“The sight of wellington boots, yellow plastic shorts and a pair of hairy knobbley knees in the middle is something I’ll never forget” – Sub-Station Officer Sean Taylor retired recently from Offaly County Fire Service. Sean has served in Clara fire station for over 33 years, having joined in February 1982. He has been the stations sub-officer for the past 15 years. He was acting station offer for a 3 year period.
Retired SSO Seanie Taylor
Sean explained that he applied for the job when two vacancies arose in 1979. He heard nothing for over 2 years, so assumed that the positions had been filled. Then in early 1982 he received notification to join the brigade.
At the time he explained that the pager system was not in Clara so the crew were activated using a combination of bells in each fireman’s house and the local fire siren. The emergency phone call to the fire brigade was answered by a member of the station officer’s family who would activate the bells in the firemen’s houses. The first fireman to arrive at the station would activate the fire-siren (similar to air-raid sirens) which would alert firemen who were not at home at the time. Members of the public could also set off the fire siren by travelling to the station if they did not have a phone.
Clare Fire Station – Photo: (www.fire-ireland.com)
Sean recalls that he joined on a Monday evening (Feb 1st) and the bells sounded in his house the next evening for his first fire call, a chimney fire in Railway view estate. There was no recruit’s course at the time and his initial training was arriving at his first fire and being told “get up on the roof and start rodding”. His second call out was the next evening, a gorse fire outside the town.
Sean recalls many incidents he attended over the years. Those include large fires in shops, pubs, factories and houses. They also included transport accidents including incidents involving road, rail, river and aircraft. He recalled the train crash in Ballycumber in the early 1990’s in which a large number of people were injured and one person died. He says “any calls with loss of life are always memorable and hard to deal with, particularly those involving children, and unfortunately there have been a few of those in my time”. One of the most horrific occurred shortly after he had joined the service where he and his colleagues spent hours recovering body parts following a farming accident. He also recalled the fire at the church of the Assumption in Tullamore in October 1983. “That affected a lot of lads”, he said. “While there was no injury I think it was just that such massive building could crumble to the ground was unbelievable” he added.
OY13A1 – Clara Appliance – Photo: (www.fire-ireland.com)
According to Sean the biggest changes over the years include the professionalism, the improved training and equipment, the introduction of pagers and changes involving health and safety. The introduction of fire charges was also a big change which is still a great cause of concern to the public, he added.
He recalled many funny incidents. Early in his career he recalled being at a chimney fire at a small bungalow and was told to go on the roof and keep rodding until the rods came to a stop. After quite a while he began wondering how it was taking such a large number of chimney rods (almost 30), only to find out that one of his colleagues inside the house kept unscrewing each rod as it came into view.
He also recalled when the new yellow leggings came into use and a colleague received a pair which were too long. He was informed by the station officer to bring them home, adjust them, and to be on parade at the next training night with them sufficiently short for them not to be a trip-hazard. Sean recalls that the same man turned up on the parade line-up the next week with them cut to above knee level. “The sight of wellington boots, yellow plastic shorts and a pair of hairy knobbley knees in the middle is something I’ll never forget”, he smiled.
Sean also pointed to the difficulties of being a retained fire-fighter. “In the fire brigade you can’t just decide to head off for the day”, he said, “there has to be a crew available at all times” This can lead to occasional tensions both among families and among fire-fighters from time to time, especially when 2 or 3 lads want a day off at the same time, he explained. Sean thanked his family and his fire colleagues for their understanding in this regard.
Sean also referred to the amount of lovely people he met through the fire brigade, both members of the public who were generally appreciative of the crews efforts, and members of the fire brigade from all over the country who he met at various training courses and seminars through the years. “I even met the president of Ireland through the fire brigade” said Sean, explaining that as the longest serving fire-fighter in Offaly he and other long serving fire-fighters from around the country were recently invited to Aras an Uachtairain.
Photo Courtesy Offaly Fire & Rescue Service: (L-R: SO Fergal Maguire, SACFO Clive Duke, Presidents wife Sabina Higgins, President Michael D. Higgins, Sub Officer Sean Taylor and FF David Byrne)