We raced through the streets, sirens blaring on our way to a house fire about a mile away from the station. Traffic moved out of the way as we weaved through cars and buses, packed with people who were on their way home in the warm summers evening. Geoff the driver weaved in out, turning the wheel left and right with all the skill of a Formula 1 driver racing through the pack on his way to victory. I sat there at the front watching, a nervousness to my breathing hoping we would arrive in time.
As we got closer I could see the smoke rising up into the early evening sky.A huge plume of black smoke a blot on an otherwise perfect summers evening. We screeched to a halt outside the house people were standing looking at us, their faces etched with the hope that we would bring on our arrival. I watched as the flames started coming out of the windows on the ground floor. A house that was made of lightly coloured bricks now had smoke marks where the the flames had burst through the windows. The doors of the fire engine flung open and we all jumped out. I stood there looking at the house trying to get a better idea of how bad it was. Was there anybody inside that needed our help? Would we get there in time?. The questions we always asked ourselves when we arrived at a 'job'. The rest of the crew forced the metal shutters up on the engine and started to unravel the hoses and lay them out in the road. A woman came running towards us, dressed in her night clothes, her feet bare from where she had raced out of the house, a look of terror etched on her smoke blackened face.
"My son is in there" She screamed in desperation grabbing at the Chief and holding onto him with all her strength. Her knuckles had started to turn white, as the blood drained from her hands with the force of the grip that she held onto him with
"We will get him out madam, where in the house is he?" He asked trying to calm her. He had been in this situation many times before and his experience shone through, as he held the woman's arms trying to get her to calm down a little so as we could get the information we needed. Information in a house fire is vital if we are to get too people who need us quickly. Time saves lives, the mantra that had been drummed into us through all of the training that we had been through.
"In the bedroom at the back of the house, please you have to save him" She was sobbing now, panic strewn across her face. "I couldn't get to him the smoke was was too thick, please you have to get him out he's all I have" She was gripping tighter now, panic strewn across her face, her sobbing turning into great wails as the desperation leaped out of her, her face blackened by smoke, now had tear marks down her cheeks, her eyes red from the smoke and the tears.
"Leave it to us" He reassured her, a calmness in his voice, that told her we would save her son.
He turned to us and nodded at me and two others. We knew what that meant, we would be going in first. I walked slowly towards the door behind the other two. They held the hose in front of them ready too let the jet of water burst out into the flames that we knew awaited us. John the one in front, kicked the door open and ducked down closely followed by myself and Dean the other firefighter that was with us. The heat burst out of the house, hotter than any day in the sun, it was like putting your face close up to a BBQ, you feel the heat before the smoke and flames get you. We started to sweat almost immediately. No matter how may times we had done this I still couldn't get used to the heat. The flames were lapping up the walls in the hallway, hungrily eating at everything that got in their way, a raging monster of red, orange and yellow, with a blue tinge at its core, taunting us, with its ferociousness. Demanding that we take it on in a battle only one of us could win. The floor which was once laced with carpet was now being eaten hungrily by the flames that beckoned us forward, waiting to strike, to claim us as well. The monster was winning the battle for the house. Thick black smoke was curling upwards along the ceiling, making it more difficult for us to see further than ten feet in front of us. The glow of the flames the only light that we had.
The torches flicked on as we entered, shone dimly into the thick smoke. John and Dean turned the hose on, a great gush of water shot from the nozzle attacking the flames in front of us. This was our weapon against the raging monster that had greeted us when we opened the door. They had little effect to start with, the flames seemed to laugh at our attempts to try and fight them back. They swallowed the water with great delight, taunting us by getting bigger and brighter in colour, showing us that it was in control here and it could strike us down whenever it felt like it. I could see the stairs in front of me to the right and knew that I would be sent up there any minute. My heart started to beat faster as the adrenalin rushed through my body. The three of us edged slowly into the hallway, the flames now starting to touch the ceiling, backing away from us a little then rushing forward as quickly as it could. The house was lost, but we had to win the battle for now, the battle to buy us time.
