Pulling up outside the address we hit the “at scene”button and de-bus.
Its warm, dusk is a few hours away yet and the sky is still clear. No rain or sleety snow for a change. The street is quiet, most people are still at work, no curtains are twitching as we make our way to the front door laden down with all our kit.
The outside of the house is in a bad state of repair. The window frames are all rotten and the paint has long faded into a dark crazy paving sort of colour. The front door is coloured brown….although a hint of what was once the colour white peeks out from beneath the grime. The frosted/glazed windows are not frosted/glazed windows….they are plain glass but obscured with dirt, muck, grime, dust and what appears to be the beginning of a new life form growing from the corners of the frames!
The call has come from a concerned neighbour who has not seen the occupant of the house for a couple of days. We knock on the door and look through the letter box….nothing heard, nothing seen. And nothing smelt apart from the usual fustiness expected in these situations. We try the door, it is not locked and after some encouragement from our shoulders the door opens….slightly, ever so slightly.
Through the small gap we manage to see into the hallway. Its a mess! Nothing unusual or wrong in that. But this is a mess that has been accumulated over many years. All we can see are bits of old television cabinets and bike frames intertwined with pieces of tubing, cables, brass horse shoes, walking sticks, clothing, cupboard doors, bin bags, shelving brackets, a hat stand…..and stacks and stacks of papers under the assorted junk, in the assorted junk, on top of the assorted junk, behind the junk and in front of the junk……
……All this was on the one wall that we could see through the gap in the door!
We both push and heave against the door to try and move the mountain of crap that is barring our entry. Just enough space is made to squeeze into the hall way. There is no way we can bring our kit in….there is no room to turn around. The gap on the floor is only big enough to put one foot in front of the other in some sort of commando move. All around us from floor to ceiling we are surrounded, cocooned by junk and tangled mess! The ceiling is not even visible. Even though it is still daylight outside and the front door is partially open we cannot see further than a couple of feet into the hallway.
Stepping backwards and trying not to get snagged on the bits of junk that seem to be reaching out to stop us, we reverse out of the house. A quick look around the back of the house confirms that this is the only way in. We stow our kit back on the truck taking only the bag & mask and a torch with us. The neighbour has come out and explains that the gentleman who has not been seen is always coming and going from his house with parcels and bundles of stuff.
I toy with the idea of tying a rope around my waist before entering the house again….should I get lost then my crew-mate could pull me to safety. Squeezing through the gap again I switch on my torch and follow the tiny footpath on the floor to where I assume the stairs should be. Calling out every minute or so to the occupier that we are from the Ambulance Service also confirms to my crew-mate that I am still alive, that I am still trail blazing ahead.
My foot hits something solid on the floor….its the first step of the stairs. There appears to be no gap left or right of my tiny trail leading to any other rooms. Cautiously I ascend the stairs shining my mag-lite left, right, up, down in an attempt to make sense of my surroundings. It is bizarre….I am essentially caving/potholing in suburbia! My heart is beating faster and my senses are working overtime…big time! Every now and then my progress is halted as I have to stop and dis-entangle myself from either a snippet of barbed wire or collection of old door handles.
After what seemed like an age, I arrive (I think) at the top of the stairs. My back is aching from having to stoop beneath the overhanging debris and having to twist in an effort to avoid being snagged. I think I have travelled maybe 10 – 14 feet up the stairs. Every so often, I come across an empty Pot Noodle container or an empty Cuppa Soup placed within the walls of this tangled madness. I make a quick mental note to get some “Sweet & Sour Pot Noodles” for my pack up!
To my right I can just make out a door….leading into a bathroom. I peer into the room shining my torch all around. Again there is only a very small trail that leads to enough room to stand at the sink or stand at the toilet. Everywhere else in the bathroom is full. Full of junk, full of papers, full of wood, full of clothes….in fact it is full! Carefully I move backwards and guess that somewhere to my left must be a bedroom or two.
Using my torch to plan out my next steps I edge ninja like along the landing…..slowly. Suddenly it all goes dark! “Shit & bollocks!” My batteries have packed in! I cannot see a thing! Even my hand in front of my face! But I can still hear….and I can still smell….and I can still feel…..and…………….I can still sense! I know my crew-mate is only a matter of twenty or so feet away in the hallway but he might as well be twenty or so miles away! The hairs on the back of my neck are standing to attention!
Using my now defunct mag-lite, I tap along the junk walls and feel with my feet with my other arm outstretched to ward off any possible attack by a zombie, flesh eating, homicidal maniac. I make another mental note to stop watching horror films and watch Coronation Street instead! ………….“Crash!” Part of the wall has come away and toppled behind me! I shout back to my crew-mate that I,m okay and I continue on my quest.
To my left, I catch sight of a chink of light from somewhere up ahead. I aim moth like towards this beacon and eventually find the bedroom door. Calling out again to any unsuspecting occupiers (or zombies) “Ambulance…is there any one there?“ I push the bedroom door open. Everything about this house is like being in a permanent state of tunnel vision. My peripheral vision is crowded with junk and directly in front of me at the end of my tiny trail……I find the gentleman to who we,ve being called.
Even in the dim light that is coming through the dirty black net curtains, I can see that he is dead. Lying on his back on his bed surrounded by junk. He is cyanosed and when I attempt to lift his arm he is unyielding due to the onset of rigor mortis. I call back to my crew-mate that the gentleman is “Purpleplus”. Nothing can be done for him. All that remains for us to do is complete the “Diagnosis of Death” forms and other paperwork for the police and coroner.
Getting back out of the house is almost as difficult as getting in. And when I step outside I squint against the harsh daylight. Moments later the Police arrive and I jokingly advise them to dispense with their belt-kit and body armour before entering the house as they will become stuck and we will have to call the Fire Brigade to cut them out!
We call “Clear” on the radio and we are promptly returned to station for a welcome cup of tea! On the short journey back to base I wonder what would have happened if the gentleman had still being alive but unconscious? How the hell would we have got him out?