Letter from Prague


Journalism has plenty of perks- free meals, free rides, meeting interesting people and "being where the action is" as they say. Some time ago I went to interview an elite team of fire-fighters - the kind who get sent on international aid missions abroad. Of course, when they are not serving on special missions they are simply members of the Prague 2 fire brigade who might get called to bring a frightened kitten down from a tree.

I'd been promised an interview and the chances of seeing them in action did not seem very high on a quiet Thursday afternoon. But then, in the middle of the interview, the call came - and the very guys I was interviewing were on duty. They mumbled "sorry, got to go" and slid down the pole to the garage. As I ran down the stairs and into the courtyard the fire-engine was on its way out. Unexpectedly, the car door swung open and the chief said -"want to come?". Within seconds I was hauled up into the cabin as excited as an eight year old. Going at top speed through the streets of Prague with sirens wailing as cars gave us right of way was enough to get my adrenal flowing. Within two minutes we'd arrived at the site of the fire - black smoke was pouring out of a third storey window, people were being evacuated from the building and a group of onlookers had assembled to watch the action. Firemen were connecting hoses to the street hydrant and an ambulance drew up, ready for action.

I heard the chief giving an order for the door of the respective flat to be broken down since no one was answering the door. "We're in - the fireman's voice came over the chief's mobile - and then a few quick words fired in explanation. The police chief rolled his eyes - and turned to me, still recording the whole thing on my mini-disc recorder - "we'll you're out of a luck - there's just a blackened pot and some potatoes burnt to a crisp up there" he said. There was also a bewildered old lady taking a cat nap in the bedroom while the potatoes for dinner got cooked. She was very surprised to be woken up by two handsome firemen but not so pleased to find that they'd broken her door down in the process of saving her life. As for me - as the chief said I did not have a story. But I was that much wiser. I knew that the saying "there's no smoke without a fire" does not always prove to be right.