John Gavigan hangs up his helmet

John Gavigan hangs up his helmet
Sue Doherty @dlgdemocrat

One of Ballyshannon's longest serving Fire Officers has retired.

John Gavigan bowed out, after more than 31 years, on July 12th, his 58th birthday.

Originally from East End, Bundoran, John moved to Ballyshannon around 35 years ago and joined the service a few years after.

When asked what motivated him to become a Fire Officer, he replies without hesitation.

"I happened to be in Bundoran on the night of the Central Hotel fire, around 21 years of age and I helped out as best I could. It was a terrible things to witness that kind of devastation.

"We wouldn't have realised intitially how many lives had been lost. It was only later the full extent of the tragedy emerged.

"So, when an opportunity came up in Ballyshannon I made my application."

He's proud to have served with men he clearly admires and respects.

"I joined a very experienced crew in Ballyshannon who worked well together under Station Officer Bernard Drummond."

Over the years, John and the crews have responded to all kinds of emergencies, each of which, he says, leaves it mark.

"We've had fatalities in house fires and so many deaths on the road here, especially between Donegal Town and Ballyshannon, and on the Belleek road.

"The worst situation is dealing with children - trying to get them away to safety or medical care as quickly and efficiently as you can.

"We have had situations when an ambulance was on its way but took 20 minutes or more to arrive and we've looked after casualties, in terms of applying first aid.

Fortunately, we have an excellently trained crew, with highly trained first responders, and we've all earned our certificates in CPR."

The quality of training is one of the many improvements John's seen during his many years with the Fire Service.

"The gear and the equipment is top notch now. When I started, we wore donkey jackets and plastic trousers. You wouldn't go near a fire in plastic now.

"I would also have seen major changes through my involvement in the union and negotiations at national level. As I've mentioned, improvements in training, in employment and also in moving more towards having national standards even though each county is a separate employer."

John's family - his wife Marie (née Bromley, from Ballyshannon) and their two children, James and Áine - have always been a big support to him and that means a lot, he explains.

"Being in the Fire Service is a 24/7 commitment, in addition to running my own business as a dental technician. Your family nearly belongs to the service as much as you do. This was especially true when I took on the role of sub-officer after a few years in the service. My family and I, along with Station Officer Liam Kane and his family, looked after the phones for the local Fire Service as well. It was a big commitment from everyone."

John studied Civil Engineering at LYIT a few years back and recently completed an honours degree there in Fire Safety Engineering, so there's every chance we might see him return to the Fire Service in a different capacity in the future.

At the moment though, he has just one regret. "Twelve of the county's fifteen stations have been modernised or replaced," he says. "I just hoped that I would have seen a new station in Ballyshannon before I retired, especially when the will seemed to be there, with all the councillors pressing for it."