Former station Officer: All 999 calls directed to house

Tommy and May Friel, Tommy was the first Fire chief at Milford Fire Station from 1992. Photo: Donna El Assaad

WHEN the new €400,000 Fire Engine for Milford Fire Brigade was unveiled at a special ceremony at Milford Fire Station on Friday last, one local retired fire fighter watched on with pride.
Tommy Friel from The Lagg was Milford’s first station officer in 1991, a post he held until 2007 when he handed his pager back in for the last time after serving his community and county.
“It wasn’t always like this,” he mused.
Tommy can remember back to a time in the not too distant past when Letterkenny Fire Station was tasked with responding to all 999 calls from Fanad Lighthouse to Melmore Head in Downings and all parts in between.
“We started off in 1991, with a crew of three, before a full crew (eight) was put in place a year later,” he recalled.
That was almost twenty years after Tommy and the late Frank McMorrow, who worked with the Civil Defence, first started lobbying for a fire station in Milford.
“We first got talking about the need for a fire station in Milford to cover the two peninsulas in the early seventies. We lobbied the late Neil T Blaney and local councillors at the time.
“Interviews were held as far back as 1976 and a full crew was appointed but we had no station. We revamped part of a shop attached to McMahons garage to put the fire engine in but the idea never took off and Donegal County Council used it as a store instead. The crew was never appointed even though they had their medicals done,” he recalled.
In the late 1980s, calls for a fire station in Milford gathered momentum once more and on this occasion they were successful and the first three fire fighters were appointed – Tommy Friel, David Simms and Declan Williams.
The first engine, an old Bedford from Letterkenny, was parked in front of McMahon’s garage.
“The fire engine stayed at the store and the phone was run from my house. All 999 calls were directed to my house and they we used pagers to notify the men. We did that for eleven years,” he said.
Tommy was appointed Station Officer and David Simms was Sub Officer. They were joined by Declan Williams who remains in active service today.
Married to Mary, the couple have seven children.
“My wife wouldn’t even put the clothes out on the line unless one of the children was in the house in case a call came through,” Tommy said.
“Mary would have known a lot of the people who would have phoned in about fires so directions were rarely an issue,” he added.
Milford soon became the third busiest station in Donegal, averaging around 45 calls a year. They answered more than 80 calls one year in the mid-nineties while they only responded to 24 calls another year.
“I used to graph the call-outs for different months and one very dry season we were particularly busy with gorse fires,” he said.
One of the first calls the Milford Fire Service responded to was a major fire at the Portsalon Hotel while he also remembers a call to Aughnagaddy House in Ramelton where they managed to save a lot of antique dolls.
Starting out in the fire service in 1991, Tony said that much has changed in the past 27 years from the equipment they use to what is expected of the service.
“The fire service has come on in leaps and bounds since then in terms of our appliances in Milford and our equipment,” he said.
Looking back on his years of experience, he said there were standout moments but they were often difficult.
There were a number of suicides in the area as well as fatal road traffic accidents.
“I would have known a lot of those people who lost their lives on the roads. It was difficult but, overall, the job was very rewarding. It’s a vocation really and I’ve nothing but admiration for the people who man our fire service,” he said.
“I’m delighted to see that Milford took delivery of a new state of the art Fire Engine last week. We started out with an old Bedford from Letterkenny, then got a better one from Buncrana. When we moved into the new station in the mid-nineties we got a got one but I honestly didn’t think we would get another new one now,” he added.
The new ‘Class B’ Fire Engine, which cost of over €400,000, was officially handed over to Station Officer Eugene McCafferty by Cathaoirleach Cllr. Gerry McMonagle following a blessing by Fr. Rory Brady and Rev Jonathon McCollum last Friday.
This new Fire Engine will now replace the old 1995 Volvo fire engine that was previously based at Milford Fire Station and which was one of the oldest front-line fire engines in the fleet.
A number of Donegal Fire Service personnel were also presented with their 10 Year Long Service Awards on Friday including Shane McGettigan, Manus O’Donnell, Noel Gillespie, Eugene McCafferty and Declan Williams who was one of the three who started with Tommy that first day back in 1991

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