August 8, 2017

Safe Area

I

 

A deafening crash and the twisting of metal indelibly pressed in her mind

Nothing, just darkness, she then comes ‘round, sees a face, gentle and kind

It’s the face of a fireman, she knows that he cares, but she drifts into darkness again

As she dreams of his face, and she knows that she’s safe, despite all her anguish and pain

 

Spends months on her back in a hospital bed, quadriplegic, she’s damaged her spine

But that fireman, Fred, had been right by her bed, she knew with his help she’d be fine

Her life, it had changed, she could no longer walk, to a wheelchair she now was constrained

But she picked herself up, went right back to work (though at present we’ll leave her unnamed)

 

Fred and this girl soon fell in love, they went off to face life as a team

They tied the knot tight, they each took full part, this allowed them to follow their dream

Their love really blossomed, and they knew that in time, a family would be on the way

They each kept their jobs, with their dream in their minds, so looking forward to that day

 

Fred as a fireman, was a genuine guy, a guy you just had to admire

They both worked their jobs, she stuck in an office, while Fred was out fighting fires

(I think it’s now time I told you her name, and it suited her perfectly well

Her name was Faith — just what do I mean? Well, that’s what I’m going to tell)

 

To have faith in something, you have to have trust, to know it is steadfast and whole

Faith trusted Fred and it wasn’t misplaced: trustworthy in heart, mind, and soul

She trusted in God and had faith in His Son, knowing bad things would one day get better

She trusted New Zealand ‘cause we lead the way. (We do things right down to the letter

 

Regulations and Acts cover safety and health, and best practice in evacuation)

Everyone out, ‘cept Faith and a mate, they stay put in this safety location

Right here in the stairwell, nothing can burn, they’ll be safe there until their relief

And with Fred on the force, that wouldn’t take long, their wait there should only be brief

 

(They put faith in a system, but one out of date, a completely unacceptable situation

It was legally right but morally wrong, the very height of discrimination

Nobody had thought what was really involved, if something had gone wrong on that day

They’d not stopped to look, they’d not stopped to listen, unaware of a much safer way)

 

 

II

 

We lead the world in so many ways, with systems in place for our good

Faith felt safe and secure at work in her job, she believed things would work as they should

It was several years now since that fateful night, when that car crash turned her life round

And despite having spent all this time in a chair, she still had her feet on the ground

 

This lovely young couple, whom everyone loved, had become a most popular pair

Then a trip to the doctor, their dream coming true, hey Fred, there’s a baby in there

Excitedly now they started to plan, Fred naturally concerned for his wife

Both thankful to God for this wonderful gift, this treasure of bearing a life

 

Now Faith was employed by a very fair boss, and her workmates, they all loved her dearly

She worked on the tenth floor, the view was superb, she could see the harbour bridge clearly

She relied on the plan that was there for her safety, in case a disaster transpired

Then of course she had Fred, who’d get there right quick if ever there should be a fire

 

Time it slipped by, the months come and went, with Faith’s tummy surely gaining girth

Soon it was time to quit work, to go home for a rest, take it easy and wait for the birth

The company arranged something swell, a nice surprise for her going away

Without telling her they’d got hold of Fred, he was getting off early that day

 

The sky was so blue, the sun was so bright, you couldn’t but help feel content

Then it hit hard, like thunder it roared, shattered glass, violent shakes, then it went

Things don’t look so good, gotta get outa here, but remember to always keep calm

We’ve practised before, know just what to do, whenever we hear that alarm

 

 

III

 

This was the real thing, and everyone knew that their lives were at risk on that day

The office was cleared. The warden’s last words: ‘In the stairwell, you should stay

Though it doesn’t seem right, we follow the rules. Faith, wait here with the volunteer

Can’t do much else, it’s all we can do with that puku of yours and your chair’

 

Faith had real trust with the system in place, they’d assured her she’d be OK

In the stairwell, she waited with one of her mates, they felt safe as they waited that day

The feeling was eerie in that concrete tomb, the echoes the groans, then a creak

All the people had gone they were now on their own, exit lights now looking weak

 

But Faith was real sure that despite her bad feelings, her Fred would be right on his way

Any time now he’d pop up the stairs, and his laughter would brighten their day

Then her volunteer buddy, a pretty young lass started to shed a wee tear

She looked at Faith and said I’m really sorry, but I gotta get out of here.

