Monday, September 12, 2011

All Fired Up.

Whilst at a country fair recently, drinking beer from a floppy plastic glass with the structural integrity of a cloud and desperately hoping the children didn’t win a corn dolly or a goldfish or something else irritatingly folksy in the Guess the Weight of the Duck’s Tumour stall, I noticed a fire engine pull up and the crew begin showing people round it.

Happy for the distraction, I took my 4 year-old son over and watched from the side as he sat in the front seat, pressed random buttons, tried on the terrifying helmets and attempted to get the huge bolt croppers out of their holder, that sort of thing.

Unbidden, a fire-fighter and his female colleague approached me, interrupting a daydream I was having about using the Jaws of Life on a chastity belt. I was immediately wary because they had big enthusiastic grins a bit like you see on religious people when they want to convert you to giving them money.

“Hello” They said, luckily not in unison because that would have freaked me out a bit.

“All right.” I replied, then nodded at the fire truck. “Nice turn out.” I said, hoping they realised I wasn’t referring to their toilet habits.

“Yep. Always good to get people familiar with the appliance.” The lady answered. “Also gives us a chance to offer a free fire-safety check at home, if you’re interested?” She proffered a pamphlet.

I breathed that sigh of relief you do when you realise friendly strangers aren’t after your money or your soul and took the literature, which explained the fire service’s admirable philosophy of prevention rather than cure.

Admirable but, not to put to fine a point on it, a bit boring. I doubt that many people join the fire service with the ultimate aim of handing out leaflets. They join so they can see really big fires. And pornography.

 “I’m not sure I need it.” I said, and explained that I was quite up-to-date when it came to fire awareness, having been to the after effects of fires a few times in my career as a paramedic.

“You’d be surprised what you might have missed.” The man suggested amiably, and seemed so eager to visit that I agreed.

A week or so later, the fire appliance (I still want to call them engines) rolled up outside my house and, whilst my boy went out to press more buttons and annoy the crew, the two inspectors came inside, bringing in a big box of smoke detectors, screwdrivers, notepads and safety pamphlets.

“First, let’s have a look at your doors!” The man said chirpily. I showed him that every door in our house is a fire door, with insulated interior and fastenings for self-closing hinges.

"Oh,” he looked crestfallen. “Yes. Very good doors those. Keep a fire at bay for an hour, will those.” He sighed heavily, then brightened. “Smoke alarms?” he said, picking up his box of free ones and his screwdriver.

I showed him my mains-connected integrated fire and smoke detectors, and the extra one in the lounge. He looked at them disconsolately, and prodded one as if it was a fish of unknown vintage.

“Really good. Really, really good.” He sounded like he was telling me I’d got cancer. Suddenly, I oozed pity for him.

"Look at this!” I said suddenly, and led him into the kitchen to show him a gaping alarm socket in the ceiling.

See that? It's not there.

“I’ve taken this one out because it just used to go off when we cooked food, even if it wasn’t burning.” I suggested, thinking he might be pleased to tell me I shouldn’t have done such a dangerous thing, and I was putting myself and my family in abject danger of a fiery demise.

“That’s fine.” He muttered. “It’s not a good idea to have them in the kitchen anyway.” He put his box down and looked around. “Do you test them, because you should test . . .”

“Once a month?” I informed him, which is about true. “Is that enough?” He grabbed on to it.

“Well, we suggest testing on a weekly basis nowadays, in case you forget a couple of times but you’ll still be checking them quite often, you know . . .”

I nodded, thinking there was probably no way Earth I would remember to check the buggers once a week, as I frequently forgot the monthly checks. He puffed his cheeks out a bit, and we nodded amiably at one another for a moment, whilst I tried to think of humorous anecdotes involving awkward silences. Luckily, his colleague then arrived having been outside explaining to my wife that it was a good idea to have a meeting up place in the house in case of a fire. We decided that upstairs in our bathroom would be best as it had a window with a shallow, sloping roof leading to the garage nearby. A possible escape route.

I was heartened by the fact that, due to the number of fire doors we had, a fire in our living room would take about three hours to reach us in the bathroom, which meant in the event of a fire we could go out for a meal or catch a film at the pictures, have a cheeky drink, return home and then call the fire service to come and rescue us. Sounded like a distinctly civilised disaster scenario.

“Anyway, how are we getting on inside?” His colleague asked, and he looked acutely depressed.

I felt terrible. Here was a man who simply wanted to show me how I and those I love might be irretrievably killed to death in a raging inferno and how was I repaying him? By thwarting his intentions with some unfairly installed effective safety measures, that’s how.

