Over the past three decades, Kevin Lynch has been to the forefront in keeping the public safe and, as he hangs up his fireman’s helmet and sails off into retirement, his parting words were: ‘It’s been a privilege!
As District Commander, Kevin has been guiding local fire & rescue crews through the many changes and developments in the service - and in society - into the modern era.
He joined the Fire & Rescue Service as a young man of 23 on May 16, 1988, following in the footsteps of his older brother Willie.
“I saw the way he loved the job and it was always an ambition of mine to get into the Fire Service,” he said.
Following four months of training at the Brigade Training School in Belfast, Kevin was stationed to Redwatch at Northland Road Station and he recalls his first call out to a house fire at Lincoln Courts. “I remember just trying to keep up with the more experienced firemen. When you first come in, the first thing you are told is: ‘You go get the water and let the big boys do the fire-fighting’ and that’s what we did. They always say to stay with the more experienced guys to find your feet. You see how they do it, listen to how they talk and you soak it all in and try and learn the lessons.”
From there Kevin moved to the new Crescent Link Fire Station when it opened in February, 1991.
“I was actually on the first shift of the first day it opened,” he said. “It was a brand new Fire Station. We always had Northland Road, but we moved over to Crescent Link because the city was expanding in such a way that Northland Road couldn’t meet the turnout times over to the Waterside. So they created Crescent Link Fire Station, District HQ and, indeed, Divisional HQ at that time. I wondered why they had ever made it so big but, as the years moved on, every space and office is in use so the people who designed and built it had foresight to build it so that it met the needs of the service 30 years later.”
In fact, so much has changed over the years, particularly, in terms of health and safety and operational procedures, as more robust practises, command and logging systems were introduced. “When I came in the ‘Troubles’ were just coming to an end and there was more time spent on training as the world was changing. It continues to evolve today and the Fire Service is constantly working out how we can make things safer.
“As District Commander, there are three aspects to the job: fire safety, operations and personnel and training. For for the past 10 years I would have been more involved in the personnel and training: educating and training our own people, developing and supporting them.”
The Fire Service has issued a plethora of messages relating to home fire safety checks, fire in the home and road traffic collisions.
“There are people who still don’t have working smoke detectors in their homes which is a puzzle to us,” Kevin maintained.
He said one of the downsides to his duties was “the number of fatal car accidents he would have attended involving young people speeding or driving having consumed alcohol.
“The adverts on television are very real and it’s particularly sad when you see so many lives lost,” he said.
Among the major incidents which stand out in Kevin’s memory, over recent years, was the fire at Altnagelvin Hospital’s Tower Block in 2012.
“I actually had just come off duty when I got a phonecall from the Control Room to ask if I would be available as there was a confirmed fire at the Tower Block in Altnagelvin Hospital. I had spent my entire operational life training for this moment so, needless to state, I made my way there as fast as possible. When I arrived, I was given the job of leading a team of people up onto the roof and identify what was on fire and how we would extinguish it. “It was a major operation and a very surreal experience walking through the 9th floor with water cascading down through the roof and people being evacuated on beds. Thankfully there was no loss of life,” he noted.
Another was the unprecedented flooding in August last year: “I would have trained up in all the aspects of flooding, and I would be a tactical advisor for Northern Ireland in regard to floods. Unfortunately, we had no prior warning so we had to react and everything happened so fast. I was first turned out at 8.10 pm that evening and it wasn’t until 5.00 am the next morning when I had the last call dealt with. It was a night when the Fire Service had to stand up. It was an example of the Fire Service at its very best, just doing what needed to be done in a safe manner and helping people where we could.
“We were going from Dunamanagh right up to Campsie. Among the more surreal moments from that night was driving up Clooney Road and a wave breaking over the bonnet of the car and launching boats on the Buncrana Road to search cars. There was over 100 people rescued by the Fire Service that night and again, thankfully, there was no loss of life. It was unbelievable. We trained and had all the equipment but a little part of me thought I would never have to put those skills into use in the way we had to that night.”
Kevin met his wife, Fiona, after he joined the Fire Service and said his family have been “very supportive and have had to deal with my comings and goings at all hours of the day and night.”
Kevin said he was looking forward to spending more time with his wife and son, James, who is just about to graduate from Queen’s University as a Civil Engineer and daughter, Caoimhe, who has just completed her first year at Queen’s, studying to become a Software & Electronic Systems Engineer.
He plans to spend more time with friends and pursue his love of yachting. In fact tomorrow will see the 53-year-old join friends in a yacht race from Rathlin Island to St. Kilda, off the coast of the Outer Hebrides. He is also involved in Lough Foyle Yacht Club and is organising a few events with the Loughs Agency for the forthcoming Maritime Festival and is also involved in the Culmore Regatta.
“I’ll spend the summer sailing and relaxing before seeing what else is out there,” he smiled.
Kevin said he was very happy that he followed his dream. “I have worked both in Crescent Link and Northland Road in various shifts and at various ranks and I have had the privilege to work with some wonderful people and experience many wonderful experiences. It’s a job you need to have a passion for and it can be a very rewarding job. A lot of things have changed in the Fire Service but it remains one of the best jobs about and I would strongly recommend it to anyone,” he concluded.