Working as a fireman in London's East End during the early 1970s was no easy ride. In the years before workplace health-and-safety legislation had started to exert its grip, Allan Grice had to cut his fire-and-rescue teeth without the advantages of a breathing apparatus for each member of his crew. Back then, the time-tested strategy was to 'get in' - to crawl below the intense heat and 'eat' the thick smoke - in order to locate a missing child or to halt a rapidly spreading inferno.
In Call the Fire Brigade!, Grice recounts his most memorable experiences as a front-line member of the London Fire Brigade working the city's East End, with its myriad commercial premises, brooding Thames-side warehouses, seedy tenements and colourful cosmopolitan community, ranging from prosperous manufacturers to down-and-out winos with their body-warming bonfires in derelict houses. Fires in factories, tenements and warehouses, and non-fire emergencies such as the Moorgate Tube disaster of 1975, are graphically described, while the elation of rescue, the sadness of being too late to save lives and the warm camaraderie of fire crews during some of the capital's busiest peacetime years are vividly depicted.
Allan Grice's career in the fire service spanned more than 30 years, most of which was spent in the highest fire risk districts. Upon retirement, he formed an independent fire safety advisory consultancy and has been a visiting lecturer on fire, rescue and fire law enforcement at Leeds University since 1997.
Life was tough for firemen on London's East End in the 1970's. Allan Grice brings us this harrowing firsthand account of his experiences as a senior member of the London Fire Brigade. British actor Mark Meadow's performance is spot on. He sounds just as one would imagine Grice to sound. Meadow's voice is calming, almost hypnotic. American audiences should have no problem with his accent, as his enunciation is unblemished. Listeners interested in a rescue worker's life before modern safeguards will find this honest memoir gripping.
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- GEOFF WEBB
Fire-fighting in inner-London in the 1970s
I enjoyed Allan Grice's book about fire-fighting in inner London.
Broadly set in the East End (although including Islington in that definition is stretching things a bit) during the mid-70s it provides a window into a time when serious, fatal fires were a much more common occurrence than today. The combination of cramped, poor-quality housing and portable paraffin heaters seems to have been a deadly one, and you can only admire the bravery and fortitude of the fire crews dealing with such incidents, often using equipment which (by the standards of today) sounds to have been both uncomfortable and occasionally rather primitive (e.g. the hook ladder).
It is also clear how much respect Allan had for his forebears, the 'smoke-eaters' who survived not just a life of fire, but also the Blitz on London. There also is a terrific link in the book to the classic 'Report From Engine Company 82'.
Report From Engine Company 82
Mark Meadow's performance is terrific - he is able to take off at various times convincing yorkshire, irish, and cockney accents
The book has a very conversational tone and is rather lyrical - the drawback to this is that Allan's sentences can seem rather endless, filled as they are with asides, analogies and the author's musings.
The book could have perhaps been edited rather better. There are some discussions which are repeated at different points within the text (this may reflect the fact that some of the material has been published before). This includes quite a bit of consideration of health and safety culture; whilst Allan has certainly earned a right to his opinion, the sheer number of times which the subject is revisited (both through his own voice and those of his cast of colleagues) meant that the subject started to become tedious.