His throat was dry, eyes burning hot, seared from the outside in, there was no time for them to water, no tears to fall. The hairs inside his nose were singed, goodness knows whether he still had any eyebrows or hairs on his knuckles. His feet were swollen inside his rubber wellington boots as he fought with all his strength to keep his concentration. The acrid smell of noxious smoke, black and billowing in to the night sky made his heart pound fiercely. He took a chance and glanced at his colleagues all fighting the flames, brave and strong men gallantly directing the water hoses on to the raging inferno in front of them.
One hour, two hours, six hours it all became irrelevant as they tried valiantly to quench the fire, eventually the orange glow began to dwindle and, in its place, came the showering of ash, pervasive, permeating gritty grains of the remains of structures and whatever else, too horrific to think about.
The men stood down and surveyed the scene. The damage was enormous. Fred could now stop and try to catch his breath through bruised and painful lungs. He knew everybody else felt the same, he knew they would all do it again as soon as the sirens went off, their strident tones igniting adrenaline so that the men could do their jobs.
Fred returned to his lodgings after clocking off shift. Mrs. Powell looked apologetic as she wrinkled her nose at the smell emanating from Fred and his clothes, smoke seemed to wreathe in and around him with every step he took. Tutting, she poured Fred a cup of stewed tea, brewed for many hours, in the teapot on top of the Aga. Strong and bitter but almost nectar-like Fred swallowed the brown liquid, feeling it ease his sore and parched throat.
Thanking his landlady, he trudged up the stairs to his room, disgorging his uniform, his boots had already been left in the scullery. He filled the small basin in his room with lukewarm water. Trying to work up a lather with the small sliver of soap he managed to clean his face, ears, and neck. His hair would have to wait until Saturday when he could actually have a bath. Everybody was in the same position as he was, with power cuts, rationing and the like that the body odours were ignored in the main.
He lay on his single bed, arms crossed behind his head thinking about Hetty and his daughters. He knew they were safe in Somerset where they had been evacuated to. The post was erratic to say the least but the girls, nine and seven years old, usually wrote to him once a month. It was going to be very strange when they were all together again as a family.
As soon as his pager started to bleep Ryan pulled on his boots, grabbing his go-bag, he thundered down the stairs. In 20 seconds, he was out of the door and sprinting down the street. He jumped in the back of the fire engine, re-adjusting his jacket and trousers, placing his helmet firmly on his head.
‘We’ve got a shed fire in a garden,’ his supervisor yelled from the front of the cab. ‘It could be a simple one to put out or have spread to the fence and neighbouring properties. No reports of anybody trapped or injured.’
Ryan breathed deeply, feeling the adrenalin rush as the engine hurtled towards the address, sirens shrieking their two-tone warnings with the blue lights flashing, along with the headlights. Luckily, today the motorists were all giving way for them to speed on their way.
They worked well as a team, Ryan being the newest recruit having only joined the Fire Service at the beginning of the year, he was still a trainee, he didn’t mind that, he was there to learn all he could.
Miriam couldn’t believe she’d been so stupid. What possessed her to place the incinerator bin so close to her shed. She was still shaking from dialling 999. Flames were shooting out of the roof of the shed. Her heart was pounding, her legs trembling as she waited outside for the Fire Service. She could hear the sirens and see the blue lights flashing along the walls and windows of the buildings in her street as the emergency services approached her house.
Her neighbours had come out of their homes and were looking at her with shocked faces. How will she face them all when they found out it was her own silly fault that the shed caught fire?
The hoses began spouting the water all over the flames, dowsing them down as they reduced in intensity. Every time she closed her eyes all she saw were tongues of orange licking up towards the sky.
She didn’t feel any better when the Fire Officer began giving her advice on various ways to stop this happening again. She felt like a young child being told off by a teacher, it was no more than she deserved.
Ryan stood back, feeling sorry for the old woman, well he couldn’t guess her age but she was probably more his nan’s age, so pretty old, 60’s or 70’s he supposed, it was difficult to tell when the oldies kept dying their hair.
He returned home, smelling of smoke but needed to grab a cup of coffee from the kitchen. His mum looked up at him, pride shining from her eyes and relief that he was home safe.
They both glanced up at the black and white photograph, hanging in pride of place on the wall. His great-great grandfather was a fireman in the WWII, putting out fires at the London Docks. It took a while but the long shadow of heroes (not that Ryan classed himself as a hero) gave him a confidence and pride in his job. He saluted his great-great grandfather as he trudged upstairs to get some rest.
Word count: 1002
The UK Fire Service employs part-time retained fire men/women in smaller towns/villages/suburbs who would usually have full-time jobs and are volunteer Firemen/women. They go through the same rigorous training as full-time firemen. They have to be able to respond to the pager and get to the station within five minutes, so they either live close by or work close by.
999 is the UK emergency number to call fire, police, ambulance and the coast guard.