independent

Friday 25 April 2014

Fireman who lost sons in blaze retires after 42 years of service

IT WAS a call he never wanted to get. Seamus Duffy was at work in Hanley's on Monday morning, April 14, 1975.

The siren at Sligo Fire Station went off around 8.30am. It was in the days before bleepers. The retained (part-time) firefighter responded as he had done on countless other occasions.

When he walked into the station he felt something was wrong. This was different. Tragedy had arrived on his own doorstep. "I knew the way the lads looked at me it was fairly serious," Seamus said.

His home at St Edward's Terrace was on fire and he lost his two sons, Stephen and Vincent, aged four and two, and their grandfather, Phil Reilly, in the blaze.

At the time Sligo Fire Service had only one tender and Seamus was one of those first on the horrific scene.

His immediate reaction was to try to get into the house to save his children.

"I vaguely recall getting a punch in the jaw at one stage. The other lads held me down. They wouldn't let me in," Seamus explained.

"Looking at it now, there was no possible entry to the house and the lads were quick enough to keep me out," he reflected.

While he admits that it is a chapter in his life that he will never forget, he says "time is a great healer".

"It doesn't make you forget, of course it doesn't, but you deal with it as best you can. It was a blur for the guts of a year," Seamus said.

On Thursday night last, one of Sligo's most dedicated and longserving firefighters/drivers put his hat away for the last time after 42 years. He returned his bleeper on Friday. While there aren't too many firemen who have had to deal with the trauma he endured, Seamus says he loved the job and said it was difficult to describe the satisfaction of helping people in trouble-and saving lives.

Seamus has responded to at least ninety per cent of all call-outs in this area down through the years.

"We had to deal with a lot of nasty situations, both in terms of car crashes and fires, but you have to be professional and it's a great feeling when you can be of assistance," he said.

When Seamus joined the Fire Service in 1970, there was only one fulltime driver and station officer.

There are now 18 full and parttime firemen.

"We had just a fire tender and a jeep and then we got a Green Doddess fire tender, which had been used during the war in England.

"Things are much different now and we have four frontline tenders, a jeep, and several training machines," Seamus explained.

Ironically, the demand for services has decreased.

"Up until three or four years ago, we would have had around 600 calls a year, but it is only about half of that now. Modern technology has a lot to do with it and habits have changed.

"In the old days, there would be a fire in a grate in practically every house. That's not the case now. People are also more safety conscious and have smoke alarms, etc.," Seamus said.

Such is the esteem in which Seamus is held is that the County Manager, Hubert Kearns, the Mayor, Councillor David Cawley, friends, family and colleagues gathered for a fond 'farewell' to him at the Fire Station on Thursday night.

"Yes, I will miss it big time. It was a massive part of my life. Of course there are things that never leave you and you always ask yourself could you have done something differently. You have to take what's come at you.

"I am sad to leave. As I say, it's about helping people. There's nothing like the feeling you get in bringing someone to safety," Seamus said.

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