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The Day I Was Left Behind at the Fire Station
True Fire Tale by Michael J. Legeros
The last person to leave the firehouse also shuts the door. When the buzzer sounds at a single-company station, the officer and the driver make a bee-line to the cab. The privates grab their gear and all but one climbs into a jump seat as the diesel engine ignites. (Riding on the tailboard is a thing of the past, thank goodness.) With a hostile hiss from the air brakes, the rig is pulled onto the apron. The last member makes whatever rounds-- locking the front door, taking the chicken off the grill, etc.-- before punching the buttons that lower the doors. (In Raleigh, all apparatus were once equipped with remote controls. One too many repair bills promptly put an end to *that* con- venience...) As the bay doors close behind him (or her), the fire- fighter hops onto the truck. Sometimes it's stopped; sometimes it's creeping forward. Slam of the door-- if you're lucky enough to be riding in a closed-cab truck-- and you're off. Lights flashing, horn honking, and the cars *still* won't get out of your way. The station house is left empty, though not necessarily quiet. Tele- visions might be playing; the phone may occasionally ring. People pas- sing on the street can hear the radio booming other fire calls through the empty apparatus bay. If the alarm occurs at meal time, forks and knives and napkins are left in place. (On fried-chicken day, though, I was known to take a wing with me...) The station stays lit, thanks to the trip lights-- those overheads that activate along with the buzzer. (An invention invaluable at night!) Firefighter's personal possessions are also scattered about the station and that's why the front door is locked. Back doors, cellar doors, and rear entrances must be checked, as everything from a theft to an unintended guest can occur. (As it did on the day we awoke to discover a disheveled stranger asleep in the day room. The back door had been left unlocked and he just let himself in!) At a station with two or more companies-- maybe an aerial, maybe a rescue squad-- the last one aboard doesn't have worry about the doors. That is, unless theirs is the last unit to leave. (The pumper goes first and rightly so-- it's the one with the water!) When a spouse or Chief or off-duty firefighter is visiting, *they* handle the doors. They know to lock up behind them if they opt not to wait for our re- turn. (Most spouses learn enough of the dispatch lingo to listen if it's a working call or false alarm.) And, finally, there are those times when a visiting visitor leaves when we do, which is exactly what happened on the day I was left behind. An Assistant Chief was in the house. Not on business, just there to jaw. He and the Captain and the driver were in the day room; myself and the other private were milling about. Maybe on the phone, maybe in the office. When the alarm hit, the Chief said he'd head on and pro- ceeded to do just that. Now, as driver was expecting the *pumper* to leave first, he didn't notice when the red car pulled away. He was presuming that the Chief would hang behind and secure the station. Rumble, hiss, roar, and out the door they rolled. I had just punched the door buttons as I noticed the truck pulling onto the street and picking up speed. I ran outside, yelling and waving my arms. They didn't see me. And there I stood, surprised and a bit defeated, as I watched Engine 5 round the corner and continue down Clark Avenue. Looking back at the locked station, I wondered what to do next. This wasn't covered in our training at the academy. Do I sit outside and wait? Try to break back in? Find a pay phone and call the District Chief? Before I could ob- sess any further, a passenger vehicle pulled onto the apron. The driver hollered, "Need a ride?" And so, on that day that I was left behind at the fire station, a nice person picked me up and we chased the pumper to the call. (I'd heard the address as it was dispatched, so I knew where to direct the driver.) And there was the red truck, pulled off of Peace Street at St. Mary's. I thanked the person pro- fusely; our driver apologized profusely; and, as there was nothing to the call, we all got a good laugh on the way back to the station. End of story. Copyright 1999 by Michael J. Legeros
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Copyright 2021 by Michael J. Legeros