 

Now Faith was alone with her unborn child, couldn’t feel him but knew he was kicking

Her trust in the system started to wane, almost felt like a time bomb was ticking

She grasped with a jolt, things weren’t going to plan, she thought that’s smoke she could smell

The pipes might be broken, the sprinklers not working, this could be a day straight from hell

 

She wasn’t aware that down on the eighth, the cleaners had wedged open the door

It made their job easy, saved lots of time, even though it was breaking the law

When the quake struck, they were straight down the stairs, forgetting the door left a gap

The pressurised stairs (to keep our Faith safe) would swiftly become a death trap.

 

 

IV

 

All over this world are tried men and true, in Emergency Service they work

Genuine men always ready to help, never knowing the meaning of shirk

In any city a building on fire, it’s their target they’re there in a swarm

But when there’s a quake they are spread much more thinly, and often you’re left on your own

 

We know Fred was on duty that fateful day, in the shower getting set to shuck

But in any emergency all hands on deck, soon Fred is up on his truck

Hospitals, schools, nursing homes all need help, their needs take first place in this nation

Offices warehouses shops and the like must manage their own evacuation

 

Just seconds later, the trucks headed out, alarm bells how loud did they jangle

But chaos ensued, traffic lights not working, the streets an absolute tangle

Fred was concerned his loyalties torn, he knew he was his Faith’s protection

But the chief said, ‘You stay, your duty’s with us, up the hill in the other direction.’

 

When duty calls every man must decide, his heart helps him with his decision

Up the hill there were many needed help, but Faith on her own was his mission

He leapt from the truck, no angry protests, his decision was clear on his face

His mates felt as he: whatever the risk, his family must take the first place

 

Fred raced on through some cramped narrow streets, bricks and mortar still falling

He listened inside to his soul and his heart, he knew he could hear his Faith calling

At last he arrives at Faith’s place of work, her buddies all gathered around

But yes he knew it, Faith wasn’t there. He searched. She was not to be found

 

Then the Fire Warden, he spotted Fred. ‘Fred, we left her just like we were told

Can you go in and get her, they said that you would. Hurry, the fire’s taking hold.’

As he went in, a wee lass stumbled by, shaken and sobbing and crying

I was scared and I panicked, I left her alone, please please can you save her from dying

 

V

 

If only they’d listened, he said to himself, as he raced headlong up those stairs

And to that guy he met at the station last month, the one with the Evac Chairs

He’d have to make do without any help, and though trained how to lift without paining

He knew that his wife heavy with child was beyond all aspects of his training

 

Fred, a fit man, raced up those stairs knowing just how his Faith would be feeling

He knew of the trust she had in her man, but the thoughts in his head were a-reeling

He knew of the danger, the risk he must take, for the safety of baby and wife

He knew his actions, while saving Faith, might cost them a precious young life

 

As he lifted and strained, her eyes opened wide in fear of the risk they were taking

They knew if they didn’t go quickly, a disaster was there in the making

She spasmed in pain, her body contorted, at his limit she knew Fred to be

But he battled down through the smoke and the heat, then at last they were out and were free

 

This story of Faith, her husband and child had a happy and cheerful ending

All survived, thanks to Fred’s fortitude, but a very clear message it’s sending

In this world that we live in, things can go wrong, but at all times we must do our best

Especially to those who rely on our help. If we fail them, then we’ve lost the test.

 

—Allan Armstrong
Born 1942, Allan Armstrong loves Banjo Patterson and Robert Service.

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