None of us know when we’ll be called. Harry’s pager went off last night – a fire in a commercial premises. This morning, he woke feeling stiff and bruised. “I’m coughing my guts up now. Is it the smokes? Or last night’s smoke? Or…”
I had settled in for the night. Right on cue the pager went. I wasn’t feeling well. I was wondering if I had the virus. I ran to the car, it didn’t start. “Balls!” Two workers from Aldi were laughing at me as I sprinted up the hill towards the station. The adrenaline kicked in. Suddenly I felt perfect.
All the fear of anticipation has gone now. I knew I could cope with whatever the call threw at me. “Fire in commercial premises,” the printout read. That means flash-hoods on.
We drove to the incident, two of us in the back of the lead vehicle. “Under air,” ordered our officer as we approached. Facemasks on – turn on air cylinder – flash-hoods over – helmet – gloves. We grabbed the hose reel and entered while other lads started the pump and hooked up hoses to the mains.
The lad I went in with is a joker, like me. 20 years in the Brigade. I’m glad it was him. This was my first time attacking an indoor fire in earnest.
We entered a smoke filled room and felt around. We had no idea where we were going. Everything becomes a maze when it’s dense with hot gas. Chairs were stacked on both walls, squeezing us into a narrow gap. We are trained not to let go of the walls.
No one who hasn’t trained in Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (BA) can imagine how quickly you can get lost. We feel around. We can’t move. It’s tight. I follow the hose back to the door and drag in more. Someone hands in a thermal imaging camera.
We feel our way into a room. Clambering over obstacles that we can’t see. Training tells me you can’t see a fire in a smoke filled room. We can’t get any further because the way is blocked.
Is that a door? Some plywood? No – it’s a table, move it out of the way. Be careful not to block the way out in case we need a way out. I’ve moved enough furniture, plasterboard scaffolding, in my life. I don’t need to see it.
It’s no good though because there’s a wall behind it. I bang the wall until I feel it shake. “There’s another door, ” I shout. “This way!”
We can see the fire on the camera. We move towards it almost swimming through stacks of chairs manoeuvring our cylinder so as not to get stuck.
Two quick blasts with the hose, set to spray. Too much water turns to steam in a confined space and then it gets hot really quick. Besides, everything we do is with minimal damage in mind. We still can’t see, but the camera tells us we’ve hit it and it’s cooling. We wait with it: Blast – Blast and wait. Blast – Blast and wait.
The flames have gone so the lads outside turn on a powerful fan to start clearing the smoke. We see we are in a laundry room filled with chairs, tables and decorations, dried flowers and linen. There were aerosol cans by the seat of the fire. That could have gone up in a flash. The fire doors did their job and kept out enough oxygen to prevent that.
We set to work emptying the room of fire-load, removing the ashes and doing our best to clean the sooten mess, making absolutely certain nothing can reignite.
Spirits are high, no one is hurt, this is a fun call. Lads arrive from another station but the work is done, we have a chat and a catch up while we clean up and then head back to the station where we wash our BA sets, put in fresh cylinders and make sure everything is operational for the next call. “See you in an hour.” we say as goodbye. I’m pumped up now. I hope that we do.
We don’t. So I get out of bed and type this. I’m stiff in places and bruised in others. I’m coughing my guts up now. Is it the smokes? Or last night’s smoke? Or…