Ballycastle’s Hugh McGill has served the Fire Service in September 1980, rising through the ranks to Leading Firefighter and then Watch Commander

Watch Commander Hugh McGill with Ballycastle firefighters and senior officers at Hughs last night of duty
Watch Commander Hugh McGill with Ballycastle firefighters and senior officers at Hughs last night of duty

Ballycastle Watch Commander Hugh McGill has decided to call it a day and step down from his role in the Fire Service after 35 years.

Hugh,who began his career in 1980, was presented with a special recognition certificate by Chief Fire Officer David Asburn and Area Commander Paul Coyle, in Ballycastle Fire Station.

“It was a very nice occasion” said Hugh. “We were having our annual Operational Audit which involves skills and scenarious and it happened to coincide with my last night on duty. I was delighted that Chief Fire Officer Asburn and Area Commander Coyle took time out to come down and make the presentation.

“I will miss it big time and miss all the boys but I am also looking forward to my retirement and being able to do different things including travel a bit,” said Hugh.

“My wife Eileen will be pleased that I won’t be getting up in the middle of dinner or during the night when the pager goes off. I had told her I was going to retire when I had 20 years done and 15 years later I finally got round to it.”

Hugh began his career in the Fire Service, which has seen him go through the ranks to Leading Firefighter and then Watch Commander, following a throw away comment by his cousin one day.

“I was working for Moyle Distict council and one day my cousin Maurice McCambridge was there when the Sub officer, the late Jim Elliott dropped in. Patrick said ‘Hugh wants a form for the Fire Service and Jim said ‘Call up this evening’.

“I had never considered joining the Fire Service before but I went along and got my form and joined in September 1980.

“It was much easier to get in at that time. You had to do 20 hours training, two hours every Monday night and that was it. Now it is a lot tougher for recruits.”

As a retained fire station, Ballycastle’s fire fighters have normal jobs as well as taking on this often dangerous role.

“I have worked for the Council the entire time I have been a fire fighter,” added Hugh.

“You never knew when the beeper would go off and you would have to down tools. It could happen at any time of the day or night so you have to be really committed to the job and you also have to have a very understanding family.

“It’s slightly easier now because of mobile phones. In the past if you went out to a call the family wouldn’t know what was happening or when you would be coming back because there was no way of contacting them.”

Having spent 35 years serving his community, Hugh has had to deal with some challenging incidents.

“There have been a number of incidents over the years but I think one of the toughest was in March this year when two lads died in a car crash.

“That was very difficult but you just have to get one with it. There are many nights like that when you go home afterwards and go to bed and you can’t sleep because everything is going through your mind. However, everyone is the same situation although everyone deals with it differently. We would talk about it at the station and if anyone has any issues then there is help available for them too.”

Hugh has also been involved in the training of numerous recruits down the years.

“I have worked with some great lads throughout my time and I have also worked with lots of new recruits in the stations within the District and it’s great to see them progress. “I was also lucky enough to be able to travel to Malawi with two other firefighters as part of a Council group involved with the Zomba project. I feel very privileged to have been given that opportunity.

“I have also enjoyed the work we did in the local community. We would have gone into schools to give talks to the children. We would also have done fire safety visits to encourage people to install working fire alarms. It is so imporant that everyone should have a working fire alarm.”

Having decided in January to retire Hugh has had time to get used to the idea of not being part of the team.

“Despite some of the situations we had to attend I have enjoyed my time. Ballycastle is a great station with some great lads.

“My son Christopher joined five or six years ago. He has been about the station since he was a tot, so at least the family connection will continue. “