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Have you ever seen a real fire? Probably. A nice open fire in a fireplace in a traditional English pub, all cosy in the winter. A bonfire for Guy Fawkes on November 5th, the fireworks lighting up the sky and hot chocolate warming your belly. The pretty dinner candles at your local Italian restaurant, the little orange flames dancing to the tune of the delicious gnocchi bake or pizza in your mouth. A barbeque on a summer’s evening, quietly sizzling your succulent burgers whilst you sup on a refreshing cold beverage, feeling the divine relaxation of the sunshine.
Since cave man times, fires have brought people together to share the good times. After all, there really is nothing quite like a flame grilled burger, or if you’re like me, barbequed halloumi and vegetable skewers… mmm, tasty…
But fire can also be tragic, and devastating. When people’s homes set alight, families can be ripped apart, memories destroyed, and bereavement can set in. In schools, hospitals, and other public places, the potential dangers of fire can be numerous, complicated, and tragic.
However, when it comes to London transport, a fire at a station can have other implications.
In the small hours of Thursday 5th of May, a huge fire broke out at Vauxhall station.
Commuters were evacuated from Vauxhall and even Clapham station as the disruption continued throughout the rush hour, making this a difficult journey to work for many. Reactions from travellers were varied and numerous, ranging from calm acceptance of the situation, to utter rage and frustration, and confusion from others.
Naturally some commuters were more angry than others.
The news was such a surprise that news outlets such as the BBC and Daily Mirror grabbed it for their news headlines.
Of course, despite the confusion, anger, and people being late for work, some people took a very different view of the fire:
And others used it as a time to discuss the uniqueness of British society...
Imagine all the disruption. A friend of mine was late for a job interview. So was the interviewer. Others were hours late for work as whole lines towards London were shut down, important meetings missed, and perhaps even a few flights missed. Imagine trying to get across London for a 9am flight only to find you can’t get the Gatwick Express from Clapham Junction because of a fire at Vauxhall (one stop down the track for those of you reading this outside of London). How devastating that feeling must be to realise that you can’t get to your plane on time, and your holiday is slipping away through your fingers… (bye bye sunny tropical beach *cries*).
All because of a fire.
So yes, fires can be more than for barbeques. Fires are disruptive to everyone’s daily lives, not just the people in the immediate vicinity.
But despite all the complaining from commuters, we should really be incredibly grateful. Grateful for the management of fires that do happen. Grateful for our Fire & Rescue Services, and everyone else involved.
So here’s to you – unsung heroes. Thank you to station staff for following your fire risk assessments and station policy to keep everyone safe. Thank you to Fire & Rescue teams for braving the flames.
But most of all, thank you to all the unseen heroes. Thank you to the fire risk assessors who manage to minimise fire risks and keep us safe. Thank you to the fire alarm manufacturers, without whom we’d have no way to be alerted to the danger of a fire. Thank you to everyone who installs fire detection systems correctly – your expert knowledge is vital to responsible persons everywhere who need your guidance to keep the fire alarm system working. Thank you to the fire alarm maintenance staff, who use their training and problem solving skills to find the faults in fire alarm systems that we (the rest of us ‘normal folk’) can’t understand.
Without you, more damage could have occurred in Vauxhall station and in other buildings around the world. Without you, we would not have the reassurance and comfort that comes with knowing that we are safe.
We commend you, hidden heroes!
18 November 2020
By Chris Downing, FIA Extinguishing Council
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