Bleepers called Downham firefighters to a ‘building fire’ but the realisation that they would be tackling flames in their station did not dawn until they turned the corner into Ryston Close.
Watch manager Kim Scotney and nine of his retained crew were forced to watch helplessly as a series of explosions sent the flames soaring into the roof and the rest of the building.
With all of their equipment and the 18-month-old fire engine locked in the building there was little they could do to stop the blaze from spreading.
A spare fire engine, which was being used for driver training, was parked behind the burning station but the keys were out of their reach in a locker in the blazing vehicle bay.
Mr Scotney, who worked as a firefighter for 28 years in the town, said: “I am a gutted – it is unbelievable.
“At home we were just aware it was a building fire. When we got to the end of the road, we saw lots of smoke and assumed it was a car fire. The smoke was so thick as we turned the corner.
“Flames were licking around the front and I thought ‘Oh my God – the station is on fire’.
“We tried in vain to see if we could suppress the fire but we couldn’t get any equipment to fight it from the outside.
“We felt helpless as we are firefighters who should have been able to do something but we couldn’t.”
Mr Scotney and his team were called out at 12.30am on Tuesday morning after officers from the neighbouring police station smelt smoke and raised the alarm.
When the fire team arrived the blaze was concentrated on the fire engine and the team quickly contacted control for back-up.
Mr Scotney said: “Within 10 minutes it was a ferocious fire and started to go through the roof.
“All of a sudden we had several explosions, one after another.”
The explosions could have been caused by a number of materials which needed to be kept in the station such as fuels. Tanks of oxygen, used by officers in fires and on medical call-outs, were stored on site along with a engine for a rescue raft, which had been delivered weeks before and was as yet unused.
As the station is surrounded by homes, police began to wake up and evacuate the residents, who then waited at the bottom of the road.
Firefighters from Lynn, Methwold, Swaffham, Terrington St Clement along with colleagues from Littleport and Wisbech were called in to tackle the flames. They were supported by a water carrier from Fakenham and the control unit from Wymondham.
Debris from the building such as insulation and the remains of oxygen tanks, were blown away by the wind.
Mr Scotney says the fire was brought under control within an hour with crews damping down hot spots afterwards.
He said: “We have lost personal possessions in our lockers. I personally have lost photographs.
“At the end of the day no-one was hurt or killed. Things can be replaced.
“We may have lost our station but we have not lost the fire cover. The police have been very kind to help us with a building and we will continue to cover Downham and the surrounding area. This won’t beat us.”
The team has also thanked businesses and residents in Downham for their kindness and donations following the blaze.
Neighbours rallied around in the hours after the blaze to provide bacon sandwiches and warm drinks for the fire crews.
The blaze has not stopped the Downham crew from raising money for the Firefighters charity with a car wash on Saturday.
The team will be washing cars at the Chris Brown garage in Sovereign Way, Trafalgar Industrial Estate, from 9am to 4pm.
They will be charging £5 per vehicle.