LONDON'S BURNING

Strike

"'Ere check that out!" Charlie pointed wildly at a slow moving green object that was heading straight towards Blue Watch as they stood outside the appliance bay of Blackwall fire station, braving the rain and acknowledging the support of local motorists and passers by.

"George could run faster than that!" Adam joined in.

"What if…" Craig started, getting a little concerned. "You know, they're going to a big shout or something, I mean…"

Charlie shrugged. "What do you think the word strike means?"

"Yeah, but what if they're going to a fire and there's people inside?" Craig continued. "You can't just leave em to die!"

Adam glanced at Charlie. "He's got a point."

Charlie looked around for Mick as a police motorcyclist stopped the traffic in order for the Army's Green Goddess to chug round the corner with as much power as if it was being pulled by a couple shire horses. By the looks of the ancient machine, a couple of shire horses would come in pretty handy right now.

The Army crawled down the road, away from the station, the policeman wouldn't need to break any speed limits to get ahead of them again.

Frank took a drag of his cigarette and puffed out smoke in the direction of the retreating Goddess. "Bollocks," he muttered.

Sally took the cigarette from him. "What's up with you?" she took a drag of the cigarette before handing it back to him.

Frank didn't have time to answer as a sudden explosion shook the buildings on the nearby industrial estate. Blue Watch crowded round to see a bright orange fireball roll up into the sky just behind the station.

"Ok…" Craig started again. "If the fire is over there," he pointed towards the flames shooting up behind the station. "Why are the Army going that way?" he looked in the direction the Green Goddess had taken only minutes ago, away from the fire.

"This is all bollocks," Frank snubbed out his cigarette, he looked around for Mick, who had emerged from inside the station on hearing the explosion (he had been on the phone to wife Shauna for most of the day – a usual occurrence for him).

Everyone was looking at Mick for directions. He hesitated as he usually did when there was an important decision to be made.

"What's over there?" he asked, trying to make a possible risk assessment.

"Just a load of old warehouses, Guv," George explained.

"Bollocks to this," Frank repeated much more loudly. "I'm off!" he announced before leaving his picket line and running off down the alley at the side of the station, towards the fire.

"Frank! Get back here!" Mick tried ordering, with little success.

Craig wasn't sure what to do. His feet wanted to follow Frank. They had been getting itchy, especially as the hours and days of the strike drew on. Ok, so they were making a point, but standing outside in the cold was fast beginning to loose its appeal. He was bored now. But his head was telling him that he should stay put, out of his loyalty to the Brigade (something his father was always drumming into him). For his principles, and for the fact that rushing off to a fire would be breaking the strike, exactly what the Government were sitting around waiting for them to do.

He wondered if he really had a choice. What if there was someone inside? What if they died, only yards from the station because the Army was as about as equipped to deal with fires as he was to go to war.

He realised everyone else were thinking exactly the same things. Politics sucked. Frank had the right idea. Mick, however, was still contemplating.

"There could be people in there…" Sally was pointing out. "I mean, we could just go and check right?"

Mick agreed.


Frank arrived at the block of shabby warehouses. Flames were blasting through the roof of the centre most building. Smoke and heat seared around him. The fire must have been burning for some time, he knew. He wondered how much time had passed since the alarm had been raised. Had this been a normal day, Blue Watch would have dealt with the fire and have been back at the station in time for lunch. Now it had become a much larger task.

There was no sign of the Green Goddess. Either they had been called to attend another incident, or they had got lost. However, he had little time to worry about it, as he thought he could hear some choked cries for help.

He looked up at the tall, crumbling buildings, but couldn't see anyone.

"Frank!" Sally had been running to catch him up, closely followed by Craig.

"There's someone in there," Frank announced.

"Are you sure, because you know…" Sally started.

"Bugger that, I'm going in!"

Sally rolled her eyes at his macho act. "But…"

Her objections went unnoticed as Frank tugged apart the debris blocking the entrance to the blazing warehouse.

