National Green Leader 2011

Dublin fire fighter, Neil McCabe, who won the 2011 National Green Leader Award for innovation and leadership, and succeeded in making his Fire Station in Kilbarrack the first carbon neutral fire station in the world, says his plans could just as easily be used in hospitals and healthcare agencies.  Maureen Browne reports.

Dublin fire fighter, Neil McCabe, who won the 2011 National Green Leader Award for innovation and leadership, has succeeded in making his Fire Station in Kilbarrack the first carbon neutral fire station in the world.

Neil McCabe
Pictured at the Green Awards 2011 at the Burlington Hotel was Ronan Nolan from Deliotte The Green Leader of the Year award to Neil McCabe from the Dublin Fire Brigade.

This month, Neil also received the news that he has won the Green Apple Award – the major green award in Europe.  The presentation will take place in Westminster Abbey on June 20.

Kilbarrack is now the flagship station for the greening of the entire Dublin Fire Brigade and for Dublin City Council which had asked Neil to deliver his 254 project Green Plan to their buildings, based on what was achieved in Kilbarrack. He has been seconded for 12 months to bring the Green Plan to the entire fire service and the City Council.

Over the last four years, the Green Plan has saved Kilbarrack Fire Station a total of €50,000, which was ring-fenced for investment in the Station

“This Green Plan could just as easily be used in hospitals and other healthcare agencies, in other parts of the public service and in the private service and not only would it reduce their carbon footprint and impact on the environment dramatically but it would also save significant amounts of money” said Neil.

Over the last four years, the Green Plan has saved Kilbarrack Fire Station a total of €50,000, which was ring-fenced for investment in the Station.  The entire station has been retro fitted to accept new technologies (with the help of  staff working on their days off)  a commemorative garden for the entire Fire Service has been reclaimed from waste ground and, to date, a total of over 2,500 people have visited the station to see the work done.

Gerry Geraghty, Executive Manager, Dublin Fire Brigade said that when Neil first approached management, it was obvious immediately that not only had he done a considerable amount of research, but he had convinced many other people at the Station that this was the way to go.

“His proposals were cost effective and brought health benefits, so from the very start we supported Neil, but he was the driving force behind it, and within certain financial constraints, we let him do the job and there has been a huge payback.  He also involved the housing maintenance section and they did a lot of the internal joinery work.  Neil looks at things from a different point of view and he is at the forefront of the very latest technology.  I think it is important that when you have somebody who has a particular interest and outstanding ability, like Neil, to support him from a distance and let him do the job.”

Part of the plan is also to introduce biodiversity and this has culminated in a major project where, with the help of fire fighters and retired fire fighters, 270 local schoolchildren learned about wildlife and nature.  The Station also has a 60 metre allotment where they grow in season vegetables.

Neil’s plan has reduced the energy consumption of the fire station by over 80 per cent, introduced a rainwater harvesting system to collect rain water to put out fires and for washbasin, shower and kitchen sink use, which has made the Station 80 per cent water independent.

“I think it is important that when you have somebody who has a particular interest and outstanding ability, like Neil, to support him from a distance and let him do the job.”

Says Neil: “The greening of Kilbarrack began four years ago when we lost a lot of station staff to a new fire station and staff motivation was very low.  The station itself was 40 years old and had never even been painted. I knew I couldn’t ask management for money to refurbish it , so instead of asking for money I came up with the Green Plan and it was agreed that money we saved by reducing our energy consumption and carbon emissions would be ring-fenced for improvements to the station.

“I hate wishy-washy stuff that talks about what could be done and what might be done, so I wrote a document called The Green Plan, which is all based on actual actions and it has produced amazing results.  There are three phases to the plan and I said that at the completion of Phase 111 we would be carbon neutral, but by the end of Phase 11 we had achieved it and become first Fire Brigade Station in the world to become carbon neutral and transparently carbon neutral at that.”

The three principles of Neil’s plan are low capital outlay, quick payback period and replicability.

“Low capital outlay means getting the latest cutting edge technology at the lowest possible price,” says Neil.  In Ireland we have always tended to take on technology that was at least 15 years past its sell by date in Europe.  Instead of taking on these almost dormant or retired technologies we need to become leaders in technology and the Green Plan emphasises that Dublin Fire Brigade should become  a world leader in carbon emission reduction by buying  the latest technology which lessens the impact on the environment  and doing this much more cheaply than would be expected.  I have sourced the latest technology and succeeded in getting it much more cheaply than official quotes (in some cases I was able to buy equipment for €20,000 for which I had been quoted €100,000). When you charge this against the running costs of the fire station you see how you have a quick pay back period and it is also very replicable. This has included full blown sourcing, shipping, haulage and installation in a lot of cases, an area in which Neil had no experience.

“The themes of the Green Plan are energy, water, waste, transport, biodiversity, society and procurement.  What you have in these seven themes is a holistic realistic approach to turning a physical building, a business or the private or public sector into being carbon neutral and genuinely sustainable.”

One of the initiatives which Neil took on in Kilbarrack was to build a recycling bay on a site inside the Fire Station which has resulted in an overall waste reduction of 60 per cent.

“One hundred per cent of waste used to go to landfill and that has now been reduced to 40 per cent while the other 60 per cent is recycled on site.  There is also a knock-on effect as staff are bringing in their own waste for recycling.  The investment came in the form of building the recycle bay which cost €2,000 (green concrete was used to reduce the carbon emission) and the fire crew built it themselves on their days off.  In fact they have done most of the work on the fire station on their days off.  Staff of a building are stakeholders in the premise and if they feel they have a stake of ownership that will be reflected in the energy consumption.”

The annual savings from the recycle bay is €8,500 and this money has been  ring fenced and is to be spent on energy technology to the fire station with the full blown support of management.

“The rain harvesting system collects on average 14,000 litres of water per ten days and for the last year and a half this has been used to put out fires in the area.  We also built a waste water treatment unit to provide EU standard certified water for washing and kitchen sink use.  Two months ago, I needed to service clean out the water harvesting tank and I emptied 8,000 litres of rainwater down the drain. The crew became very agitated with me when they saw the collected water being wasted.”

The water had previously been going down the drain for the last 40 years, so there has been a big behavioural change and that reflects the importance of involving society.

Last October, Kilbarrack Fire Station hosted 270 children from the nine local national schools of the district in a biodiversity, wildlife and nature project.  The children were dressed as vampires,  the Wildlife Trust brought in real bats,  the children were given homegrown seeds  and organic compost from the Fire Station vegetable allotment  and bird boxes made by fire staff and retired staff using waste products recycled during some of the retrofit work, and shown the original porch from Bram Stoker’s House which is being restored in the Station.

In November last year Neil received “The Hidden Hero” award for his work – which he confesses takes up about 80 hours a week – from the Lord Mayor of Dublin.  I think he should be brought into Cabinet as Minister for Green Development.