Thursday, 25 December 2008 - 4:03 pm

Hope in a fluorescent jacket

It wasn’t a survivor they found.  It was men, in uniforms.  Blessed official uniforms, chased to us by the flashing lights of fire engines through the fog of dust and smoke.

Oh, the relief.  I didn’t have to be in charge any more, I didn’t have to try to come up with answers to all of this.  The wounded would be able to get real help.  Finally, finally some help, for all of us.

The poor firefighters looked as tired and strung out as I felt.  They’d had to dig out the roads to get in to us, and there still wasn’t room for them to come far into the CBD.  Mostly, they were just trying to get people out and to damp down the worst of the fires.  There were ambulances running their tyres bald trying to transport the injured to the hospital.

So we carried and crutched everyone we had found over to where the roads were clearer, where they could line up for a ride out of here.  A paramedic gave me a few lungfuls from an oxygen tank, and that was heaven; I hadn’t realised how much the dust and smoke had made it difficult to breathe.

I’m not really injured, so I wasn’t going to get a ride out of the city for some time.  Some people started walking, but more were still being found trapped in the rubble.  The firefighters asked for volunteers to stay and lend a hand, and I couldn’t say no.  Maybe the oxygen had gone to my head; I don’t know.  It didn’t feel right to leave when I could help.  Maybe I’m just a sucker for punishment.


It felt so good to have a purpose, to have somewhere to take the people we found, to know that they had a real chance now.  To know that we had a way out of this hellish place.  To have someone in charge who knew what we should be doing.

They didn’t have any spare equipment, but one fireman did encourage me to steal a new shirt and better shoes from a store.  They’ll never know, he said.  It still felt wrong, and I hid the labels I tore off, but it was good to have something sturdier on my feet than those silly slipper-shoes.  He helped me make a mask to stop me breathing in so much smoke, too.

He asked me if I’d hurt myself.  It took me a moment to realise that he had seen the dressings on my back, poking out from under my vest.  I’d forgotten completely about the tattoo.  I couldn’t feel it any more, not with everything else that was happening.  Then I felt guilty, because I caught myself hoping that it hadn’t been damaged in all of this.  The city is falling down on top of us, burning itself away in patches, and I was worried about what my tattoo might look like.  What kind of person does that make me?


The more time I spent with the firemen, the weirder things got.  There’s something not right about it all.  I can’t put my finger on it – I haven’t ever been in a situation like this before, but there was just… something.  It was nothing they did, nothing they said.

Now that I think about it, it was what they didn’t say.  I don’t know – there just seemed to be something missing.  I need to grab one of these guys and ask.  I have a feeling that I probably don’t want to know whatever it is, but I have to.

Maybe it’s something to do with the losing battle they’re fighting with these fires.  Their hoses only reach so far and the flames just keep popping up, like a disease.

I need to ask someone about it.  But the questions will have to wait.  Right now, it’s time to head up the next street and see who we can find.  Break’s over.