Fire service visit is a trip down memory lane for Bognor firefighter with Alzheimer’s
“One of the best things about dad is his sense of humour hasn’t changed”
Retired firefighter Patrick O’Hanlon took a trip down memory lane yesterday (August 26) as family members and former colleagues arrived to greet him at the Greenways Residential and Dementia Care Home in Hawthorn Road, Bognor Regis.
Mr O’Hanlon, who is being treated for Alzheimer’s, spent 30 years in the West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service. Joining after a stint in the Royal Air Force, he saved lives, stopped fires and mentored younger colleagues.
“When I joined, Pat was one of our trainers,” said watch manager Sean Embleton. “He taught me how to ball my shoes, how to iron a shirt.
“Where he was ex-military, he was so professional, so well-turned out. He was the person who made me realise how important your appearance is.”
Watch manager Embleton, now 56, helped organise the visit, arranging for a fire engine to arrive at the care home and give Mr O’Hanlon a chance to relive his time with the service. Looking after former members like this, he said, is a big part of what it means to be in the fire service: “It’s a family, at the end of the day. I spend as much time with these guys as I do with my actual family.
“You go through all these emotions together, in life and on the job, and you need someone to talk to about it.”
If watch manager Embleton saw Patrick O’Hanlon as a capable member of the team, then his children saw a warm, compassionate father, and spoke at length about his tenacious sense of humour.
“One of the best things about dad is his sense of humour hasn’t changed,” said Sam O’Hanlon, Patrick’s 28-year-old son. “He can laugh at himself, he can laugh at things that he does and, although he’s lost a lot of his speech and his words, his humour was always pretty slapstick. And he’s still got that.”
Seeing Mr O’Hanlon in person was a touching experience for the family, particularly after 18 challenging months of limited contact.
“There was a long period of time where it was just Facetime and talking over the phone,” said Megan O’Hanlon, 22. “It was really hard for him to understand why we couldn’t be there. Every now and then it would click, and realise ‘oh yeah. It’s not that you’re not coming to see me because you don’t want to, it’s because you can’t.’”
“The thing with dad that we always say is, he won’t necessarily know the names and the people, but he’ll know that he knew them and he’ll know what they meant to him. So when he speaks to me, he doesn’t always know who it is until he sees me. So the familiarity and the fondness is still there. And I think it’s the same when he’s meeting all his former colleagues,” Sam said.
Although they each had a hand in arranging the event, Mr O’Hanlon’s family credited staff at Greenways Care Home with the bulk of the work, particularly activities manager Joanne, who works with Patrick on a daily basis.
“We ran an event called Seize The Day, where residents got to choose something special and Patrick wanted to be in a fire engine again. It’s really nice that it came true,” she said.
Sylvia Fafara, manager of Greenways Care Home, echoed that sentiment, saying: “It’s (been) an exciting day for Patrick. He’s had his family down, seen his kids, his brother, they had lunch together. The happiness on his face was absolutely priceless.”