Interview taken from The Mirror Mag 2nd May 2000:
London's Burning pride itself on being true to life. But do the stars have any idea what a real firefighter has to cope with every day? We put Heather Peace to the test. So did she cut it or was it too much hard work?
Peace, 25, has played fire officer Sally Fields in London's
Burning for three years. We put her
through her paces at London's Old Kent Road fire station.
'When I walked into Old Kent Road, it felt familiar because we film London's Burning at a real fire station. But instantly there was this atmosphere, a sort of buzz. Firefighters never know what kind of emergency they might be called out to. That's probably why there was a lot of banter going on. It's partly adrenalin and partly a survival mechanism.
It was like "Yeah Heather! We've got three women firefighters at this station and they're great. When they first joinmed we were worried about all the swearing and farting.... but the men have got used to it now"
Unfortunately, I didn't get to meet any of the women because none were on my shift. But the guys were very complimentary about them. They have to be as fearless as the men, as I discovered when they wheeled out the equipment for me to try, like the turntable ladder. It's this scary looking contraption that extends into the air so firefighters can reach tall buildings. I climbed into the seat at the end of the ladder and was strapped in. Then it was winched up 100ft! Its difficult to describe the sensation. but from where I was, I could see the London Eye and the whole of the city. It was great. until I joined London's Burning I was petrified of heights and if this had been my first time on the ladder I probably would have chickened out.
Next up was a bit of hose work. If you think operating a piece of equipment that's pumping out thousands of gallons of pressurised water is like watering your garden, think again. It takes enormous physical strength. In fact, it took three of us to hold the hose. It made me realise how much a firefighters job is about teamwork. For instance, when they brought out the breathing apparatus that protects you from smoke inhalation, we used it in a kind of buddy system - a bit like scuba divers - where you and a partner share the oxygen. To be honest, this was my least favourite part of the day because I find having a mask on my face terribly claustrophobic.
I would have liked to slide down the fireman's pole, but regulations at Old Kent Road prohibited it. And bviously I would have loved to have gone on a real incident. On London's Burning the stunts are incredibly realistic. fires are mocked up using gallons of kerosene. Real boats are sunk. Cars are squashed. You do get a taste of what the job might be like. But lets face it, actors tend not to die at work. I doubt that anything could compare with the adrenalin and terror of a real blaze. That must be mind-blowing. I love all the gung-ho stuff on the show. Other actresses want to dress up and look sexy, but I prefer to play the hero.
At Old Kent Road I climbed into an exact replica of the clothes I wear on set. The uniform is a vile aubergine-coloured, flameproof fabric which is incredibly hot and unflattering. It makes you look like a heifer. I caught sight of my back view in a mirror - now I'm thinking of having "No bum shots" written into my contract. I also had to wear the helmet all day. It's regulation to keep it on while you're using the equipment - whereas we have a competition among the cast to see who can get their helmet off first in any scene. Nine times out of ten I'm the winner because I hate the thing so bloody much. Its sort of an ongoing joke.
In the coming series, though, there are some tears, too. Sally gets date-raped and mugged, and towards the end of the series we see her have a breakdown. When I first joined, the script would say "Sally cries", and I would say "No she doesn't, because no firefighter - man or woman - is a crybaby"
Could I be a firefighter in real life? Of course not I'd be a jibbering wreck.
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