Incident report March 2024

The other day, I was walking down the street and I noticed an unusual plume of smoke about two hundred meters away in a side street. It was a residential area.

I decided to proceed down the street to check on it. As we are in the tail end of European winter, it could have simply been somebody burning rubbish but I never take these things for granted. One mistake I made at this point: I failed to check the name of the side street.

As I approached, I could see the smoke was coming from the back of a small two-storey house. The source was very close to the building. I continued past the building and from the other side, I could see a jet of flame coming up at the point where the house meets the boundary wall. This clearly wasn't a controlled fire.

Sadly, when the situation is so obviously out of control like this, I didn't get out the camera and I have no photos to share.

I checked my watch. This is a vital step in any crisis. Knowing the SLA for the fire service, you need to know how long you are going to be on your own.

I could see a small group of men further down the road watching. They were some distance away and didn't appear to be occupants. It wasn't clear if any of them had already called it in. I immediately made the call and was pleased to be greeted with a recorded announcement asking me which service I needed. One of the men started walking up the street, talking on his phone. It sounded a lot like he was speaking to a real person at the fire brigade so I hung up my phone and decided to commence a search. The fire service is on an SLA which I'm familiar with and I began counting down the minutes.

Around the same time, I had noticed somebody coming down an external stairway from the first floor on the side of the burning building. I assumed (incorrectly) that the first floor had been cleared.

There was a warehouse and office on the opposite side of the wall, just meters from the fire. As that was closest to me, I ran across the car park, banged on the door of the office, turned the handle and went inside. A woman was sitting there, completely oblivious to the situation, her back to the wall that was burning. I told her there was a fire, asked how many people were in the building and whether we could exit to the rear of the building. I asked three times and she insisted she was the only one there and we could only exit through the door where I came in, which meant passing the fire a second time. She grabbed her handbag.

Instead of crossing the car park, we went past the front of the warehouse to the next building. The woman went to alert the next neighbor and I went diagonally back across the car park.

At this point, I noticed that smoke was now coming out from the eaves at the front of the ground floor.

In the two minutes I had spent evacuating the office, an undercover police car had arrived. These guys are like ghosts, they just show up out of nowhere. I have no idea whether they were responding to the call or whether they were just going past. Within 30 seconds they had put on their police armbands and broken down the steel double-gate to access the ground floor entrance.

This is the point where the situation really hit me. We could see through the windows that the smoke was filling the ground floor. It wasn't simply a fire at the rear of the property, it was either burning inside or the smoke was getting inside somehow. I had no idea if anybody was inside but I had the gravest fears for the lives of any occupants. The police had made a quick meal of the steel gate but the double glazed windows were a much bigger challenge. They threw some large rocks at the windows but despite multiple attempts, they were unable to shatter all the layers of the glass. The smoke continued to become thicker inside.

I noticed a campervan at the rear of the house, very close to the fire. The risk of the campervan being equipped with a gas cylinder was immediately obvious.

I had stayed on the footpath, a step behind the police not wanting to get in their way. Then there was a huge surprise: a woman in pyjamas came down the stairwell from the first floor with a dog on a leash. I had seen a man come down from there two or three minutes ago and I had incorrectly assumed the first floor was clear. That is one reason I had focussed my initial effort on the adjacent office.

At this point, with the police fighting to break open the doors and windows, I went to speak to the woman: could there by anybody inside? Was there a gas supply, stored fuel or any other hazard that would be bad for the fire fighters?

The woman told me that the neighbor downstairs always works during the daytime. I didn't take this for granted but there was nothing anybody could do about it at that point. The only people who could enter the ground floor now would be firefighters with breathing apparatus.

I had been checking my watch continuously. Ambulances arrived next. The first firefighting appliance arrived within the period of 15 to 20 minutes after the call. It was followed by two more appliances within another 2 to 3 minutes. It was only at this point that they got all their hoses set up and started to take control.

These guys have the right gear, they know what to do and at this point I stood back with the occupant and the neighbors to watch. Within another ten minutes or so they had verified that the building was clear and stretchers were being put back into the ambulances. Nonetheless, it was a nail-biting wait for about thirty minutes from the beginning of the incident to know that nobody had lost their life.

I asked the occupant about smoke alarms. She told me there was an alarm but it had not activated. In other words, the occupants of the building and the occupants of the adjacent building were all completely oblivious to the fire and their lives may have been saved by the decisive actions of the passers-by who intervened.

The fire itself continued to burn in the roof and the firefighters spent some time climbing across the roof, removing the slates and spraying water inside.

One of the guys I used to train with won the award for Emergency Management Practioner of the Year. In other words, the real-world equivalent of John McClane from Die Hard. I'm standing on the shoulders of giants simply mentioning that. Nonetheless, I think it is important to mention that because in the world of software engineering today, we can see slimy little cowards trying to use the police as their puppets to censor political blogs. They are dreaming up imaginary laws under the guise of amateur-hour "Code of Conduct" nonsense. After seeing the way the first two emergency responders, undercover cops, risked their lives, without any protective gear, without any knowledge of the site, I couldn't help thinking of that slimy little German Matthias Kirschner at the FSFE in Berlin snaking his way into the police station begging them to obfuscate the fact that people voted for me. Then we have the case of Axel Beckert from ETH Zurich who engaged in extraordinary acts of perjury to try and plagiarise my work in Debian. With so many real problems in the world today, why should the emergency responders have to waste their time on the vendettas from borderline nazis like that?

This blog is dedicated to Lemon. RIP.

Lemon, cat, Terenure, Dublin