Dean turned and pointed at me to go upstairs. I nodded and touched the first step. It felt warm on my feet but I knew that couldn't stop me, I had to find the boy and quickly. I eased myself up the stairs one at a time, laying as low to floor as I possibly could. The smoke got thicker and darker as I neared the top, it had risen quite quickly. There weren't any flames, but its not flames that kill people its the smoke they breathe in. It chokes you to death, you try to cough and get clean air into your lungs but you cant the smoke always wins. The thick black poisonous smoke that contains parts of everything that burns in the house.
I reached the top of the stairs, it was pitch black I couldn't see a thing, I would have to feel my way around. I edged along the banister as close to the ground as I could, trying to find the room that the mother had told us her son was in. I could hear Dean and John fighting the fire downstairs, they were telling each other where to shoot the jet of water in their battle to buy me time. We all knew the house was lost now, we had to make sure that it didn't claim a life as well. They called up to me telling me I had three minutes to get him and get out. I couldn't let them down, I couldn't let the mother down I had a job to do. The first door I found was closed, I nudged it but it wouldn't budge, I tried to get my bearings, the smoke getting thicker and thicker, I was running out of time.
Then I saw a hand poking out from a door a little further along. Id found him. I used all my weight to open the door, to push it back far enough so as I could get myself into the room and grab him. There he lay face down in his Ben 10 pyjamas no more than 8 years of age. I placed my head on his back and could feel him breathing, I had got to him just in time. Now I had to move him. I couldn't risk standing up as the smoke was too thick. I would lose my sense of direction almost immediately. I made a split decision too grab him, any part of him would do we didn't have much time left.
Dean and John were shouting one minute at me, it was now or never. I grabbed his arm and pulled with all my might. He didn't move, he lay there listless as if asleep, but all the time breathing in the thick smoke, if I didn't get him help soon he would die. I pulled harder this time and he started too move, his feet had been caught under a bedside table, he must have knocked it over when he had been woken by the smoke, a frightened child trapped in his own room, which was why he hadn't moved the first time. I edged backwards towards the stairs pulling the young boy as I did so. I could feel my legs touch the top of the stairs, the heat was more intense now, Dean yelled at me to come now. I turned and saw the flames had started to take hold of the banisters, the paint was bubbling and starting to catch light. The flames were now covering the ceiling downstairs and had started to leap through the banisters where I had first been when I came upstairs. I watched as the orange flames started to engulf around me and I knew it was now or never.
The heat was now almost unbearable, the smoke thicker than it had ever been, the flames closer than ever, I didn't have much time left. I pulled the boy with all the strength I had left and we tumbled down the stairs landing in a heap at the bottom. Dean grabbed the boy picking him up and rushing him outside, he needed oxygen and he needed it fast. John picked me up and carried me through the door after them. The heat, the smoke, getting the boy, it had all been too much for me. Exhausted I didn't try and fight him, my pride wanted me to walk out that door but I just didn't have the strength. I lay exhausted in his arms as the adrenalin oozed away from me.
I could feel the coolness of the evening air rushing onto my face and body. People in the street watched silently as I was carried from the house, I nodded at them to let them know I was okay, then I saw the boy being lifted onto a stretcher with an oxygen mask on his face, his mother crying tears of joy at the sight of her son. One of the medics came over, telling me that I would be checked shortly, and thanked me saying I had done well, that the boy would be okay, he was alive. A huge sense of relief washed over me. I had done my job, the job I had been trained for, I had done it well. John lay me down on the pavement and I could feel the cold and dampness from the water that had spilled onto the street. It was a major contrast to the heat and smoke of the house, and I lay there for a few minutes trying to get my breath back, that had been to close this time, one day we wouldn't be there in time. That would be something I would face when the time came. Tonight it was a reason for joy, the house burnt out but no one had died. Possessions can be replaced, lives can not.
I watched as the Chief came towards me a huge smile on his face. He bent down beside me and lay a bowl of water in front of me. A neighbour had been and got this for me apparently, I lapped at it hungrily, I had never enjoyed a drink as much as this. I was so thirsty.
"Well done boy" He said patting me gently on my warm back " There will be extra treats for you tonight" I let out a quick burst of barks, and licked his face treats were always welcome.
This story came from an idea by Lee Wilson a good friend of mine. I hope I did it justice. If you have an idea you would like me to write about then drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.