A number of Donegal firefighters are in Dublin today to be honoured with long service awards.
Among them will be three firefighters from Carndonagh in Inishowen who have a combined total of 100 years service.
Robert Smyth, Seamus McLaughlin (Mason) and Brian Breslin will receive their Long Service Awards from Minister Eoghan Murphy at a ceremony special ceremony being held in the capital.
Speaking to the Inish Times before he and his colleagues left the peninsula to travel to Dublin, Seamus McLaughlin said the firefighters were “proud” to be receiving their Long Service Awards.
He said: “Robert, Brian and I are looking forward to the ceremony. We are proud to be receiving our awards for more than 100 years unbroken firefighting service to the Inishowen community.
“We are also proud that Carndonagh Fire Station will get the recognition it deserves. There are not many fire stations in the State were three firefighters have received Long Service Awards at the same ceremony for what amounts to a century of service,” said Seamus.
Robert Smyth joined the Fire Service in 1978, Seamus McLaughlin (Mason) in 1987 and Brian Breslin in 1988.
According to Robert, the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management has been asked by Minister Eoghan Murphy (Housing, Planning and Local Government) to present Seamus and Brian with a 30 Year Service Medal each and himself with a 40 Year Service Medal.
Robert said: “The three of us have seen a lot of changes over the years and all for the better. When I joined the Fire Service, the fire engine was a 'green goddess' (ex-British Army) and was hand painted red.
"The call-out system was a siren in the middle of Carndonagh town during the day and at night the phone operator would phone the Station Officer and then he phoned the Sub Officer, the only two that had phones.
"There were no mobile phones or pagers those days. The Station Officer and the Sub Officer would then have to go to the houses of the crew and wake them up,” said Robert.
Brian recalled that just before Seamus and he joined the Fire Service, “all of the gear, clothing and helmets were second-hand, from the English Fire Service."
Brian said: “When Seamus and I joined, new clothing had been issued. However, the siren was still in operation but everyone carried a pager as they do today.
“There was very little to no training in the beginning but, over the years, training, equipment, protective clothing, fire engines and the call out system have been upgraded and are now second to none.
“In 1981, Carndonagh got its first new fire tender, a Bedford HCB Angus. Then in 2002, it got its second new fire tender, a Scania Crew Cab. And then, in 2005, Carndonagh got a new Fire Station,” said Brian.
The three firefighters fondly remembered their early days in Carndonagh Fire Station.
Seamus said: “In the early years there was a lot more fun, even if it wasn’t as professional as today, but all calls were answered and dealt with.
“Nowadays, it is run as a professional service. Firefighters are expected to live and work within the community; to give a 24/7 service 365 days a year. We work with a nine person crew at full strength, which is not always the case and are expected to turn up with a seven person crew for calls.
“This puts a lot of pressure on families as going anywhere and getting time off is a problem, this is a part of a firelighter’s job of which the general public is unaware, it all happens behind the scenes.
“When we all joined the fire service, Henry Doherty was the station officer and took us all under his wing as new recruits. When Henry retired, Joe Doherty (Jack) took over as Station Officer and was followed by Duncan McDaniels (Jock) who will also pick up a 40 year service medal before his retirement,” said Seamus.
When Robert, Seamus and Brian joined the Fire Service, everyone stayed until they retired or left through illness.
According to Robert "in these modern times” stations are finding it difficult to get recruits or firefighters are “only serving a few years and not staying.”
The three firefighters said they had enjoyed their time in the Carndonagh Fire Station.
Brian added: “We are lucky to have served in a very happy station, where we all looked out for each other.
“We have all seen a lot of good times and a lot of tragic times. Because we live in such a small community, we nearly always know the person or people that have been involved in an accident or fire, which can take its toll.”
Seamus and Brian have remained as firefighters to this day, while Robert went on and became driver/mechanic in 1983 until the present day.
Photo shows (from left) firefighters Brian Breslin, Robert Smyth and Seamus McLaughlin (Mason) who have 100 years firefighting service. Photograph courtesy of Firefighter Joe Butler.
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