It was not fear, but rather an oppressive sense of expectancy that made the fireman study his belt buckle with such nervous interest.
At the time he was riding to a most important fire. Looking out from the back of the van he could see the streets had been washed by the night. The racing tarmac slipped back so smoothly that the trailer pump’s heavy tyres no more than rustled. Now and then the towing pin slugged heavily in and out of its oiled sprung socket. Sometimes, on an acute camber, a silver thread of petrol fountained from a pinhole in the petrol tank cap. There was little other movement. The vehicle raced evenly forward. The fireman saw only the dark linoleum road slipping backwards: or, if he raised his eyes, the departing rows of houses, the terraces, the crescents, regular, eyeless, washed grey by the moonlight.
The fireman scrutinized the buckling of his belt and thought: “Now I can see quite plainly, perhaps for the first time, that this is me, that this is Fireman Flower, that I am riding my pump to a most important fire, that inevitably I shall soon be engaged on my most important task. I knew the nature of that task as soon as I heard the call to this particular fire. My task is succinctly – to discover the kernel of the fire. I must disregard the fire’s offshoots, I must pass over the fire’s deceptive encroachments, and I must proceed most determinedly in search of the fire’s kernel. Only in that way can I assess efficiently the whole nature of the fire…"
Excerpt from: William Sansom, Fireman Flower. Included in Fireman Flower and Other Stories. London, The Hogarth Press, 1944