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Wednesday 1 October 2014

OAP snatched from the jaws of death all in day's work for Fire Brigade

Published 07/04/2014 | 08:28

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WITH one swift kick the front door is open and Dublin Fire Brigade are in a flat saving yet another life.

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It's a Friday night at C-Watch, Tara Street -- the nerve centre of the city's fire and ambulance service, and 180 ambulance calls will be processed in less than 12 hours ranging from violent assaults, cardiac arrests and drink and drug overdoses all over Dublin.

The Herald joined the elite ambulance crews of Dublin Fire Brigade to experience life at the coalface for advance paramedics and witnessed a dedicated team who put their safety at risk every day for us.

At 7pm Colm Murphy and Dave 'Doc' O'Connor have already been on duty for an hour and dealt with a cardiac case.

From a bank of screens radio operator Niall Grant can see the calls stacked up in front of him. They are coded by letter and colour.

Alpha and Bravo calls are less serious. Delta and Echo cases mean there is a risk of death unless there is medical intervention.

At 7.20pm the 12 ambulances of Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB) are in Finglas, East Wall, Palmerstown, Fortunestown, Sherard Street, Clonsills, Foxborough and Rathfarnham, with others heading back to base, mobile and available.

Every member of DFB is a trained paramedic and they rotate between ambulances, fire tenders and the call centre, keeping them fresh in every aspect of the job.

OVERDOSE

"We always have a full service. If somebody is sick others are called in. We never have gaps. That's part of the reason why the service we supply is second to none," says district officer Donal Petherbridge.

I first meet Colm and Doc in the south city centre, where a man has been found down a laneway suffering from a heroin overdose. For the next nine hours I cover more than a dozen calls with them.

"Our job is to bring expert care to a patient. There was a time years ago when you would 'lift and shift' a patient -- just get them to hospital as quick as possible. But now we bring the first 30 minutes of care a person would get in Accident and Emergency right to them wherever they are," Colm says.

"Now when a patient being treated by a Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance crew arrives in hospital their stabilisation and treatment is already well underway before they even go through the doors," he adds.

Colm and Doc work from a Mercedes people carrier specially kitted out with everything they need in an emergency.

Their vehicle cannot transport a patient, but will be sent mainly to Delta and Echo calls with the aim of having a patient stabilised before they are transported by ambulance.

"We carry 43 different drugs as well as devices such as defibrillators, and incubation equipment. We have everything to deal with a crisis," Colm says.

Two events in the early hours of the morning stand out from the many cases of drunks and drug addicts who have taken too much of their preferred poison.

At 00.52 we are on the North Circular Road when the call comes through to our car, Alpha 1.

There is a suspected fire in an old folks flat near Merrion Square, and somebody is in the building.

At 00.56 we arrive along with two fire tenders, but it is Doc who first locates the flat, followed closely by fireman Ian Fitzgerald.

Dave opens the letter box as we hear the smoke alarm wail.

"There's a lot of smoke," he yells.

"Stand back" says Ian as he takes a run at the door. One boot is enough for the door and he is in. An elderly man has left a saucepan of spuds boil dry and the smoke is filling the air while he sleeps.

Ian and Doc get him from the bed and out into the air while Colm rigs up an oxygen mask for him.

But a quick inspection of the flat shows just how close this incident came to being a tragedy -- the man was asleep in bed with a cigarette and it was burning a hole through his sheets.

HAEMORRHAGE

The second major incident comes after a small lull in the night.

It's 3.15am when we get the call at Tara Street to go to a hotel in the south city centre.

It's a haemorrhage, there are two casualties and the gardai have been requested.

The blue lights and sirens scythe through the traffic of taxis.

We arrive at 3.17am and one ambulance has already just pulled in in front of us.

Upstairs on a landing a young couple are heavily bloodstained. There has been some sort of row between them and the gardai are there.

A slight young man has a gash to his arm that has exposed muscle and is bleeding badly. The young woman has a deep cut to her leg.

I watch as Colm and Dave work in the tense situation, not only tense because there are genuine concerns for the man's life, but also because there is shouting and verbal abuse as Dave and the gardai try to keep things calm.

Things flare up, and as I watch I see Colm trying to treat the young man's wounds with his hands, while simultaneously using his right shoulder and elbow to protect himself from the hysterical female patient being restrained by gardai to his right.

The scene is ugly, and Colm reckons the young man has lost around one-and-a-half litres of blood.

In the end they are restrained and taken away in two separate ambulances.

It is now after 4am. I thought things might calm down at this hour, but the pace is constant.

By 5am the crews in DFB still have another four hours to work but I'm calling it a day. As I leave Colm and Doc their next call comes through on the radio.

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