Minor acts of heroism

How often do you respond when you hear an alarm that isn’t your own? I’m about the same but as Deb and I entered a building the other day, the loud annoyance of a siren was accompanied by the disquieting aroma of smoke. We sniffed suspiciously in a few directions, and knocked on the door of what seemed to be the troublesome flat. There was no answer...

On we went to the top floor where we were meeting with a group of friends from Deb’s church. We mentioned our concerns to Alan and Sarah, whose flat we were in, and they said they’d noticed a smell when they had come home about an hour before. Alan went downstairs and looked through the letterbox: all he could see was smoke. That’s when we realised it was time for action.

There’s a strange kind of inertia at moments like that but our friends were pretty keen that their building didn’t burn down and so the 999 call was placed and we decided to leave. In a demonstration of priorities that didn’t trouble me, we left the pet hamster in the flat and took a box of chocolates with us. Down we went, knocking on doors and letting people know what was going on. They didn’t all seem to believe us.

By the time we were at the bottom of the stairs, two fire engines had arrived. This surprised a few of the group but I’d been told enough times by my fire-fighting friend Tim about the uniquely rapid response of the men in red trucks. And the station was just round the corner and it wasn’t dinner time.

In they went and out we came. Back out they came: ‘Are you sure there was smoke?’ I felt that this was more their specialist subject than mine but as there was no-one in the suspicious flat and a sledge-hammer was about to employed, I could understand their reticence. As boldly as we could – feeling like kids up to no good at that precise moment – we told the man in the white helmet that we’d looked through the letter box and seen smoke. Back in they went. Then more of them went in wearing masks. Then a window in the building was opened and smoke billowed out.

Billowed is slight exaggeration but smoke certainly came out: there was a fire. Pretty rapidly of course there was no longer a fire. The building had by this time been evacuated, including the neighbour who had treated our public-spirited door-knocking with greatest suspicion. Him and his baby.

Our work being done, we walked down the road to the pub and toasted ourselves as life-savers.