April 12, 2012
No one is sure how the fire started in Coal Bunker 6, or even when. But it's causing a bloody lot of trouble. Little sparks dance upwards as we rake the coal out. Behind us, in the boiler room, clouds of steam fill the air. Sweat glistens on bare backs as the stokers shovel it into the massive engines.
"Barrett!" shouts one of the men, and points with a grubby finger.
Thomas Andrew picks his way through the men, his ever-present little black book in one hand. I whip off my cap, wipe a coal-streaked hand across my brow, and go to meet him.
We shout to be heard over the engines.
"Having any luck, Mr. Barrett?"
I indicate the men working behind me. "Still aren't sure where it started, Mr. Andrews! It's not out yet! The only way to get it out is to move all the coal! Lots of smoke, though! Too much to send any of the men in yet!"
His frustration is evident. "Can you put it out?"
"Yes, sir! We're making progress! I've had a look and we may have it out in another few hours!"
He watches the men work, shoveling coal out of the bunker. "Very well, Mr. Barrett! Send word to me once it's out, won't you?"
Worried, he heads back upstairs, to a world without smoke, fire, and flames. None of the passengers even know about it. The fire has raged since we left Southampton, maybe longer than that. But by God, I'll put it out. We'll not reach New York with Bunker 6 in flames.
Heat blasts around us. Smoke fills the air. Steam sizzles off the engines.
"Get to it, men!" I shout, shoving my cap onto my head with determination. "Let's put her out!"