She became a firefighter at 18 and is now a deputy assistant commissioner. As she points out, this makes her an anomaly: 'At present, there are more people named Chris in chief fire officer roles than there are women chief fire officers.'
More remarkably, as a teen she was homeless, living on the streets in a state of constant watchfulness — an instinct that would later prove essential when making life-or-death decisions.
This is an inspiring, vivid account of the dangerous world of firefighting
The book is at its most engaging when the author gives detailed accounts of real-life incidents. She powerfully conveys the thrill of driving a response car with sirens blaring (“Making quick, safe progress along busy roads is invigorating. My sirens are blaring and I’m feeling confident as I snake between the other vehicles”), and it is encouraging to see her succeed in a career in which women make up just 5 per cent of the workforce, especially given her difficult early life: after several years of homelessness – she lived in a squat, selling the Big Issue while she was studying for her GCSEs – she joined the fire service at the age of eighteen and worked her way up to the role of deputy assistant commissioner. Potential readers should bear in mind, however, that this is ultimately more a management psychology book than a memoir.
The Heat of the Moment is a vivid reminder of the horrors that firefighters face daily – and the debt of gratitude society owes them. We learn how it really feels to enter a burning house – “too hot to draw breath. But the sensation doesn’t ease … it just gets hotter” – only to find a pram in the hall, and realise there is probably a child upstairs. Cohen-Hatton takes us through a series of mind-bendingly awful decisions: who should she rescue first, the children trapped in a car with their dead father, or the unconscious man in the other vehicle? Is it better to divert floodwater into a hospital or an electricity substation? Can she justify sending firefighters into a burning warehouse when she knows no one is inside?