"Sod it," she muttered as he disappeared inside. "Best get the Guv'nor!" she turned to Craig, who nodded and sprinted back towards the fire station.

Sally looked up at the buildings. She couldn't see anyone inside. More to the point, she couldn't see how anyone could have got inside. The windows had been bricked up long ago, the entrances had been blocked too, by various means including bricks and metal doors.

"Frank, there's no one in there!" she tried calling, as Frank tried to force his way past the twisted metal security door.

"I'm not leaving someone to die for the sake of a few hundred quid, Sal. I'm out of all that now," he continued to swear and curse as he bashed the door in.

Sally remained outside and looked up and down the street for any signs of the stand in fire crew. The back street was empty. She went back over to the warehouse entrance, but Frank had vanished.

"Frank! Come back…" her words were lost in the darkness.


Mick rounded the corner, closely followed by the rest of Blue Watch who had come to see what was going on.

"Best call the Fire Brigade!" Charlie nudged Adam.

"Oh yeah," Adam agreed. "Could be a big job, what do you reckon?"

"At least a six pumper."

"Have you got any marshmallows to toast?" Adam asked. "All this protesting has been making me hungry!"

Sally had been telling Mick about Frank's eagerness to get back to work. Mick sighed, there was nothing in the rule book about this. Perhaps they should have included it in an appendix – "What do to in cases of vigilante firefighters during strike actions."


Frank, meanwhile, had stumbled into the smoke-logged warehouse. He choked his way forwards, watching his step and checking for obstacles in front of him, like it was all second nature to him. He heard no more cries for help, and started to wonder if he had made it up in his eagerness to fight a fire. It had been so long now, he felt like he had lost an arm or leg. Somehow, standing on a picket line didn't provide the same adrenaline rush that he lived for.

"Hello?" he asked, half choking on the smoke.

He coughed a couple of times, still slowing stepping forward. The fire raged somewhere above him. He thought he must be on at least the second floor. He had found a stairwell, which had been restored, for use by the builders who were doing whatever it was they had to do in order to pull the buildings down safely. He didn't know how far he had climbed. He didn't know where he was going. He couldn't even be sure that there was anyone inside and there was no way he could search the whole building on his own.

He reached another floor and had a look about. He ducked instinctly as a further explosion caused a gas cylinder to come hurtling towards him. He stood up again as the cylinder rolled down the stairs. He watched after it, anxious that it may explode at any time as it bumped and bashed its way down the stone steps before, thankfully, coming to rest on the interlude.

The fire was starting to make its way down to this floor, but something else had caught his attention.


"I can't see anyone, Guv," Charlie moaned, having walked round the building twice (outside as Mick refused to let them go inside).

"Where is he?" Mick muttered to himself, as he looked up towards the stricken building that Frank had entered, alone.

Sally was as equally concerned. "Can I go in and get him, Guv?"

"Absolutely not!" Geoff Pearce butted in. "You know the rules, Sally."

"But if we…"

She was interrupted as the stricken building shook angrily above them. She glanced at Mick again.

"Guv!" she pleaded.

She couldn't stand by and let Frank get injured… or worse. She had tried to stop him from going in, but she knew it had been pointless. Frank Mooney would do whatever Frank Mooney wanted to do, as always.

He had been trying to convince her that he had given up his bad lad days. If this was just another of his stupid stunts to try and impress her…

"Sally!" Adam dragged her backwards as the building started to crumble, sending a large chunk of masonry crashing towards the ground where she had been standing.

Blue Watch backed away.

"Guv! We gotta do something!" Adam yelled, even he was concerned about Frank now.

Mick nodded. "Charlie, um… best inform control I suppose!"

"How'm I gonna do that!" Charlie wondered.

"I dunno, try dialling 999!" Mick suggested.

He cursed Frank for forcing them to break the strike. Yet something else he would soon be trying to explain to DO Ross.


Frank had found the person he assumed had shouted for help. He wondered if there could be more. He wondered what this bloke had been doing in a soon to be demolished warehouse anyway. Perhaps looking for somewhere warm to kip…

"Is there anyone else in here?" Frank asked, trying to shake the man back into some form of consciousness.

