It’s 3am a faulty games console has set alight quickly spreading to the curtains. The house is filling with thick black toxic smoke. Just a couple of breaths in this will render you unconscious. The temperatures downstairs is several hundred degrees, hotter than your oven on full.
Racing through the quiet streets a fire crew are receiving information over the radio that people are trapped upstairs in the house. Two in the back are securing their breathing apparatus that will allow them to breath in the otherwise unsurvivable conditions. The boss is in the front running through in his mind what he can expect when he gets there, and what needs doing.
In the control room an operator is calmly passing advice to the terrified person on the other end of the line while another passes information on to the onrushing crews. On the inside the operator finds the screams of the trapped occupier distressing, but outwardly they remain calm, knowing that the information they are giving May just save a life.
On the street a crowd has gathered, people are filming the fire crews as they arrive, social media gold. The two firefighters leap from the back of the truck in their heavy breathing apparatus and the driver hands them the hose.
The boss is speaking to witnesses gathering vital information, “In you go lads” he shouts in the calmest tone he can muster. They throw their tallies at the entry control officer and in they go disappearing from view through the black smoke billowing through the door.
Hit by a wall of heat they feel their way in zero visibility towards the stairs. A second team from another station have entered behind them, “you get the casualties and we will hit the fire” they shout.
As they ascend the stairs the heat becomes unbearable, their ears and neck are starting to burn, the stairs are like a chimney, funnelling the heat upwards. They spray water into the air hoping to cool the smoke around them. Reaching the top they begin searching the rooms one by one, feeling in the dark with their hands and feet.
Downstairs the other team are battling the flames that are by now engulfing the living room, it’s hot work, but they are starting to knock back the flames. Above them the team have located the casualties and are helping them into the arms of a colleague at the top of a ladder. They are terrified, and struggling to breath, but they are safe. The relief amongst the crew is palpable.
Downstairs the fire is out, a lucky escape has been had by all, but it could have been so very different, another minute or two and the smoke would have overcome those trapped upstairs. Had the thick black flammable smoke ignited the firefighters would have been exposed to temperatures that their gear could not protect them from.
The margins between life an death in these situations are fine, minutes, even seconds can make a difference. The men and women of the fire and rescue service are dedicated, and highly trained but they are also human. They feel fear, they are affected by the distressing scenes they are exposed to. They enter situations knowing that one wrong move could be their last.
Yes they like a grumble from time to time, and who can blame them? Their service has been decimated over the last couple of decades, a sustained period of cuts that is unheard of in other sectors. Despite this, when the ‘bells go down’ and they climb on that fire engine they are utterly professional and dedicated to the work that they carry out.
Their is plenty of banter, they need a sense of humour, it is how they get through the difficult jobs. But at the scene of an incident you will see a professional group of people giving everything to protect lives and property.
What you don’t see is the work going on in the background, the control room operators coordinating resources, giving vital fire safety advice and having to listen to the harrowing screams of those who are trapped, all the time they are multi-tasking, passing information on to the crews, talking to the other emergency services, and dealing with terrified victims.
It’s not just fires either. The service attend road traffic collisions, rescues from water, incidents involving dangerous chemicals, they rescue people from heights, people who are trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings, and those who become trapped by flooding. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year the men and women of the fire and rescue service are there for you in your hour of need.