Ring of fire

Carrie McMullan

Dublin Fire Brigade and Dublin City Council are collaborating on the ‘Be Safe – Stay Safe’ Halloween Safety Campaign which was launched earlier this month. Credit: Dave Meehan for the Irish Times

Halloween is the scariest time of year not just for people afraid of goblins and ghouls, but also for emergency services all across the country.The night of Halloween is always the busiest night for call-outs in response to fire and fire-related injuries. Last year, the Dublin Fire Brigade received just over 1,000 calls throughout the day. This was an increase of over 20 per cent from 2016. Approximately one-third of the call-outs involved bonfires. Bonfires are illegal in Ireland under a number of European Union waste directives and the Air Pollution Act 1987. The Waste Management Regulations 2009 strengthened the law against backyard burning. Despite legislation, Halloween call-outs continue to increase year by year. This puts pressure on both the fire brigade as well as ambulance and Garda services to deal with injuries and arrests.

A bonfire is a major attraction in many housing estates and local communities at the end of Halloween night. These bonfires are typically made by younger people who stockpile materials for months before the big night. Last year, Dublin City Council removed 450 tonnes of bonfire materials in the month leading up to Halloween. Aside from the emergencies which plague the emergency services, bonfires also have a massive impact on the environment and human health. Bonfires and firework explosions generate large, dense smoke plumes which increase emissions of air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter, according to a study carried out by the Royal Meteorological Society in 2016. These air pollutants can cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems as well as being a precursor to ground-level ozone (O3). O3 when produced at surface
level is known to reduce lung function and increase the chance of lung cancer after prolonged exposure, according to the ‘Health Aspects of Air Pollution (2003)’ by the World Health Organisation.

Dublin Fire Brigade and Dublin City Council are collaborating as usual on the ‘Be Safe – Stay Safe’ Halloween Safety Campaign which was launched by Lord Mayor Nial Ring on October 22nd. Pupils from Holy Family SNS Rivervalley, Dublin Bus and the DSPCA also attended the launch. Dublin Fire Brigade demonstrated the risks of using fireworks and had a collection of dangerous items that are often found in bonfires such as aerosol cans.

“We’re not there to ruin anyone’s fun. We’re not there as killjoys. We’ll only take action on Halloween night if it’s… first of all danger to life, then danger to property and infrastructure, and I mean by infrastructure utility services,” said firefighter Darren O’Connor on Claire Byrne Live that evening.

The Government has appealed to families to attend organised festivals and events instead of bonfires over the course of the Halloween period. This boycott of bonfires aims to reduce the number of injuries to children and antisocial behaviour as well as protect the public land on which bonfires are generally built, according to Dublin Council’s waste management officer Simon Brock. Dublin City Council organised 15 family friendly events in collaboration with local communities from October 22-31. Ten of these events take place on Halloween and many include professionally managed fireworks displays.

“This year Dublin City Council have organised a spooktacular programme of family friendly events across the city and I encourage everyone to get their teeth into the community based events that are taking place in their area and to stay away from illegal bonfires,” said Lord Mayor Ring in a
statement. Dublin City Council are expected to collect over 400 tones of stockpiled material during the run up to Halloween this year.

Carrie McMullan 

Image credit: Dave Meehan