I sat as still as I could behind the steering wheel of the old Rover, staring at the cracked windscreen. The sun was beating down and I could feel the heat searing my skin through the open window.
"It's okay, I'm holding your head," reassured the firefighter sat in the seat behind me. His tight grip made me feel more comfortable. I no longer felt that I was alone.
I could hear noises, unusual clanking sounds and voices that I didn't recognise. Out of the corner of my eye, I was able to make out the crowd that had gathered to watch. I was nervous and it was beginning to feel like a dream.
Unable to turn around, I realised my state of helplessness, stuck in a wreck of a car waiting to be cut out. Apparently I was lucky that the body of the car was intact and that no mechanical parts had protruded through to the footwell.
Against the unfamiliar sounds of breaking metal, the firefighter behind me spoke like an old friend, with warmth and assurance, envoking my trust as he described what was happening. As his colleagues removed the car's bodywork with heavy hydraulic tools, my own body was protected by a blanket and shield. Thanks to the careful commentary I felt safe.
"How many of you are there?" I asked, waiting for clues in his voice so I could picture what he looked like.
"Five," he replied.
I could swear my heart skipped a beat. Suddenly I realised the seriousness of the situation. Five firefighters tasked with ensuring a potential casualty could escape from the car safely and without any life-threatening injury.
My mind started racing, splitting in directions that I could not control. From relief to respect, my emotions bounced backwards and forwards, finally settling on immense awe for these men whom until now I had taken for granted. I was witnessing a precison based human rescue machine in action, not just individuals in professional uniform helping me out of a car but a team working to co-ordinated perfection.
With the roof of the car removed, conditions were now safe to lift me out. I could feel the stiffness of a board that had been inserted behind my back. I closed my eyes as I felt another board push down to the base of my spine.
Very quickly came the command for the initial lift and I felt the first grip on my legs. For a brief moment I held my breath in anticpation. Renewed fear flooded my mind and I squeezed my eyes closed even tighter in denial of what was to come.
"What if they can't lift me?" came the irrational worry coupled with the regret that I'd put on so much weight in recent months.
"For crying out loud, they're bloody firemen. Of course they'll lift you" answered the more rational side of my brain.
My paranoia was suddenly broken by an effiicient but almost embarrassed request to move my knees apart. As I glanced towards the steering wheel, I recognised that unless I did so, my body could be jammed during the lift. The last time I'd received such an awkward request was during childbirth. This latest situation shared the same levels of urgency where the only course of action was to swap dignity for feelings of relief.
And it was seconds from all being over. I closed my eyes once more and in short stages I felt the crew carefully lift my body onto the full length of the board, using their strength combined with gentleness to ease me into a horizontal position, safely and without injury.
It was over! And I was lucky. I quickly rose to my feet to shake hands with each firefighter as they received a round of applause from the spectators nearby.
Yes, I was very lucky indeed. Fortunate not to be a real casualty and honoured to play a part in a situation that I hope is never repeated "for real".
My experience was as a participant in a live demonstration that took place at our local fire station on Saturday and I feel hugely privileged. I'd been nervous beforehand about being trapped in a small space and relinquishing control during the process, but these short 15 minutes proved that I had nothing to worry about at all. And although it felt real, let's face it, being party to a true emergency would have been a whole lot worse.
But in that short time I learned some incredible lessons and gained valuable insight into the work of the men - and of course women - who often put their lives at risk, to save others. I can certainly say that I am now both enlightened and truly grateful. The crew who "rescued" me were totally awesome indeed.