"Wha… Who the hell are you!"

"Fire Brigade," Frank explained. "Is there anyone else in here?" he repeated the question.

The man was groggy and complete with a stench of stale alcohol and cigarettes, mixed with something equally unpleasant.

"Can't you lot just leave a bloke to die in peace!" the man didn't seem too happy with Frank's attempts to rescue him.

Frank ignored his protests and whipped the man over his shoulder into a fireman's lift. "You'll thank me one day," he told the man.

"Put me down you bloody bastard! Go back to moaning about how much money you get, or don't get."

"I will when you're out of here." Frank carried the man back towards the stairwell.

"Just let go of me!" the man struggled so much that Frank had to put him down. "Thank you!" he slurred. "Now… where was I?" he looked round the vast floor for the spot where Frank had found him.

"You really wanna die!" Frank questioned.

"Piss off will you?" the bloke stormed off back to his "bedroom" – a pile of rags and half a bottle of Scotch whiskey.

He was put off, however, when the fire broke through the ceiling and whipped up the last of his alcohol supplies. The fierce flames forced him to take a few steps backwards, towards Frank.

Frank shrugged. "Suit yourself then!" he started back down the stairs.

"Hey, where you going?" the bloke yelled after him.

"I thought you wanted to die, I was gonna leave you to it!"

"Yeah, well I've changed me mind!" the bloke followed Frank down the stairs. "Hold on, I think I'm gonna be sick!"

Frank had taken enough of the bloke's constant complaining. He decided a good punch in the face was in order. The bloke fell over backwards. Frank checked on him, he was unconscious, and quiet for a change. Frank resumed his fireman's lift and continued down the stairs, where he met up with Sally and Craig.

"What happened to him?" Sally questioned.

"Um he fell," Frank replied, coughing a little as he handed the body over.

"He's still alive," Sally observed.

Frank wondered if she could read his mind. Could she possibly know what he had just done? He shrugged it off, sometimes he had to be cruel to be kind. He followed them towards the fresh air outside.

"Nice one, Frank," Mick congratulated him. "But don't ever do that again!"

"Sorry Guv, I was just doing my job!"

Mick regarded him with admiration. "Not on a strike day, Frank! But you saved a life, well done," he echoed his own compliments.

"Um, Guv?" Charlie was looking fearfully up towards the building, which was still crumbling and chucking bits of debris towards them as they stood on the quiet side street. "Do you think we should do something about that, I mean cos it could endanger lives right?"

"Yeah," Sally agreed. "Like those people in those houses over there!" she nodded towards a row of terraced houses that lay a few hundred yards from the warehouse.

"Better do what we can I suppose," Mick considered as a Green Goddess rolled down the street towards them.

It was a Sergeant who got out to address them. "What're you lot doing here?"

"Oh you know, just passing the time!" Frank retorted, still through chesty coughs.

"There was a man inside," Mick started to explain. "And we're concerned about…" he broke off as he had to dodge another flying lump of bricks. "That."

The Sergeant understood perfectly. "What do you suggest then?"

Mick knew that they had already breached the strike. But one of his team had been in danger, even if Frank had got himself in to that position, it had been up to Blue Watch to get him out again. He came to the conclusion that any further action wouldn't really matter now, the damage had been done.

He advised the Army on dealing with the fire, while he detailed his own crew to evacuate the nearby houses as the rest of the building threatened to collapse. He made sure everyone was a safe distance away.

"Just like bonfire night this innit?" Adam watched the fire burn.

"More like one of those tacky training videos," Charlie corrected him. "Let's spray a bit of water around and see what happens!"

"We can't do that, Charlie," Mick reminded him. "Get back the station, our job is over now."

Blue Watch made their way back to their picket line as the immediate danger had passed.

"And you should get yourself off to hospital," Mick was telling Frank.

"I'm fine Guv," Frank tried to insist through his coughs.

"Hmmn," Mick let Frank get his own way, as usual.