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'Absolute mayhem' of Stardust will not be forgotten

FIRE officer Dominic McNabb will never forget the "absolute mayhem" of the Stardust tragedy which killed 48 young people in Dublin.

He was in a Dublin Fire Brigade ambulance sent to the scene of the blazing nightclub.

The horror of that night remains with him but he goes to work each day comforted by the knowledge the brigade is "far better prepared" to tackle a similar huge emergency.

In an interview to mark the 150th anniversary of Dublin Fire Brigade, the 58-year-old acting station officer at the force's headquarters in Tara Street said the Artane blaze was the worst disaster ever encountered by the city's firefighters.

Mr McNabb was 27 that night in 1981 when he began duty on a Finglas ambulance. It was the early hours of St Valentine's Day and he and his colleague were despatched to "a fire" at the Stardust Nightclub. There were 800 young people at a disco.

"When we arrived there was absolute mayhem. As we turned into Kilmore Road there was a mass of people. We had to pick our way through the throngs of people. Half way up the road, someone opened the back doors of the ambulance and people started getting in.

"But there was nothing wrong with them and I had to push them out. Then we came to a guy holding a girl in his arms. Her face was all black and we put her in the back of the ambulance. We ended up getting eight people into the back of the ambulance and taking them all down to Jervis Street Hospital.

"We dropped them at the hospital and headed straight back again. It was organised chaos. We had our fire gear in the ambulance and we put it on and went into the club to help the other firemen search for the rest of the bodies.

"I carried several bodies out of the building that night and we lay them on the ground outside. The bodies were wrapped in blankets and had to be hosed down with water because they were still smouldering," he said.

"When we finished that night it was the end of our shifts and, unfortunately, we were not due back in work for three days. So we had no chance to be debriefed or advised how to deal with it all. I just sat at home like a zombie.

"I've learned to live with it but it can still affect me," he said.