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Bob Bremner And Basement


It was the change of watches at Hammersmith fire station, the Red watch going off day duty, and the white coming on for nights. We were short of riders for this shift, and one red watch fireman was hanging back on overtime, to cover until a standby fireman arrived from another station. After the routine checking of appliances inventories etc, we adjourned upstairs to the mess room for cups of tea. Seated opposite at the table was the red watch fireman, Jack Turner. This man had recently transferred to Hammersmith from another fire station, so I did not know too much about his capabilities, fireman ship etc. The station gossip had it, that he was a bit of a wimp, he had apparently taken off three weeks sick following a vasectomy operation. Now I personally was fully conversant with the subject of vasectomy operations, a mate of mine back home in Berkshire, had had one done, and allegedly played football the very next day. Now partly on his recommendation, I decided to chance it, and get myself gelded. After a consultation with my own GP, I reported back to my wife and explained I had two options, “A” to get in done on the national health for free, or “B” get it done privately for the sum of £15,00 (in those far off days). Naturally she asked what was the difference, so I explained to her (tongue in cheek). “If I get it done on the national health, I will have to provide the all clear specimen of my semen myself”, adding “if I had it done privately, then a pretty young nurse would assist me in providing the specimen” so of course we/she opted for the national health service option. I would like all my male readers to take note, I was actually Hors du combat for three days following the allegedly simple operation, walking around like a bandy legged sailor for all this time. Even so, I still considered three weeks off work sick by Jack following a simple vasectomy operation to be a bit wimpish.

Now whilst the ladies will quite cheerfully discuss extremely painful operations, involving having their tits, bums whatever increased or reduced in size, involving mega monies. It’s vasectomies that seem to fascinate the men, who’s main concern would seem to be how little monies they would cost, and how much excruciating pain they would have to bear. So it was quite easy to open the conversation with Jack seated opposite me. It started something like this with me saying “what’s this I hear about you taking three whole weeks sick, following a simple vasectomy operation”. I think it was my mother, or other such sage like wise person that had warned me, never never, ask other people about their operations, unless you have at least half an to spare, because Jack eagerly began to tell his sad story. It seems the so called minor operation went dreadfully wrong, when he returned home from the hospital, he found he was in dreadful pain, then overnight his testes (that’s a posh word for his bollocks by the way) had swollen up to the size of cricket balls, Now with his testes now the size of cricket balls, the space between the top of legs was not big enough to accommodate them, thus could not walk, so he was bed bound for a whole week. So by the time we got to the end of Jacks sad painful tale, the three weeks he had taken off sick suffering severe pain seemed entirely justifiable. My opinion of him of changed upon hearing his distressing tale, and his great fortitude in suffering excruciating pain; he had just been elevated in status, from wimp to hero.

At around six thirty the fire bells rang out, the teleprinter slip read out, D23 Hammersmith’s pump escape and pump to fire at Kings street, D23 Hammersmith’s fire ground. making up the third machine on this call was D24 Fulham fire stations pump. After our usual routine perambulations around the complex Hammersmith Broadway one-way system, we turned left into King Street, and thundered down the road. Six thirty in the evening, is usually considered to be a pretty dull time of the day, regarding exciting make up fires etc, so I was feeling a bit miffed at not being able to finish off my early evening routine cup of tea. The two machines shudder to a halt outside the address, which was an end of terrace building situated at a road junction. The premises were three stories and basement used as a solicitors offices, and smoke was issuing from a side door of the building. This side door was the entrance to the basement of the building, and a flight of steps led down to the basement. At the head of the stairs, the smoke was very thick, and there was a fair amount of heat rising up from below. I did my usual quick dash down the stairs to see if conditions were better at the bottom, although the heat decreased at the lower level, the smoke was even thicker; this was without doubt in my judgment a breathing apparatus job. Back at the top of the stairs again, a high-pressure hose reel was ready and waiting to be taken below, I issued the command for a breathing apparatus crew to get rigged and then take the hose reel below. Shortly when the crew returned starting up their compressed air breathing sets, I noted that two of the crew were fairly junior firemen, and would not have experienced a basement fire before, and the other was Jack Turner the red watch fireman who was an unknown quantity fireman ship wise. Taking the hose reel with them the crew went down below to seek out the fire, I made one or two attempts to go below and follow them, but the smoke was just to thick for even me, an old smoke eater by reputation. Now I began to worry, and I really mean worry, I knew from experience that the basements of solicitors and such like, would be mainly used to store records and suchlike, I had visions of wooden racks filled with flammable papers and cardboard folders etc, the ideal conditions for a flashover. I wanted to put on breathing apparatus and go below, but being the sole officer in attendance at the fire, I had no option but to remain upstairs in overall command. I was crouching down at the doorway opening with the smoke and hot gases surging above me and still worrying, when I heard a familiar and friendly voice behind me. “Hello Dave, what have we got then?” queried the voice of Station Officer Bob Bremner the officer in charge of Fulham’s machine now in attendance. I briefly summed up the fire for him, “basement job Bob, its a bit hot and very smoky, and I am a bit worried, because I think this will be the crews first proper basement fire”. Now Bob Bremner probably has more time in the job than me, he is a very good and experienced fire officer. Then this very strange polite conversation a bit like the famous understating conversation between the Duke of Wellington, and one of his generals that took place during the battle of Waterloo. The general upon being struck by a cannon ball then saying “good grief my lord, I think I have lost my leg” The Duke then simply replying “by gad sir, so you have”. Now I am not implying that the following conversation was anything near the above league, but it was certainly in the same quite laconic manner.
Myself “Bob would you mind very much taking over command of this fire whilst I get a breathing set on to go below, because I am worried about the crew there”. Bob “ If you like Dave I will get a set on, and go down below would that be alright with you” Myself “Oh yes please Bob that would be fine”, upon me saying that, he dashed away to get a breathing set on, Bob returned very shortly rigged in a compressed air breathing set, and went down through the heat and smoke into the basement. I was much happier now, with a known experienced man in the basement, a man who would know, and be aware of any impending flashover, and evacuate immediately. Plus (tongue in cheek) Bob was quite a tall man and much nearer to the ceiling than most firemen, giving him quite an advantage in judging rising heat levels.

After a while I could tell that the volume of smoke and heat levels at the top of the basement stairs where dropping. So once again I made the dash down the stairs, and this time managed to stay there. At a very low crouch, keeping down below the main smoke level, I made my way some ten feet into the basement area, from where I could hear muffled voices. I called out into the smoke “Bob, everything OK have you got the fire out” his voice came back “yes Dave all is well, we will have to wait for the smoke to clear a bit so that we can see better”. So hearing this I made my way back to the clear air outside, a happier contented man my fear’s all gone. Satisfied that this was now just another run of the mill, smoky old basement fire, like many others before it.

The fire was confined to a desk, paperwork and some files at the far end of the basement, and was in brigade terms a very good stop; it probably started in a waste paper basket. The cause was put down to the ubiquitous one of careless disposal of lighted cigarette end or match. Since there was no key holder, or representative of the solicitors present, I was unable to confront them with the issue, that to allow smoking in that tinder box of a basement was verging on the criminal. Bob Bremner had taken off his breathing set and returned to speak to me prior to his leaving back to his station. I was thanking him for his efforts when he replied, “didn’t really need me Dave your lads coped perfectly well”. Whilst I was very pleased to hear this remark about Hammersmith’s crew, I never the less explained “Bob you were down there just in case things did not go well”.

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