Cork fireman Brian retires after 33-year service

After continuing a long family tradition in the Cork fire brigade, Brian O’Shea retired last month He tells CHRIS DUNNE about the highs and lows of his career
Cork fireman Brian retires after 33-year service

Brian O’Shea on the day he retired from the fire service, with wife Paula, and their children Daniel, Luke and Niamh.

THE O’Shea family have blazed a dedicated trail for 64 years in the fire service.

Last month, Brian O’Shea, of Aherla, who grew up in Cattle Market Avenue, near Shandon Street, hung up his uniform and stowed away his fire-fighting equipment for the last time after 33 years of service.

His father, John R, and his brother worked in the fire service as well.

“Dad joined in 1957,” says Brian. “He always loved his job. I joined the fire service in 1988. I grew up knowing all about dad’s role and all the things he did during his time there. As a kid, I often visited the station in Sullivan’s Quay then the fire station in Anglesea Street.”

Fire-fighting was in the O’Shea blood.

“My brother Tony worked in the fire service for a number of years before he retired a number of years ago,” says Brian. 

“Between us and dad we clocked up 64 years.”

That was some innings from the three men?

“It was!” says Brian, who, on retirement, had reached the rank of Station Officer at Anglesea Street Fire Station.

“I was in the passenger seat controlling the crew,” explains Brian, who loved being part of a tight-knit team. “My colleagues and I built up great friendships, all enjoying the team camaraderie over the years. They gave me a great send off, even though we couldn’t have a retirement party; it was still a lovely occasion with a stand-down ceremony outside the station with the doors open.”

Brian made his mark, attending incidents to carry out rescues and save lives, assisting emergency services and paramedics.

“I was instrumental with Ger Ryan, 2nd officer, in securing Cork’s dedicated cardiac emergency response unit, the only one outside of Dublin,” says Brian. 

“The van, operating within 5km for life-threatening incidents, can carry up to five passengers, including three firefighters who are members of the brigade who are part of the emergency response team. It is a fantastic success.”

Was Brian sad to be leaving the place he knew so well and the people he got to love?

“I had mixed emotions,” admits Brian, who is dad to Daniel, Niamh, Luke.

“Niamh is a radiographer,” adds Brian. “She went through a lot in the hospital working during Covid. Luke is a third year medical student in UCC.” 

Daniel is a mechanical engineer.

Now Brian is no longer on his usual 9am to 5am shift at the fire station and available for on-call duty when rostered, will life be different for him?

“You get very used to the same routine over the years,” answers Brian. 

“So, yes, not going to work every day will be different. There will be no bleeper going off anymore!”

Every cloud has a silver lining.

“I thought, well, I’ll never do nights again and I’ll never run out of the station in the space of a minute when the alarm bells sound! But one part of me was sad to leave my colleagues behind,” says Brian.

“When I was getting into my car to go home, my pal Steve Carroll came over to me and he asked me for my jacket! He said his was gone too small! I had no more use for it anymore. So now my uniform jacket has a new owner!”

Brian has swapped the water hose for the garden hose.

“I’m an avid gardener,” he says, showing me around his haven behind his house, which is an oasis of colour and shining shrubbery.

“I’ll be spending more time in the garden and pottering in the polytunnel, where I grow everything from seed. And no doubt I’ll have a few jobs around the house to do!”

No doubt Brian’s wife Paula will be pleased to have hands-on help?

“I think she will!” says Brian laughing. But he can still float his boat.

“I have plans to buy a boat and sail on the Shannon and hang out in Crookhaven in West Cork in the summer,” he says. “I’m really looking forward to that.”

FAMILY LINE: Brian O’Shea’s father, John R, who was also a fireman as well as being an entertainer.
FAMILY LINE: Brian O’Shea’s father, John R, who was also a fireman as well as being an entertainer.

His dad, John R — for Richard — as well as being a fireman, was a well-known figure around Cork as an entertainer. “He joined Cork Fire Brigade in 1957 and retired in 1991,” says Brian. “He was a big, strong hero. He was known as the singing fireman!”

“I think he was known as R to distinguish him from another colleague known as ‘small Johnny!’ 

“Dad loved singing and he performed with Sean O’Shea, Billa O’Connell, Tony Hegarty, and many others. They used go to rural parishes, to parish halls to entertain people.

“Dad wrote a book about his escapades both inside and outside the fire brigade, called the Red City,” says Brian.

One story in it recounts a visit by 10 Cork fire brigade men to the Rose of Tralee courtesy of the ‘diddleum’ fund.

“Dad and his mates got nicely steamed on their social outing and when they were singing and harmonising together, a representative from the Rose of Tralee Festival asked them to sing on the stage in the town square as part of the proceedings,” says Brian. “They duly obliged and really enjoyed themselves.”

John R passed away in February, 2018.

“As Station Manager of Blackpool Fire Station, he attended the Buttevant train crash in 1990 where 18 people lost their lives and 70 people were injured,” says Brian.

Like his dad, Brian is also a singer, often taking part in music sessions, playing the guitar and singing.

Before he joined the fire service in 1991, he worked in a factory in Cork where he met his wife Paula. “We’ve been together ever since.”

In the fire service, Brian attended road accidents, fires, river rescues, and helped people in flooding situations.

“Some incidents stay with you,” he says. 

“Fatalities due to road accidents are always sad occasions that stick in your mind. I attended a large number of incidents over the years, including the Sunbeam fire in 2001. “It was a miracle there were no fatalities."

There were others.

“The Vernon Mount House fire in 2016 and Our Lady’s Hospital fire in 2017 were major fires in Cork. Being near the River Lee, there were often calls to rescue people or deceased people from it due to accidents or suicide.”

Brian adds: “Often, at 2am coming from a call-out, you’d get girls on their way home from a night out calling out to you and waving to you!” Brian portrays the picture of contentment after an impressive career.

“Yes, I’m happy and proud to have served with the fire service,” he says. “It was a great career.”

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