There was a fire in our building last morning. I woke up to frantic shouting by the neighbours, asking for cars to be moved and everyone to get out of the way.
I assumed the children were late for school, and the mothers were nearing boiling point as they struggled to get the pool car out, and the kids in. I ignored the din and snuggled deeper into my quilt. But the yells just wouldn’t stop. Irritated, I made my way outside to ask where the fire was, and found it, literally, at the back of the building.
The floor above mine is unoccupied, and it was there that it had started, in a small room at the back. It was lucky that no one was there, because it meant that no one got hurt. But it could also have been very unlucky because, with no one there, no one would have known about the fire till it engulfed a larger part of the house.
We were saved by a stranger, a man who comes at dawn to clean cars in the neighbourhood. He spotted dark smoke escaping through the cracks in the windows, and informed our guard, who—if I know him—must have been putting away his blanket and rubbing a good night’s sleep out of his eyes at the time.
Murphy has long dictated that anything that can go wrong will do so. He was definitely on the ball this morning. The guard tried to wake everyone and get them out of the building by frantically ringing all the doorbells. But owing to some electrical work earlier in the week, none of the bells was working. Fortunately, one of the afore-mentioned mothers peeped out to gauge the weather (and how many jumpers to put on her child) and caught the guard’s warning.
Initially it seemed we wouldn’t be able to contain the fire ourselves. The blaze kept increasing and the heat blew out a window. The source of the fire was unknown, as the flames wouldn’t let anyone get close enough to take a look. The Fire Service was called. No one answered. We then called the police who, we assumed, would call the fire brigade.
This call was answered promptly, but the lady at the control room wasn’t familiar with the locality and couldn’t get a fix on the address. Much toing-and-froing later, the message was conveyed and we returned to flame-fighting. Two fire extinguishers were found and deployed, and it’s they who saved the day.
Like in the movies, the cops and firemen—the latter with two trucks, bells clanging dramatically—arrived after everything was over. The police took in the scene and left pronto. The firemen decided to stay back and hose down everything once again. Before they left, they proffered two pieces of advice that, I hope, no one will ever need but should have: In case of a fire, call your local fire station, not 101. (Look up the number asap.) For the police, 100 works best. (Though it doesn’t hurt to have your beat constable’s number.)