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Walking the Tightrope: Fire

The word "fire'' brings back alarming memories for Sally Codman.

‘Fire’ is one of those words that demands attention – whether it’s shouted as a command or a warning. One of the numerous ‘useful’ scraps of information floating about in my brain, is that if you are attacked, people are much more likely to come to your assistance if you shout ‘fire’ than ‘help’ or even ‘murder.’

Fortunately I haven’t had to put this to the test. ‘Fire’ is also a word that instantly conjures many different ‘mind’s eye’ pictures, ranging from dramatic scenes from movies to more mundane memories of family bonfire nights or cosy evenings huddled around a real log fire. Fire, kept under control, is one thing but fire and flames out of control are a different matter altogether.

Another childhood memory I’m not so keen to conjure is ‘The Day our House Caught Fire.’ That’s one of those memories which pop-up uninvited from time-to-time and it was triggered again last week. I’d interviewed Huddersfield Fire Station Officer Phil Langdale whilst doing my other job – as features Editor of The Kirklees Recorder - about the Fire Service’s campaign to get everyone to fit smoke alarms and to keep them in working order. And to persuade everyone to have a Home Safety Check and consider fire prevention instead of damage limitation.

That was ‘trigger’ number one. The second memory prompt was one many of you will be familiar with – the scene from the children’s film Black Beauty where the stables catch fire - which Middle Daughter was watching last weekend. I happened to wander into the lounge just as Beauty and Ginger were being led to safety with blindfolds over their heads, to a backdrop of a wooden stable building going up like a tinder box. Before I knew it I was back in my early teens, smelling smoke as I walked up the stairs to bed, following my nose and discovering the fire in my parent’s bedroom. It was caused by an old-fashioned bed heater, the sort where a light bulb was suspended inside a wooden frame and plugged into the mains supply before being shoved under the bedclothes.

The remaining memories are a blur of alerting everyone and running in a state of blind panic to call the fire brigade from the phone box at the top of the road (you can tell how long ago it was because not many people had phones, never mind mobiles!)

The firemen arrived in record time and entertained the neighbours for the rest of the evening by throwing bedclothes, mattress and the offending bed heater out of the front window – thus preventing anyone from being hurt or the fire from spreading.

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