A couple of weeks ago, I was in the bedroom doing some weekend tidying up after a busy week speaking away from home. In a daze with the radio on, I was in a world of my own as I unpacked. In my relaxed state I heard my daughter running upstairs shouting “Dad, Dad, you’ve got to ring the fire brigade, NOW!” I thought it was a joke at first. But no, she was very serious. She told me there was a problem outside. I stumbled around half dazed as I tried to find a pair of trainers (why can you never find shoes when you need them?). In the end I just ran outside in my socks and ran up the road towards what sounded like a big bonfire. As I approached the flats at the top of our street I realised it wasn’t a bonfire or even a garage fire but it was a neighbours house – on fire. I went into emergency mode, calling 999 while keeping an eye on the conservatory and house extension as the fire took hold. The flames were as high as the two storey house, I’d never seen anything like it. The windows were blackening and melting as I watched, along with garden stuff and furniture. I stood helpless watching from over their back garden as the flames took hold. The heat was astounding. While I was on the phone the fire brigade arrived as someone else had called them before me. They went around to the front of the house to tackle the blaze head-on as I shouted to ask if there was anyone in the house, but I got no response.
I hoped for the best, I just hoped it was empty.
There was nothing I could do but watch as the the flames grew and the smoke took hold inside of the house. There was a window around the side of the house open and the black and grey smoke started pouring through there too, the house must have been taken over inside and out. I wondered at one point if the adjoining house was going to go up too as the roof of the extension was now on fire through heat transfer and the flames had already destroyed the conservatory completely like it was made of paper and twigs. Scary stuff.
I watched as the firefighters did their work, fighting the fire and dampening the roof of the adjoining house. With the fire under control I joined my other neighbours in the adjoining street to find out more about it. Apparently there was someone in the house at first, but she was alerted and she (and her dog) escaped safely.
Like most times when I’ve been in ‘emergency mode’ you feel a bit dazed afterwards and need a good old fashioned English cup of tea and a sit down. I do wonder whether the English tradition of a good cup of tea is just our way of pausing and taking stock.
I won’t pretend to be macho here, as a family man this incident shocked me. I’d never seen a house fire before and it felt very close to home, literally. I went around the house and double checked our smoke alarms the same day, but it went deeper than that.
Incidents like this put things into perspective. As I stood there watching my neighbours house go up in flames, I was thinking. As I chatted to the neighbours who had raised the alarm; we were thinking the same thing together. We didn’t start the conversation with “Oh no, his poor DVD collection” or “Ah, man his flat screen TV must be ruined”. All we thought about at first is whether or not there was anyone in the house. Was everyone ok?
As I was chatting to the neighbours – the owners of the house came back in their car, it was heartbreaking as they saw the blackened windows and the damage.
‘Things’ are nice to have, I quite like my Mac, my TV and my TIVO box but I LOVE my family.
That’s what really matters.
I know when I speak about motivation or presentation skills I’m helping people perform better, but I always have that in context. We all have work to do, but if I ever thought my work life became THE only love of my life, I’m in trouble. Let’s enjoy and succeed in our work life – but let’s not forget what is really important. If you’re a goal setting type of person, then don’t forget to set family and relationship goals too. I have found that when our relationships are at the top of our agenda, everything else seems to fall into place.
I know this all sounds a bit Jerry Maguire, maybe even a bit schmaltzy or idealistic. But imagine if we prioritised our relationships everywhere. We looked after our clients better, developed our staff properly, got on as best we could with our colleagues and made time for family as well as time for work. Like I often say sometimes things aren’t easy, but they are simple.
When I saw my neighbour running to see her house as the fire was being doused, she wasn’t asking about her DAB radio or her HD TV, she was asking where her daughter was. That’ll be something I’ll never forget.