My dad wrote this beginning of a short story some time ago. I keep pestering him to continue writing it, but nothing yet. Maybe posting what he’s written so far will prompt a response…
It was the coldest day anybody could remember. It had been cold for a week now. The weather man was calling for snow. He was predicting six inches or more. Since we don’t normally get snow, the town was in a tizzy. People were buying bread and milk like it was their last chance. For some it would be.
Jim and I were hanging around the firehouse, just like we did every Sunday. It was like a ritual to us. We would check all the equipment, to be sure all was in proper working order. The department was strictly volunteer, but to us it was our life. I had been a member for 12 years and Jim had been there for nine. Over time we had become best friends, and had gone through some terrible tragedies together. It helped us keep our sanity.
I was an Engineer, a fancy title for someone who drive the firetrucks and operates the pump. Jim was a Firefighter, the backbone of the department. He had the training and experience to move up the ladder, but there was something special to him, about being on the nozzle, being the first one in the attack of the fire. That was his satisfaction, putting the fire out. Of course he felt better when he knew I was driving. He and the rest of the crew depended on me, and the rest of the engineering crew, to give them that precious liquid that was needed for them to do their job.
It was about 1 pm when the snow started to fall. For a Sunday the streets were pretty busy. It looked like the last minute Christmas shoppers had returned for one more assault on the town. The firehouse radio was chirping with noise about a call in the northern part of the county. It wouldn’t involve us. The snow was pretty heavy, and because of the cold, it was sticking and accumulating rapidly.
Several more members had arrived at the firehouse now. It was like a calling, to be there just in case they were needed. The companionship of the members was like a close knit family. We all depended on each other. If you were going to go into a burning building, you wanted to know your backup was a reliable man. You didn’t want somebody who would run out on you if you needed help. We were a good team. Damn good!
It was 3 pm. The radio came alive. It sounded the special “all call” signal. We all seemed to know it would involve us. This signal alerted all stations that an incoming fire call would require three or more stations to respond. The central radio operator blurted, “Building fire, South Baptist Church, Smallwood, companies 3, 16, 9 and 22 due to respond!” We all scrambled. It was out first due area. Jim went to the radio room and put the company “on the air.” The dispatcher came back with more information. “There has been an explosion, possible persons trapped and several injuries. I am dispatching several ambulances.”
“10-4!” Jim answered. We all heard the message and knew the urgency in getting on the road. All we needed was an officer to ride the right front seat. One was coming.
Bob Gallant lived just down the street. He was a Captain in the department, and everybody considered him to be the best. One year he was nominated at the state level for special recognition of his expertise. He won.
The firetruck was all fired up, the lights were flashing and turning. Bob pulled up in his truck, and we were ready to go. He ran into the firehouse and grabbed his gear. Tommy Hacket handed him a portable radio, and in the front seat he jumped. As he gathered everything, he noticed the size of the crew we had on board. He yelled at me over the roar of the diesel engine. “We have a full crew, lets roll!” I honked the horn twice to get a response from the people on the tail board. Two beeps came over the speaker in the cab. They were ready. With the siren blaring, I eased the truck out into the snow filled road. We were on our way. Bob picked up the radio mic and notified dispatch, “Engine 32 on the air.”
The streets were slick and clogged with cars. The church was 2 miles away from our station and on a normal day we would be there in three minutes. It seemed like an eternity. The radio was dancing with messages, mostly other units going on the air. It looked like everybody else was at their stations also. That was good. All of a sudden the radio shrieked with a voice that was definitely excited. “Ambulance 699 on the scene, all units expedite! Expedite!” We were going as fast as we could. We could see smoke rolling into the air. It was serious.
The church was well known to us all. We had just done a pre?plan on it two months ago. It was an old wooden building that had been added on to and modified over the years. It was a fireman’s nightmare. There were no fire hydrants in the area, but the Scholler farm was near, and they had a pond. That was to be our main source of water. If we could find it in the snow.
We could see the building now. There was fire everywhere. As we approached the scene, Bob hollered to the men in the jumpsuits, “Pull the master attack line, and an inch-an-a-half!” The men had already put their masks on and were ready to attack the fire. After the truck stopped, the men went into action. Bob radioed the dispatcher, “Condition Three! Give me three more companies.”
“10-4,” was the reply. We could see the ambulance crew working on people, and burning debris was everywhere.
As a bystander looking on, it might have appeared to be mass hysteria, but this was a seasoned group of people. They knew their tasks—it was like instinct to them. Since there were injuries on the outside, we knew there might be casualties on the inside. The first task was to get a hose line in service so that the search and rescue could be done. Bob and I knew that the amount of time we had for water flow, with the amount of fire showing would be short. We needed more water than we carried, but traveling would be slow for the other trucks. Bob called on the radio to see if one of our other trucks was on the road yet. It was. We knew they would be the next truck in. We were in good hand also–“Scrapple” Murphy was driving this one. He had been an instructor for the University for several years now. He taught “Water Operations.” He would have to put all his experience together for this one.
“Engine 32 to Engine 34,” Bob barked into the radio. “Proceed to the Scholler farm to set up drafting operations.”
“You got it!” came the answer. Bob ordered the engine from company 16 to “lay dual lines from the pond to the scene.” We were in motion.
Jim and Tommy had pulled one of the hose lines, and were ready to attack the fire. The line was being “charged” with water. I cranked the big diesel up to get the proper pressure on the line. Bill Gates and Bebe Hanks pulled the other line. They were going to back Jim and Tommy up. I charged that line, and cranked the throttle up a little more. The diesel was screaming.
Bob went about his business getting the command post set up. He had heard on the radio that the chief was on the way. The engine from company 9 had their assistant chief on board and a crew of eight. Engine 221 had a crew of six. Manpower for the initial response looked good. If they could only get there…
Jim motioned to Tommy he was ready. Tommy gave him the thumbs-up signal. Bill and Bebe moved into position. They opened up the nozzles. The water spewed forth like a water festival. In the front door they went. The fire danced around like a rocket engine out of control. The heat was intense, but the water helped keep it at bay. They had only gone a few feet when Tommy tripped over something. It was a body. He tapped Jim on the shoulder to get him to turn around. He motioned downward. Jim couldn’t see what he was trying to show him, but he knew what it was. Jim shut the hose line down so they could move the body outside. Perhaps there was still hope.
Another ambulance crew had arrived, and the triage outside was in control. I had walked around to the front of the pumper and saw the crew coming out carrying something. I ran over to an ambulance and told them to proceed to the front door. They were needed. I ran back to the pumper to check the water level in the tank. So far, so good.
Engine 34 was on the farm now, and had reached the spot where the pond was. It didn’t look the same. They approached as close as they dared. “Scrapple” looked at his young officer and said, “Let’s find us some water.”
Ted Jackson was the young officer. He had been a lieutenant for six months, a rookie. He looked like he was fourteen years old, although he was twenty. The members would always kid him about his high voice. They all wanted to know when it would change.
Ted ordered some of the crew to get shovels so they could find the edge of the pond. The others were told to get the hard sleeves down.
To be continued…(?)