Malachy steps down after 38 years’ service in Downpatrick fire station

Malachy steps down after 38 years’ service in Downpatrick fire station

4 September 2019

MALACHY Savage is one of those familiar faces that people in Downpatrick rarely want to see — unless he is delivering the post.

A crew commander in the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service’s retained fire station, he is stepping down after 38 years.

While he and his crew are mostly called out in times of emergency — big and small — local people are also relieved to see Malachy as he has gained a well-deserved reputation for getting the job done.

Also well-known for being a postman in the town for many years — a job he is continuing to do — Malachy and his fellow fire officers have responded to tens of thousands of fires, traffic collisions and other complex rescue situations every year.

He joined the fire service in April in 1981, following the example of his brother, Brian who, now retired, had served as a fire officer for 36 years.

Married to Siobhan, the daughter of a former fire officer, Malachy maintained his day job as postman with that of responding to emergency call-outs as well as family life as the father of two sons, Eamon and Cónan.

The Downpatrick born and bred man became one of four crew commanders at the Church Street station, the busiest retained fire station in Northern Ireland, in 1993.

Under watch commander Michael Walsh, Malachy and his three other crew commander colleagues — Eddie O’Boyle, Ernest Hanlon and Colin Dryden — work alongside 15 fire officers who combine their main jobs with this unstinting public service to the community.

“A crew commander is really an overseer of the incident and our job is to see that everything runs smoothly and to ensure the health and safety of the crew as a priority,” explained Malachy. 

After such a long period of time working in the fire service and rolling with all the service improvements, Malachy felt that now was right time for him to leave. 

“It’s just time to go,” he said. “I had my mind made up a few years ago that I would retire around this time. The job is just not a matter of going and putting out a few fires. Your family has a lot to put up with too and there’s a lot of spoiled meals and a lot of spoilt nights out. 

“I was very lucky with my choice of my wife as her father was watch commander in Warrenpoint so she knew how the system worked before I met her. You don’t know what’s around the corner so I thought I would take my chance and go.”

While he will miss the camaraderie he shared with this fellow firefighters, he is looking forward to a life as an ordinary citizen.

“It will be nice to think I can just come and go as I like and hopefully that state of alertness that you need to do the job will ease.

“Even whenever you are in bed sleeping, you’re still listening for the pager going. That’s why I am continuing on as a postman as I think I would find it difficult in switching off from both jobs.

“I will miss the sheer enjoyment of it and the craic I had with the rest of the lads. Apart from the seriousness of the job, there has always been good craic and of course, the satisfaction of helping the community.”

He has seen great changes in the fire service over the last 38 years.

“The job certainly has changed over the years, especially the appliances,” he said.

“Today a lot of the equipment is computerised and there is a lot of training involved and knowledge updating. There is great emphasis on health and safety, and rightly so, and a lot of courses to attend.

“While this is a part-time job, there are some weeks, as the boys can testify, that you are busier here than in your main job. But it’s the team that you have behind you that makes the job that bit easier.”

There have been times Malachy says that he wished for the anonymity that he believes comes with full-time officers in Belfast as being known locally had its good points and bad points.

He said: “There are times that people can sometimes, without realising it, put you on the spot because they know you whereas perhaps full-time officers in Belfast may not experience that as nobody knows them and they are just firefighters. Here we really are community firefighters.”

He’s not going to miss the alert or his pager going off at all times of the day, or having to continually update the system about his availability.

“Everything today is planned and you actually have to plan your life around the fire service,” he said.

However, he would still encourage other young men men and women to join the NIFRS.

“It’s a great career to undertake. If you like it there’s an opportunity to transfer into the full-time service and advance up,” he added.

“But it’s just not a matter of putting out fires and going home. Every time we come back from an incident, the crew commander is on the computer to complete a log. We are do a lot of work on education and fire safety work and that’s equally important as responding to incidents.”

Malachy left the NIFRS at the weekend and he and his wife will enjoy a few weeks holidaying before he returns to his job as postman.