60 years ago, some four months before the world teetered on the brink of nuclear disaster during the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’, Ireland took delivery of its first batch of emergency fire engines with which the Auxiliary Fire Service branch of the Civil Defence was to be equipped. Although, thankfully, never used for their intended
purpose, they proved their worth, time and again, at major peace-time fires and emergencies as PAT POLAND recalls.


In Britain, following the end of World War II, the stand-down of the Civil Defence organization had been short-lived. Perceived threats from the Soviet Bloc resulted in the re-formation of the Civil Defence Corps, the purpose of which was to recruit a large-scale, all-volunteer, civilian organization to afford some modicum of protection against a hostile attack.

In Ireland, in December 1950, the Minister for Defence Dr T. F. O’Higgins, called a meeting of all City and County Managers for briefing on the proposed Civil Defence organization (called ‘Air Raid Precautions’, or ARP, during the Emergency). The new Civil Defence Training School at Ratra House, Phoenix Park, Dublin, accepted its first students in June 1951.

The British authorities considered that a nuclear attack would quickly overwhelm the regular fire service, so a supplementary force known as the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) comprising some 55,000 volunteers would be required. It was envisaged that a large number of mobile fire columns (MFCs) comprising emergency pumps and specialist appliances would be needed to cover the length and breadth of Britain.

All AFS vehicles were finished in ‘British Racing Green’ livery; thus, the fire engines were soon singled out for a quirky nickname that would stick: Green Goddesses.

Ironically, the shade had first been introduced, in Ireland, in 1903. At that time, motor racing was illegal in Britain, so the renowned Gordon Bennett Cup was held on the ‘Athy Circuit’ in July of that year. Centred on Athy, the circuit passed through counties Kildare, Laois, and Carlow.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own