Alfred C Thompson II
All other noise stops when the first bell rings. The knives and forks are placed silently on the table. The card players around the poker table stop their banter. The guy with the TV remote presses the mute button. No one moves. Ring, Ring, Ring. A pause. Two more rings and another pause. The third set of bells rings six times before a pause. Then five more rings. Everyone moves.
There is a huge chart at the front of the firehouse. Every fire alarm box this fire house responds to is listed there. First by its bell code and then its address. No one looks at it. Everyone knows box 3265. It rings every night. Sometimes several times a night. Always a false alarm. Too many kids with too much free time and too little to do. But this might be a real fire. No one knows so they respond as if people’s lives depend on how fast they get there. They are professionals and that is the only way they know how to respond.
The men upstairs reading or sleeping on bunks jump from the beds. They race down the stairs. The shiny brass poles are ignored. Too many injuries from them. No one wants to arrive at the scene already hurt. Men jump into their boots, throw on their turnout coats and place their heavy helmets on their heads. In seconds, everyone is in their seats. The engine company lieutenant checks the seats and yells “Roll” to the driver.
The ladder company rolls out right behind them taking advantage of the room in the now empty firehouse to take a wide fast turn on to the street. The driver slows but does not stop as a member of the company who had run into the street to stop traffic jumps onto the rig. The truck accelerates, lights and siren going, as the firemen settles into his seat.
The box is only blocks away. They smell the smoke before they see the fire. This one is for real. They sniff the air trying to identify the type of fire. Is it a car fire, a building fire, perhaps a pile of trash? They know it is a building fire even before they spot flames in windows. The engine company pulls up to a hydrant and the crew flies into action. Two men pull off a short thick hose that will connect the hydrant to the pumper. A third puts a large, heavy hydrant wrench to work. The hydrant is open when the hose reaches it. One end to the hydrant, the other to the pumper. The driver, who is also the pumper’s engineer, stands ready at his controls. As soon as the hose connects the hydrant to the pumper the hydrant wrench is at work opening the water valve.
The crew of the engine is already running fire hose into the building.
The ladder crew has also been hard at work. The “tormenters”, the truck’s large hydraulic stabilizers, have been extended and the truck is level. The tower ladder is ready to deploy.
The Battalion Chief has arrived. Had there been no visible fire he would have ordered a one and one. The first responding engine and truck would have investigated and the two other engines and additional ladder would have returned to their fire houses until needed again. But this is a real fire. The three story building is determined to be "fully involved." The Chief orders an “all hands” telling the other three fire companies to continue at full speed.
A woman approaches the captain of the ladder company. “There are babies on the third floor” she cries. “Their mother is out but I heard the babies.” The captain doesn’t ask how a mother could leave babies alone. He’s seen it before. But it’s not his job to solve social problems. It’s his job to save lives. “Where in the house are they?” he shouts. “Which window should we go in?” The woman points. The captain calls to his men.
“This woman says there are kids in that room.” he turns to the woman, “how many?” “Two” she says. “A boy and a girl. Three and four.” The captain makes eye contact with two of his men. No words need be spoken. The men have masks in their hands and air tanks already on their backs. They climb up on the rig and the ladder lines up. The first man carries a weird looking iron bar with hooks on it, a Halloran tool for opening doors and windows and anything else that might get in his way. The men get in the bucket at the end of the tower ladder and the engineer starts it moving. No one thinks about the wisdom of rushing into a burning building. “Let’s get those kids out of there” is the only thought.
The tower reaches the window. There is a child safety barrier at the window. It is there to keep kids from falling out but right now it is in the way. Strong arms, the right tool and lots of practice make quick work of the barrier. The window is smashed open and the first fireman is inside and down flat on the floor. The smoke is thick but there is some visibility near the floor. The second firefighter enters and the search begins. They find the crib easily. The sound of a crying baby draws them right to it. The baby is taken out of the crib and a fireman starts back for the window. Smoke kills, takes more victims than fire alone.
The search continues for the other child. There is no more crying. That’s not a good sign. A bed is found but there is no one on it. There is no one under it either. Time is not on the searchers side. A closet is found. Behind the door a child is hiding. The child is not moving. The fireman picks up the baby and runs for the window. Time is of the essence.
Out the window and on to the bucket the fireman carries the baby. There is no sign of life in the baby’s small chest. “Get us down!” he shouts. His mask is discarded and the fireman starts mouth to mouth resuscitation. The bucket is lowered directly to the ground. Anxious hands take the baby from her drained rescuer. Most of the men are EMT trained and a team takes over and attempts to bring breath back to the child. Finally they succeed and are rewarded with cries.
The mother has shown up. She runs to her baby, tears in her eyes. An ambulance arrives and the mother and her children leave with them for the hospital.
The ladder crew returns to work. There is still fire to extinguish.
Hours latter the fire is out. The building is searched for bodies. Thankfully none are found. The Fire Marshall has determined that someone who fell asleep with a cigarette started the fire. They were awake and out of the house early. Two babies almost didn’t make it though.
The hoses are taken up. They’ll be hung up to dry and fresh hoses will be reloaded when the engine gets back to the fire house. No one will rest until everything is ready for another run. The ladder crew packs up their air packs and tools. A special truck had come by to replace the empty air tanks.
The crews get back to their fire house and put everything in its place. The card game continues where it left off. The cold food is reheated and finished. The TV is showing the end of what appears to have been an exciting game.
Everything is calm. Until the bells ring again.
Copyright Alfred C Thompson II 2007