Dramatic rescues are all in a day's work

The fire was already out of control, the mandatory crowd assembled; the polyclinic was 60 miles away and was shut for the night anyway, so they had called me.

A fireman came dashing up, the traditional grizzled veteran.

'There are people trapped on the first floor,' he shouted; I couldn't hear him, so I took out my iPod earphones.

'You can't go in there,' he continued enthusiastically, enjoying himself a bit too much, 'It's far too dangerous, you'd be risking your life.'

'No problem,' I said, 'There are NICE guidelines for this kind of situation. They clearly state, always take the advice of the experts; I'll just wait here then, while you chaps establish a perimeter, break down the doors with hatchets, get the hoses and ladders going, look macho, pose nude for charity calendars, do your thing.'

The fireman appeared surprised by this response, as if I had departed from the traditional script and wasn't playing the game. He looked from me, then to the fire, then back to me again.

'Don't even think about it,' he said, gamely trying again, 'It's an old house, made of wood, there's an oil tank in the basement, the roof is unstable, could go any time, the stairs are on fire, they mightn't bear your weight, it's a death trap.'

'OK,' I agreed, 'I get the message; and anyway, these are new shoes, I'd hate to get ashes on 'em'.

The crowd were keen to get involved; they'd seen it on TV, they knew the drill.

'Don't go in there, you crazy fool,' they carolled merrily, immersing themselves in the spirit of the occasion, 'You'll get yourself killed, only a fool would try it, it's madness.'

The atmosphere had become almost festive; someone had cracked open a few beers and a burger stand was doing a roaring trade. The sense of expectation was suffocating, but I had scanned the crowd and as there were no good-looking women among them, being a hero continued to be an unattractive prospect.

But, noblesse oblige and all that, eventually I cracked, storming through the front door, racing up the stairs, bursting into the room, heaving all available bodies on to my shoulders and leaping out of the window.

Joe's daughter was one of the evacuees, and he came up to me with grateful tears in his eyes.

"I've an awful sore throat," he said.

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh.

Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com.

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