What it feels like to run towards the flames!

What it feels like to run towards the flames! Leigh Hosy-Pickett knew what was going through the minds of the fire crews pounding up the stairs of the Twin Towers

  • Leigh Hosy-Pickett is a third-generation fireman, who first applied to join at 18
  • Firefighters really do rescue cats from trees, but only if stuck for 24 hours 
  • After working as a firefighter he developed post traumatic stress disorder

UP IN SMOKE 

by Leigh Hosy-Pickett (Trapeze £18.99, 272pp) 

How does it feel to sprint towards a burning building when everyone else is running away from it? As he watched the TV coverage of the September 11 attacks in New York, Leigh Hosy-Pickett knew what was going through the minds of the fire crews pounding up the stairs of the Twin Towers. 

‘Every man and woman preparing to hurry into that hell would have felt excited and adrenalised. I knew because that’s how I too would have felt.’ 

Leigh Hosy-Pickett (pictured) is a third-generation fireman, who first applied to join at 18. Firefighters really do rescue cats from trees, but only if stuck for 24 hours

Hosy-Pickett is a third-generation fireman, who first applied to join at 18. ‘The men in my family smelt of smoke,’ he says. He gives a vivid account of the gruelling 17-week training for new recruits: ‘Ladders, pumping…Cutting equipment techniques and swathes of breathing apparatus… repeated again and again.’ 

Even so, you wonder what can truly prepare anyone for the reality of being in the middle of a fire: ‘an animal, a monster, untamed…if I didn’t respect it, the flames would eat me up’. 

Worse than the fires are the calls to traffic accidents, where the firefighter’s role is to cut injured people from their tangled vehicles, knowing full well that the fuel tank could explode at any minute. 

What helps firefighters cope day to day is the camaraderie. ‘The Fire Service is a massive family and blood’s thicker than water,’ he says. Most of this familial bond seems to manifest itself in elaborate schoolboy pranks, such as sugar bowls filled with salt and eager new recruits being sent off to buy tins of tartan paint. ­Hosy Pickett says that ‘humour and light-heartedness are an essential coping mechanism for firefighters… laughter allows light into dark spaces’. 

UP IN SMOKE by Leigh Hosy-Pickett (Trapeze £18.99, 272pp)

Firefighters, he reveals, really do rescue cats from trees, but only if they’ve been stuck for at least 24 hours. And as for avoiding starting a fire in your own home: don’t position a barbecue next to a wooden fence; steer clear of paint-stripping guns; and plan your Christmas decorations with care because the combination of cheap fairy lights and flammable ornaments is an accident waiting to happen. 

Never assume a fire won’t happen to you, and be prepared: keep the keys to your front door somewhere you’ll be able to find them in the dark, and work out which room you will retreat to if you can’t get out. (Make it the room nearest the street so you can be rescued easily.) 

And, above all, he says again and again, have working smoke alarms in your house and check them regularly. 

Despite the breezy tone of Up In Smoke, Hosy-Pickett eventually developed post traumatic stress disorder. It took months of intensive therapy for him to be able to manage the stress. Yet 25 years after he first became a firefighter, he still believes it’s ‘the best job in the world’. 

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