Sitting across a table from Duncan McDaniel and Robert Smith in Simpson’s, it is hard to believe the fresh-faced, recently retired firefighters have a combined 81 years’ service in Carndonagh.
Duncan and Robert are very much looking forward to the future, confident their former colleagues will carry on in a “happy, hardworking station.”
A Carndonagh man “born and bred” Duncan smiled as he recalled his earliest memories of the Carndonagh Fire Brigade.
Son of the late Michael (Kilmacrennan) and Mary McDaniel, Duncan said: “Originally, in the middle of the Diamond in Carndonagh there used to be a wee hut with a siren on top of it. When I was a child and the siren used to go, we used to run into the street and wait for the fire engine to come up the street. That excitement is basically where it all started.
“I left Carndonagh Community school at 15 and I was working on a job with Henry Doherty. Henry was in the Station Officer at the time and I was always on to him about joining the Fire Service. But I was too young. I then started working as an apprentice electrician and was on the jobs with Henry and I kept on at him about joining the Fire Service.
“And, when I turned 18, Henry came back to me. I’ll never forget it. He smoked and he had a Carroll’s box and he wrote down the address on it and he said write to this address and get an application form for the Fire Service because we are recruiting two people.
“So, I wrote away for the application form and got it and sent it away and then I had to do a medical but, of course, knowing me, I didn’t do the medical. The other fella, Anthony Porter, did the medical but I was a bit lackadaisical. I met Henry down the town one day and he reared up on me,” laughed Daniel. “He said, ‘If you want this job, you go and do that medical.’
Daniel did his medical and a fortnight later he got a letter asking him to come down to the station.
He served 20 years as a firefighter, 10 as a sub officer and 10 as station officer.
Duncan said: “We were a very close-knit family in Carndonagh Fire Station. There are six new members of staff now and it is good to see new blood. A lot of the fellas I served with have also retired.
“The younger firefighters now are paid now. Back in the day, when we started, we were doing it for very little. But I just loved the job. I loved doing it. In our day fire fighters would have to have had a second job. I worked for Eircom.
“We were on call 24 / 7. You carried the pager with you everywhere you went.
“There were restrictions on your life, which we accepted. As Station Officer, I could only have had two men off at the same time and they would also have had to tell me. No other crew members could have left Carndonagh until the two men came back,” said Duncan.
Duncan said in his day firefighters were “happy enough” with those arrangements.
However, he believed it would have to change for the younger firefighters, given the pressures and “big demands” it could have on family life.
Duncan recalled: “Anywhere you wanted to go, to the beach or wherever, if the pager went off, we couldn’t go, so I can well understand the point of view of the younger firefighters.
“There were sad times over my 40 years, but we’ll not dwell on them today. I was supposed to retire in April but when Covid-19 hit, I decided to stay on for a while longer. That’s part of the job. You don’t know what you are going out to. We talk about it afterwards and support one another and Donegal County Council do provide a Counsellor if we require it if anyone needed support. No-one knows how they will react.
“I will miss working with the public. I have nothing planned at all. I’m putting on an extension to the house at the minute. I am looking forward to the future. I have a son in England, and myself and Liz, my wife, are looking forward to getting over to see him when we can travel again.
“I also have a new wee grandchild, six weeks, so my hands are going to be full,” beamed Duncan.
Duncan’s colleague, Robert Smith was part of the Carndonagh Crew for 41 years, retiring in January past.
John’s mother, Maureen, and his late father, James, were from Carndonagh. He was reared in Scotland until the family moved back to Inishowen when he was 16.
Robert recalled: “I joined the Fire Service because when my father came back to Inishowen, Eunan Doherty’s father, Eamonn, asked him to join the Fire Service. Eamonn was the who was a Sub Officer at the time. My father then suggested me.
“I was 18 at that time. It was very simple; I went for an informal interview down at the fire station and that was it. I have enjoyed my years in the Fire Service. We had a great time.
“Over the past 41 years, it has got really professional. There have been massive changes. The gear we have for one. What we wear and what we use is really, really up to date. Our training is second to none in Ireland and that is ongoing, it’s not to say you become a fire fighter and that is you.
“I was very happy being the driver of the fire engine. As far as I was concerned it was the best job of all. I used to be very thin and they used to send me up inside chimneys. In some places it would have been hard to clean, so they sent you up the chimney. We were very young,” laughed Robert.
Married to Caroline, Robert said he was proud of the comradeship in Carndonagh Fire Service.
He added: “We were renowned in Donegal and all over Ireland as the best station in the country. Any Officer who came to Donegal and came to Carndonagh always said the craic was good. We have a crew of nine.
“I had a great career. I’m guessing the average career would last 15 or 20 years, Duncan and I have two careers under our belts.
“I retired just before Covid-19 and I got away for a two-week cruise in the Caribbean. So that was lovely. Once a driver, always a driver, I am now driving for Now Doc.
“The public don’t understand the commitment that is involved in the Fire Service. You have to work and live within 2 kilometres of station. And you have to carry a pager all the time. You are on duty 24 / 7. But we really had fun and we had a great station which made a difference for us,” said Robert.
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