I HAVE before me a small piece of canvas, scorched and blackened, which was once part of a fire-escape, worked by a fireman named JOE FORD, of whom the papers said: “But for him the lives of six persons would have been sacrificed.
The six were in danger from fire. They were unable to help themselves, nor could any friends render them assistance. But a saviour came! Tidings of the outbreak reached the fireman, and buckling on his helmet, he ran swiftly to the spot.
As the fireman entered the street, clouds of dense black smoke were rolling up from the lower parts of the house that was burning; but with cool courage he fixed his machine, and threw up his ladders to where the poor terrified people were whom he had come to save. Then up to them he went, and they waited his approach.
In the meantime the flames within the building were spreading rapidly; the smoke without was becoming blacker and hotter, and the saving arm, unlike His whose hand, “is not shortened, that it cannot save,” (Isaiah 59:1), was becoming weak and exhausted. Again the fireman mounted the ladder, and again he descended with another precious burden. He had saved four. Again he trod that narrow way of escape, and once more brought forth a rescued one. Five persons saved from the flames!
Now the crowd stood breathless; a woman appeared at the open window. There was one still left in peril. Had the fireman strength to reach her? Why should he, exhausted as he now was, risk his life for a stranger? He had undertaken the office, it was true, but had he reckoned upon such a sacrifice? Was such a deed expected? If Joe Ford would save the shrieking woman, he must risk his own life.
Rallying his strength, the brave fireman mounted a sixth time, amidst ringing cheers from the crowd. He reached her! Steadily, step by step, he bore her down the ladders to the opening in the canvas shoot. He placed her in it, and slid her to the ground. he was saved!
Now for the brave fireman. Where was he? he flames burst through the first floor window beneath him; they set the canvas of the escape on fire. At the same instant Joe's axe became entangled in the wire netting, and he hung suspended in the very fire from which he had rescued the woman. While she stood in safety, beyond the reach of harm, he was consumed in the very flames from which he had saved her. With dying energy the poor fellow managed to break away from his terrible position, but only to fall, with a heavy crash, some twenty-five feet to the pavement crushing his helmet almost into the brain. I shudder as I think of that awful moment.
Oh, if a London crowd could weep as a fellow man suffered, what tears ought we to weep as we remember how the gracious Saviour expired for sinners on the Cross! He took the sinners' place in perfect love; He bore the wrath of God due to us; He was, as it were, consumed as a sacrifice in the fiery flames of Divine judgment on our account.
I remember how even strangers honored that hero, as his body, carried upon a draped engine, passed through the London streets. Bells were tolling from the churches, shopkeepers put up shutters along the route, and not a few rough men and women did I see drop a tear as the long procession passed. The battered helmet placed among the wreaths upon the Union Jack covering the coffin touched many a heart.
-By William Luff