Dear Chief Fire Officer,
As the senior firefighter and only survivor of the Khandallah 271 appliance involved in the Mitre 10 MEGA store fire, I offer the following report.
We received the call at 0210 on Sunday morning and, after a slight delay, due to Qualified Firefighter Taffy Williams misplacing his glasses and false teeth, we proceeded to the address. I should add that the delay was minimal and did not contribute to the building being well alight by the time we arrived at 0245.
The initial call was to a fire alarm sounding and we thought it would just be another false alarm, so Taffy and I took the opportunity to nod off on the run to Johnsonville.
I don’t know if you know this, Chief, but 0200 is the lowest point of the human metabolism, which probably accounts for our sluggish response.
We were woken rather abruptly by Bill Swan, the driver, screaming, “It’s on fire, it’s on fire,” and a few other words which are not suitable for inclusion in this report.
As we turned from Broderick Road into Johnsonville Road, we could see flames issuing from every orifice of the MEGA Store, so we guessed it wasn’t a false alarm.
We were all so gobsmacked at the terrible sight that we drove right on past. It wasn’t until I saw John Devereaux and Bill fighting for control of the steering wheel and Bill shouting “Stuff this! I’m going home,” that I realised why. However, John won the fight and at the roundabout we turned around and returned to the fire.
Now, I have heard that some civilian bystanders have said that our crew jumped down from the appliance shouting and screaming and running around like headless chooks, bumping into each other and making no attempt to fight the fire. This is incorrect and simply civilians not understanding Fire Service drill.
In quite an orderly fashion, Taffy and I got out the big hose from the rear of the truck, sank a stand pipe and turned the water on to the pump.
It was after that when things turned to custard and our well-rehearsed drill went tits up. We had, in our initial panic, or rather, in our initial enthusiasm, pulled out rather too much hose from the rear locker and it lay in coils behind the appliance. When I turned on the water from the hydrant, the coils quickly filled and started to dance about.
Taffy, who never did find his glasses, inadvertently stepped into the writhing coils. Well, what happened was, the hose took a couple of turns around Taffy’s body like a boa constrictor and lifted him up, several feet off the ground, and started bashing him against the pet shop wall, face first.
In the darkness and smoke I didn’t realise what was going on until I saw Taffy at the first-floor level, stabbing the hose with his biro and doing a very good Jungle Jim impression.
Quick as a flash I turned off the hydrant, allowing Taffy to fall three metres. Fortunately, he fell right on top of John so didn’t hurt himself.
We then regrouped and decided to fight the fire with a ground monitor, which we set up at the top of the lane on a flat gravestone in the church yard.
I don’t know if you know this, Chief, but when you set up a ground monitor you’re supposed to lead the two hoses in from opposite sides so that, when the water comes on, the pressures in the hoses balance each other out and the monitor keeps pointing in the direction you aimed it.
Well, what happened was that, in our enthusiasm, we forgot that. So when the water came on it swiveled the monitor around 90 degrees, breaking all the windows in the Conservative Club and filling the building with water up to the windowsills.
Now, we have since been criticised for this as a bad mistake or bad firemanship but we deny this. We claim it was a fire safety initiative to prevent the Con’ Club from also burning down, and I think we proved our point when the Con’ Club didn’t burn down. Well, the bottom half that we filled with water didn’t, even if the roof did burn out. That wasn’t our fault.
By this time the fire was coming out of the roof, so we decided to retire to the church, put up our Ajax 464 ladder against the church wall to gain some elevation, and fight the fire from there.
I don’t know if you know this, Chief, but those 464 ladders have got some little wheels at the top so that if you hit the wall as you’re extending they will run up the wall rather than jam against it.
We know that, but what happened was in our enthusiasm and the darkness we put the ladder up upside down. But it was okay because the little wheels at the top, which were now at the bottom, were resting in a little pothole in the lane leading to the church.
But at that very moment, events beyond our control began to unfold. Three fat volunteer firemen, wearing full kit and breathing apparatus and pulling a hose, appeared like phantoms out of the smoke and climbed up our ladder. Bloody cheek!
When the first one reached the top he hollered, “Take a leg lock, water on!” Now, Bill Swan, the pump operator, who it has to be said was so enthusiastic he was crying and singing and talking to himself, opened the valve to give the volley on the ladder some water.
Bill was just a bit too enthusiastic and gave them about 7 zillion KPA of pressure (about 10 million PSI in old money), which had the effect of making the hose go bar rigid and stretch alarmingly, pushing the top volley three metres up above the top of the ladder. It also had the effect of making the ladder jump, knocking the wheels out of the pothole and allowing the bottom of the ladder (actually the top, but we won’t split hairs) to begin running down the lane.
Taffy, who is a quick thinker for a geriatric, even without his teeth in or his glasses on and with his face smacked in, jumped forward and put his foot under the wheels.
