’re there to save people and help people – we could cover in some cases for the ambulances.

“All our engines do carry a defibrillator and it is all about saving lives in minutes – most people don’t even realise we have a defibrillator.”

Frankie says that there may be some misconceptions about the work that they do – hastening to add that saving cats from trees isn’t something that regularly happens – the lives of people take priority.

“The Fire Brigade has changed a lot – when I joined, it was all dealing with fires and crashes.

“We are now trained in rope and line rescue which is rescue from the water and we are trained in first aid.

“For flooding, we’ve trained for slush water rescue and one thing about Galway Fire Station is that we are the headquarters for the county – the county is well organised but we are always there to back them up.”

Flooding has been a recurring issue that Galway Fire and Rescue has had to deal with in recent years – with Frankie explaining that it takes certain skills to ensure that these situations don’t end in tragedy.

“With the major floods that time in Salthill in 2014 – we went out to help because of the fear that the water would reach the power station.

“We had to carry out searches on cars to make sure that there was nobody sleeping in cars – that is something that comes with homelessness.”

Galway Fire and Rescue have to deal with some of the most testing conditions – not only dealing with forest fires, entering burning buildings and carrying out water rescue – but they are often the first at the scene of some of the most harrowing road traffic accidents.

Frankie says that when an accident took the life of a close relative, that hit him harder than all of the accidents he had to deal with before – despite not being at the scene.

“It’s peculiar because I’ve been 40 years going out and you’ll never really look at the person you’re cutting out – you are still very respectful, but you probably wouldn’t recognise them if you were to see them again.

“What really affects us is if it is a younger person – it’s difficult to handle it because you know what is being lost.

“The family’s lives are destroyed, the young person loses their life and there is just a mountain of people that are affected by it.”

To combat what Frankie says is a belief among younger people that they are “invincible”, he takes part in regular road shows that show them what it is to be cut out of a car.

And despite being unsure of how much this really works, he hopes that some people walk away with a better understanding of what is at stake.

While it hasn’t always been easy, Frankie still loves his work and says that there have been highlights.

Having met Pope John Paul II and US President, Ronald Regan, when they visited Galway – Frankie says his job has given him opportunities he never would have otherwise had.

He doesn’t have to retire until he is 65 – this due to having a contract that dates back to before the compulsory retiring age of 55 was enforced.

He insists that he has a few years in him yet – and wonders what his life would be without the job he has done for a very large part of it.

“There is great banter in the station but once the bells go, it becomes serious business – I still enjoy the job.

“When you see a family – some of them send in little things to say thanks; it’s a small thing but it is great.

“Some people say they wouldn’t be able to do what I do, but I wouldn’t be able to be a nurse – some people are just made for a particular job.”