I was doing a rare shift back on my erstwhile home desk, the North East, when I happened to notice an orange triangle pop up on the mapping screen right on top of my house.
“What’s going on there?” I asked the other allocator, who was responsible for looking after that bit of the sector.
“Four pump fire!” she said. “Can I use your manager, please?”
She took my open mouthed silence as assent. I was too busy pulling up the call in question on my screen to care what she did with my manager. She could send him to Timbuktu for all I cared at that moment.
The call read “Large Even Number, Something Street” which was a small comfort because I live at “Large Odd Number, Something Street” which is directly opposite. However, I know from experience that if there is something big, like a fire, going on, callers won’t necessarily give the door number which it is actually happening at, because it is too dangerous to get close. They will instead give another number nearby which enables the emergency services to find the incident. Like the number directly opposite.
My fears were not assuaged at all by the ambulances arriving on scene and clearly parking on the other side of the road from the orange triangle – right outside my house. Things got worse when the first ambulance on scene came straight back to the radio:
“Make ambulances three, please. The fire brigade are evacuating a whole block of flats. We’ve one patient with burns and two with smoke inhalation.”
My flat was in a block, above a supermarket. I tried to picture the property opposite. I was fairly sure that it was an ordinary house, not flats. I wanted to ask the crew WHICH FLATS EXACTLY were on fire, but that would have been unprofessional – they were the only ambulance so far on scene with three potentially seriously ill patients. I just had to wait.
And wait, and wait. I watched three ambulances and a manager pull up, spend what seemed like eternity treating their patients, then zoom off to hospital.
Finally, I looked at the map again. The ambulances were all at hospital, and the manager was showing as available, right outside the local chip shop. I did not think it unprofessional to interrupt the manager’s chip consumption so I picked up the phone and rang him.
“Hello Mr Manager, this is Suzi on the North East,” I said. “This is very important. Which flats were on fire? Was it the ones above the supermarket, or the ones opposite?”
“The ones opposite!” said the manager, with a mouthful of chips. “The big converted Victorian house. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason,” I said. “Just… tidying up some paperwork. I’ll let you get on with your dinner.”