Unfortunately, the weight of the ladder with two fat volleys wearing BA exerted a greater force than Taffy’s fire boot could handle and he lost his big toe. (We still have it pickled in vinegar at Khandallah, if you’re interested in a butcher’s.)
Taffy started to make disparaging remarks about fat volleys stealing our ladder so, for the sake of good professional volley relationships, I administered first-aid to Taffy by applying a tourniquet to his throat.
John was quietly sobbing in the church doorway and Bill Swan was laughingly contemplating the red hot pump, which had fallen out of the appliance because it had been running at full throttle without water since I’d turned the hydrant off to save Taffy from the boa constrictor.
So what happened was, there was no one to stop the ladder running down the lane. By sheer bad luck, when the top end should have hit the ground, it didn’t. It landed on a shopping trolley. Then the ladder, now with wheels at both ends, gathered momentum as it went down the lane with two fat volleys holding on for dear life.
It passed Bill Swan doing about 40mph and almost ran him down. I think that must have been the final straw for Bill because her decided he didn’t want to play anymore. He threw down his helmet, stamped on it a few times, then walked off into the darkness. He has not been seen since.
Now, back to the ladder. It zoomed across the road, ricocheted off your new car (sorry about that) screeched through the garage forecourt then got halfway round the roundabout where it collided with the rear end of a stock truck on its way to Eketahuna. Unfortunately, the force of the collision forced the top rung of the ladder to hook over the tow bar of the stock truck.
The last we saw was the wheeled ladder and two fat volleys in BA holding on for grim death, heading for State Highway 1, at speed.
But that wasn’t the end of the matter. We’ve since heard that the driver of the truck wasn’t aware of what he was towing until he reached the Himatangi Straight and the wheels came off the shopping trolley, causing lots of sparks.
The driver radioed his control to say he was being pursued by a low flying UFO with two grotesque fat creatures in space suits and helmets, and that he was attempting to outrun the alien’s spaceship.
Well, Chief, I don’t know if you know but, at the northern end of the Himatangi Straight there’s quite a sharp left-hander and the driver reported that the aliens left him there. Apparently they went straight on, jumping a three-metre-high fence and disappearing into Cattle Doom Swamp.
Neither the aliens nor the volleys have been seen since.
Now, back to the church, where there’s still one fat volley high up on a rigid hose which is waving around in the wind.
Taffy suggested we should give the hose a shake to try to dislodge the volley in order to get him down. With hindsight, this was probably a mistake. It made the pressurised hose gyrate so violently that it catapulted the unfortunate volley over the church fence. He went with such force that he crashed through the bedroom window of Miss Frobisher, the spinster lady who plays the church organ. We haven’t seen him since either.
About this time, John, Taffy and I regrouped, grabbed the hose vacated by the fat volley and fought our way forward through the smoke and flames. Bravely we battled right inside the building through the smoke and steam. When the visibility cleared, we found ourselves in the all-night chippy two doors down. We settled for cod and chips with plenty of salt and vinegar.
By that time the fire had burnt itself out. All’s well that ends well, eh?
At the start of this report I mentioned that I was the only survivor of our crew (which the boys at Central and Thorndon Fire Stations are calling ‘The Khandallah Heroes’) but I didn’t mean to imply that the other three had kicked the bucket.
John has entered a very exclusive, remote retreat for alcoholic Lotto winners at Eketahuna. Bill Swan has, I understand, returned to his home in Why-kick-a-moo-cow, where he’s become an eccentric recluse. So nothing new there.
Taffy Williams has gone bush in the Eketahuna Forest, living on possums and puha. I can also confirm that he’s set up his own still, making a rather potent but very acceptable version of Hokonui whiskey.
So, Chief, as I’m the only hero left standing, if there’s any talk of medals, civic receptions or cash rewards, I’m available 24/7 and at the weekend.
I know that the fame and adulation I’m about to experience will probably engender some hostility and petty jealousies from lesser mortals, but I’ve always been able to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which have dogged me all my life.
You may have seen in the press some reports by ill-informed observers that the firefighters at the MEGA Store fire allowed the building to burn down without doing anything constructive to prevent it. But after reading my report you’ll realise this is quite wrong. In fact, we’ve recently received thanks and even praise from no less a person than the Lord Mayor of Wellington.
In a speech to the Chamber of Commerce last week, he is reported as saying, and I quote:
Wellington is a very popular place for people from the region to come and shop, but for years we’ve had insufficient parking facilities to properly accommodate them all. But during my two years as Mayor that problem has been solved, mostly by the efforts of Brown Watch firefighters at Khandallah Station. In the last two years we’ve lost 22 shops and other major buildings, but we’ve gained 22 new car parks.
With praise like that, I don’t see how the Fire Service can avoid showering me with awards.
I am, Sir, your humble servant.
Senior Firefighter Meecham 1089 (27 Station Hero)