Thursday 21 February 2019

Firemen battle 8ft snow drifts to get to Ballycullane fire

A photo taken from inside the fire tender on route to Ballycullane last Friday
A photo taken from inside the fire tender on route to Ballycullane last Friday

David Looby

Battling 8ft snow drifts, 14 brave New Ross firemen, aided by a council crew, managed to get to Ballycullane on Friday where a woman's house was destroyed and a neighbouring house was smoke damaged.

New Ross Firebridge got a call to a house on fire in St Martin's Park at 2.05 p.m. Fire Officer Cyril McGarr left in a four wheel drive vehicle followed by crews in two fire tenders which got stuck in 6ft snow drifts at Burkestown Cross, four miles from their destination.

Martin Shalloe, General Services Supervisor, New Ross District, arrived on the scene, along with Paddy Moore and Pat Laffan, with loaders and dug the snow in front of the fire tenders.

Cyril said: 'They rescued us. They dug for 100 metres, then towed us up as there was still 3ft of snow on the road before disconnecting and shifting the snow again. They dug tunnels and towed us all the way to Ballycullane.'

The Volvo FL fire tenders had snow chains on the back and 'snow socks' on the front and even still couldn't make any headway through the dense snow on the road.

The fire crews arrived at 5.10 p.m. in Ballycullane where they received a fantastic reception from the crowd, most of whom assumed the firemen, who by then had been on duty 24 hours straight, would have turned back.

The crew were fighting the blaze four minutes later.

The roof of the house, occupied by Anna Murphy, was totally gutted following a fire which started in the kitchen. Ms Murphy was safe from the scene within minutes of the fire breaking out.

A team of three firemen wearing breathing apartaus, went into the attic of a vacant house adjoining the burned house and using compressed air foam were able to prevent the fire from spreading through the roof and potentially into the attic. Meanwhile the firemen had to call for more diesel for fear the water on board would freeze.

Assistant county Fire Officer Ray Murphy said there are 1,800lts of water on every fire tender but every precaution had to be taken.

Mr Murphy said: 'The fire crew left the scene at 7 p.m. having extinguished the fire. By this stage another foot of snow had fallen.'

Cyril said: 'Cllr Michael Whelan met us there and he was excellent. He thanked us and was fantastic for the community as well, as was the guard on the scene, Eamonn Whelan. The people of St Martin's Park were very appreciative of us and very respectful towards us as we were towards them. Some residents said if it was them they would have turned around but we only go one direction and that is onwards.'

He said: 'Martin Shalloe and the two men stayed with us all day. They were excellent. They organised us to get to the fire and come back they cleared the fire station and got everything we needed. It was actually worse coming back as more snow had fallen. It was up to eight feet.'

The fire crew returned to New Ross at around midnight and finished preparing the fire tenders for the following day.

The firemen were on duty 24/7 from early on Thursday - getting only half hour breaks to return home. They attended chimney fires, assisted with medical emergencies and ferried elderly people home.

Speaking on Sunday, Cyril said: 'We have all been on standby in the station. Today is our first chance to help the community because we are physically able to as we were battered and bruised after the fire.'

The firemen helped to clear snow from estates around New Ross on Sunday, before getting a well earned rest Sunday evening. They returned armed with shovels to clear out Catherine McAuley Junior School and Bunscoil Rís in Castlemoyle, New Ross on Monday, along with carrying out other duties.

Mr Murphy praised the firemen for their dedication.

He said: 'It was so heartening the response the men got in Ballycullane. Martin Shalloe was invaluable to us through getting the loaders to get us out there in the first place, as was Pat Laffan, an ex fire fighter, and Paddy Moore. It was only for their assistance in getting the diesel out to the crews, otherwise we wouldn't have been able to get out of there.'

He gave the following warning: 'During severe weather the fire service recommends that people be extra vigilant on fire safety, don't leave electric, gas or oil heaters and appliances unattended. Close all doors last thing at night and install a smoke alarm and test it regularly.'

Cllr Michael Whelan, who is a resident of St Martin's Park, praised the response of the firemen, which he called 'extraordinary'.

He said if not for the storm Ms Murphy's house could have been saved, adding that a mighty effort went into getting the fire crews to the scene, involving numerous people, including local residents.

He said the neighbouring house was saved due to good building regulations whereby roofs are kept separate.

New Ross Standard