I desperately looked for something to fail on, something for him to be able to tut professionally at. Maybe I ought to ask his advice about the best way to smoke in bed, or how many plugs per socket is really safe? There must be something, I reasoned.

The loft conversion! It’s like a death trap up there, I thought, with black out blinds for day sleeping when I’m on nights, a light and a phone charger that I leave permanently plugged in at the socket that could spew out hot sparks at any given moment and a bed so comfortable that I would have difficulty getting myself up and out of it if I were actually ablaze! I don’t stand a chance I thought, happily. I told him I wanted his opinion and we trotted up the stairs. He passed the extra integrated smoke alarm on the top level and gave it a sneering nod, and then had a look in the conversion.

“Fire doors, smoke alarms and big Velux skylights for easy escape.”  He almost cried. “I think you’ll be okay.”

“Sorry.” I said, as we trudged back downstairs. I tried to cheer him up by making an hilarious fire-related joke about an arsonists favourite website being He agreed that, yes, it did indeed appear to be some sort of joke, but his heart wasn’t in it.

His colleague, obviously a more imaginative soul than him, was explaining that the dishwasher was a potential fire source, as they were usually put on when people were out or at night when the owners were sleeping, so if the motor heated up and decided to erupt in flame, as they were apparently wont to do, there was often no one awake or about to tackle it.

“Try and use it in the day when you’re in.” She instructed us. We empty-promised that we would.
They thanked us for our time, and we reciprocated before going outside to winkle the child out of the fire appliance, where they trundled off to find a more worthy recipient for their advice.

I’d learnt a valuable lesson from their visit. From now on, I thought, I would take more risks, and went inside to deep-fry some fireworks.

I'm sure the fire service would approve.


  1. Oh, my. :-) Laughing -- at my desk! on a Monday morning! This is why I come here. Never disappointed.

    And this? "drinking beer from a floppy plastic glass with the structural integrity of a cloud"?! The grin started there. You started as you meant to finish (a phrase I've only recently learned, thank you).

    It's probably not right, going around disappointing the fire folks, what with their fire appliances and fire knowledge, but it is absolutely right that you should, um, write about it. Fire doors? Really? I don't have those. But now I'm going to look into them because our house, built in 1904, is an amazing three-story block of wood...


  2. You rotten get, they probably turned up in their appliance looking forward to admonshing you for living in a death trap only to find your house is more fireproof than their helmets. They'll have gone back to the station to watch some comfort porn.

  3. Pearl - You're too kind!And is wood flammable or inflammable?

    Tony - Watch it . . . or star in it? Eh? Eh?

  4. i had a fire alarm that went off for no reason other than to scare the beajesus out of me and miss daisy. so, i called the fire dept, told them it wasn't a fire, but i couldn't get the damn thing to turn off. (it didn't help that it was 2100h...) so, engine company #10 came by (minus sirens thankfully) and replaced the detector for free! where am i going with all of this, sugar? no idea except that, grants pay for the program here and i'm guessing probably in your town, too. it's all stats these days and the next place they visit might have double the cause for concern...(damn, when i start rambling it just never ends...) xoxo

  5. Very funny! Thanks for the laugh. :)

  6. Savvy - Ha! I like your rambling. I suppose it's cheaper in the long term than spending loads of cash sending a crew out to watch a house burn down, so it's worth it.

    krouth - You're very welcome. Thanks for the comment!

  7. I run my dishwasher exclusively while I'm not home. Who wants to hear all that noise? Funny how badly you wanted to give them some failure of yours to correct.

  8. This is just excellent! I laughed all the way through, and if it would make those folks a bit more happy, they can come across the pond to my place. My estimate in case of fire is about 30 seconds, since I have heard that dog hair goes up quite fast.

  9. Yes, you could have sent them around to my place. The fair across the water would actually have been worth it. What with our wiring and weatherboard house, I estimate we'd have about 2.4 seconds to get out before the whole shebang went up. And we have smoke alarms but crucially - they don't work. How do I know? Because I test them every so often to see if they've magically come to life. But no. Batteries you say?????

  10. Wow, twa - That's a good point. And usually, I have lots of failings that need correcting.

    SkylersDad - I've heard that about dog hair. One match and it's "Woof!"

    tennysoneehemingway - Ha. At least you test them. and that's all the ask. They don't specify what you should do if you find they don't work. Test them again presumably.

  11. Porn? I didnt get that one..must have missed something.
    Your house is probably on their 'black list' now and if you catch fire they will surely leave you to burn and be killed to death (the worst kind of death)

  12. Tempo - I reckon they'd save me and be all smug about it, saying "We nearly told you so."


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