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Fires Were Started (1943)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

1940/41: A fire appliance returns to substation 14Y after refitting. A man stops sparring in a backyard to set off for 14Y. Others are seen walking, greeting each other as they arrive at the station. At Jackson's newsagents, 'Jacko' bids his wife goodbye, setting off by bicycle. Another man asks directions. The earlier arrivals give him the once over as he confirms he is at the right place. He enters, 'greeted' by a bucketful of water being thrown down the steps. Inside it is clear he is expected. He is new recruit Barrett, and he is introduced to his new colleagues as they go about their daily routines.

Local Control staff, collating the current state of readiness of appliances, telephone 14Y and other stations. After lunch, Barrett is shown the area they look after, including Trinidad Street and Alderman's Wharf, where a munitions ship is being loaded. Problems of water supply are discussed, and attention is drawn to a sunken barge, which will act as a reservoir even at low tide.

During the afternoon and evening, firemen rest and officers discuss the likelihood of an air-raid that night; tea is brewed, the men play snooker and other games and make up the black-out. The ammunition ship is mentioned again, fire watchers report strengthening winds, and the crew gather, Barrett playing them in with 'One Man Went To Mow'. Sirens begin - a raid is on and the firewatchers report falling incendiaries. Rumbold quotes a piece about death.

The crew is ordered to a Trinidad Street warehouse to tackle a roof fire, reporting the proximity of the ammunition ship and requesting more pumps. Control dispatches a fire boat despite the tide and a District Officer (DO) is sent along. Crew members on the roof make little headway with the fire and the water gives out; Barrett is sent to find more and the sunken barge is identified as a supply. The raid is extensive. As the DO arrives, his pumps are re-directed to assist in drawing water from the barge. Communications are disrupted briefly after a near-miss at the HQ slightly wounds a firewoman telephonist.

Problems on the chaotic warehouse roof make Dykes send Rumbold, who descends the burning staircase, to get help. The DO has ordered a turntable ladder (TTL) and sends Barrett up to tell Dykes. Flames roar on the staircase, and an incendiary falls, knocking Dykes unconscious, his uniform burning. The others swiftly dowse it and the TTL arrives. Ordered down, they secure Dykes, but lowering him off the roof requires that they steady his descent with a life line. Barrett goes down the ladder while Jacko grips the life-line and hose, with fire licking his boots. Dykes is saved as the warehouse wall collapses in a massive fireball, which the fire watchers observe, as Jacko falls...

A unit from 60 miles away arrives at 14Y, and a fire boat approaches the wharf to make the fires safe. Dawn brings the 'all-clear', a mobile canteen arrives and the tired and dirty crew clear up. Dykes is in hospital with a head injury; fire watchers report the fire as under control, and Jacko's helmet is found in the rubble. A disparaging comment from a local leads Johnny to point out that the munitions ship is untouched. Jacko's wife hears the wireless report that the raid caused few casualties, but 'fires were started'.

The munitions ship resumes loading. The crew is back at base. Rumbold quotes a Shakespearian passage and 'BA' tells the others to snap out of their sombre mood.

A funeral is held for Jacko, with his colleagues as pall-bearers, and the ammunition ship steams down the Thames.