Jim retires after 26 years with fire service

For the 26 years up to his retirement last Thursday, Jim McCarthy brought a safe pair of hands and a cool head in difficult situations to the Dingle Fire Service.

In that time Jim dealt with all kinds of emergency situations and in the words of Dingle Station Officer Brendan Ferriter "he was as competent a fireman as we ever saw. He did the job with confidence and we knew the job would be done right and it would be done safe".

Family and fire service colleagues gathered in Dingle Fire Station on Thursday night to pay tribute to Jim for his years of service. It was a low-key event but there was no doubting the respect Jim had earned.

"He worked hard, he had a cool head under pressure, the ability to carry out many different tasks and a natural ability for putting people at ease - be they colleagues, people who were injured, or families," Brendan said in a farewell speech that was warmly applauded.

"The fire service in Dingle is losing a cornerstone with your retirement," he added. "You made a difference in countless people's lives."

Jim joined the fire service in Dingle in 1991 for no particular reason other than that "something put it into my head to join". Over the years he has come across all kinds of situations, from house fires to traffic accidents, boat fires, a fatal helicopter crash in Ballyristeen and countless gorse fires. "There's one thing about Dingle - you could be called to anything," he says.

He reckons night-time boat fires are particularly dangerous - "there's fuel, cooking gas, emergency flares that could go off at any second and, on top of that, you can't see anything and you don't know where you're going."

Gorse fires, on the other hand, are less dangerous but sometimes utterly exhausting. "There isn't a hill from Castlemaine to Dunquin that we haven't been up dealing with gorse fires… We often went out and spent 18 hours on the side of a hill. The bottle of water you'd have carried would be long gone and you'd be parched with the thirst and starving with the hunger by the time you'd get back."

In recent years the Dingle Fire Service has had to deal with an increasing number of traffic accidents - sometimes several in a single week - and these can be very difficult for fire personnel.

Echoing the advice he himself received from now retired fire officer Tadhg Lynch, Jim said of these situations: "If someone is killed or injured, you have to leave it in the helmet".

"You have to leave it behind you. Leave it in the helmet and don't carry it home. If you can leave it behind you'll do alright, but if you carry it home you won't," he says. "I've told that to everyone here."

The greatest job satisfaction Jim has got from the fire service has been 'getting there on time and making a difference - even if that means just saving property in a small house fire."

And on the subject of house fires Jim offers his parting words of advice as a fire officer:

"Get a smoke alarm!"

"A house fire is the one you don't want… and all that any fireman wants to hear when they get out of the appliance [fire tender] is a smoke alarm. If you can hear that it means there's a great chance that people have already got out."