Blue flashing lights shone up the village street. A fire engine stood stopped at the pavement, its crew busy with equipment at the rear; in a side street a firefighter stood directing a second appliance as it reversed up the street. Once, such an incident would have been thought a spectacle, people would have watched from their doors and windows to see the activity of those who might have been busy with hoses and ladders. The arrival of two appliances at a scene would have been worthy of recall at school or work, if not mention in the local news.
Emergency vehicles were much less evident by their presence. A single flashing blue light would have topped a police car or ambulance, or the cab of a fire engine. There were no sirens, just a bell ringing at the speed of a frantic alarm clock. Perhaps less was more, a blue light or a bell were things of gravitas, things to take with the utmost seriousness. Incidents requiring their use concerned serious threats to life or property. Perhaps communication was so slow that there was not felt a need to proceed with such urgency, compelling other drivers to move aside; perhaps the vehicles were less plentiful and deployed more sparingly than is now the case.
Once, the sight of a fire tender speeding up a street would cause a hastening of the pulse. There seemed a sense that this was something important, that this did not happen without good cause. Police cars might rush after speeding drivers and ambulances might speed for any number of reasons, but the fire service did not hurry without reason, their vehicles did not lend themselves to quick stops nor were they something in which to attempt agile manoeuvres.
Flashing blue lights will evoke different reactions for different people. For many people, they might recall moments of pain or tragedy, the lights may symbolise the death or serious injury of a loved one, they might be a reminder of personal loss or shattered dreams. Personally, the blue lights evoke thoughts of a gentle and kindly man, a softly-spoken grandfather who passed his hours growing chrysanthemums and sorting his stamp collection. The appliance on which he rode had no flashing blue lights, its bell would have been barely audible over the din of destruction. A member of the National Fire Service in London during the Second World War, the horrors of the Blitz left him with what would now be regarded as post-traumatic stress disorder. To him, the arrival of a fire appliance would have been a matter of deadly earnest, he would have been relieved that flashing blue lights now lack the gravitas they once possessed.