Having a “Fly on the Wall” Day at Home.
It’s in the low sixties today, and sunny. We have the greenhouse windows open, and the kitchen’s Dutch Door top, and the air is fresh and just a bit smoky. Less than two miles from here, in the woodlands behind the elementary school, the firefighters are battling a five acre brush fire, and calling for mutual aid looking for more brush trucks (which are large fire engines that have four wheel drive and carry more than a hundred gallons of water.) We haven’t had much rain in the past few weeks, and so the woodlands are dry, laden with fallen branches from the winter storms. The wind is light, just 4 mph, which is fortunate in such conditions. In years past, Rick would have long ago donned his fire ‘turnout gear’ and responded either to the scene or to the fire house to bring the truck to the fire. But today he is home with me, connected only by listening to the monitor, hearing the calls for more trucks. Rob isn’t home today ~ if he were, he too would respond to the call.
I listened to Vice President Biden when he addressed the police and Tuft University’s students and faculty this past week, at the funeral service for campus police officer Collier who was assassinated by the two brothers who had set the bombs at the Boston Marathon’s finish line a few days earlier. Joe Biden’s words echoed my memories of my father’s own … Biden offered his condolences to the Collier family, and in doing so, he reminded all of the officers present that their families, too, are affected by worry each time an officer puts on his uniform and heads out the door. That is true for the families of firefighters as well; my dad knew that, and always reminded his rookies to keep one hand ‘on the ladder for the family who waits for you at home’ when working a fire call. I knew my dad would be proud of Biden’s words.
Hopkinton, a town about twenty-five miles away from us, has a 40 acre woodland fire going at the same time. With a fire that large, it may well take more than a day to extinguish it. Rob will be on duty in nearby Lexington tomorrow and may be called to that as mutual aid. I’m told that the state had given used ‘deuce and a half’ trucks to several small towns, as those are vehicles that can drive through woodlands and they have tanks that would bring about a hundred gallons of water to the scene of fires like these. I’m also told that the state retrieved those vehicles a few years ago, leaving the towns without the extra support. Our town has a ‘combo’ truck to use for woodland fires: it is a Combination Engine/Pumper and carries water and travels with good traction. Once, a few years ago, the Combo was weighed down with water and stuck in the mud on the way into a fire scene: our Deuce and the neighboring town’s Deuce were able to work together to pull the Combo out. We’re without that support, now. No one has been able to tell me why, yet.
Of course the ‘families who wait at home’ wait with worry. Certainly my mother lived with that worry, as my dad rose through the ranks of the fire department, from private, to lieutenant, to captain and then to Deputy Chief. Most family members of firefighters wait with prayers on our breath. Many wait without monitoring via radio transmissions. When my dad was injured in a warehouse fire (the roof collapsed and timbers fell and pinned him) we heard via a neighbor, who had heard via a newscast on a portable transistor radio. I was about eleven then, and was a spectator at the fire, just a block away from where we lived in the City of Boston. Dad was a lieutenant then, and was taken to the hospital to be checked out. I ran home, not knowing that he was the firefighter on the stretcher, but knowing that I wasn’t supposed to be at a fire scene. Dad always told us sternly to stay away and out of the way. I learned when I ran up the street that Dad’s name was on the radio, and that he was hurt. But an hour later, he came home in a cab, to let us know that he was alright, they got him out before the smoke could do its damage. And we all hugged and kissed him. I never told anyone that I was there at the scene. But being there, I saw how quickly all of the firefighters reacted to the collapse, and how quickly they found a way to release him and the others who had been pinned by the collapse. And I may have felt the most relief of all.
When Rick decided to join the fire department in town, I was hesitant. My dad had just retired a few years before, just a year after my brother had died of smoke inhalation in a late night fire in Connecticut, where he was manning an all night open shelter for runaway teens. His death was very hard on my dad, following just a year after the Vendome fire where Dad felt the loss of nine of his brother firefighters in his beloved City of Boston. I told Rick why I was hesitant, with memories of worry as a child. I told him I’d learned to respect the training that protected my dad in the fire department, but that even with that training and equipment, lives could be lost. I didn’t know how much or how diligent the training in a small town department would be. But in time, I came to respect that, too.
Ten years later, our daughter joined Rick as a firefighter, and began the trainings that would help her to protect others and herself. She went to college then, and no longer attended trainings or fires in town. Her dad, Rick, later ‘retired’ from the firefighting role as he could no longer attend the trainings, either, and knew that without those, he would not be as capable a firefighter as he would want to be. His last fire, a structure fire near the square, trapped him for a moment in the cellar of the building, when a ‘flashback’ knocked him off his feet.
And then another ten years later, our son decided, too, to join the fire department. He began as an explorer: fourteen years old, he and others would train on supportive tasks that would help the firefighters at the scene of a woods fire. The learned to test the hoses, test the portable pumps, fill the air canisters for the breathing apparatus and provide drinking water and tools as needed by the firefighters. When he turned 18 he joined the department as a firefighter. He went to the state training academy and passed the physical and paper and pen tests; he then went through training as an EMT and then a paramedic, and is now fully employed by Lexington.
And so I’ve learned through the years and generations to trust the brotherhood of the fire departments. I’ve learned to respect the trainings that they use. I’ve become a part of the fire department’s fund raising association, so that they can continue to buy proper equipment and train in proper ways. I’ve been a daughter, a wife, and now a mother of firefighters. I accept the stress that comes with those roles. And I still pray each time a siren is heard, near or in the distance. It might be a fire truck, or a police car, or an ambulance. Whichever it is, it carries well-trained, caring individuals to the scene of someone in need of protection, of care, and of help. It carries men and women who are prepared and will get the job done. And it carries people who are loved by “those who wait and worry at home.” God be with them, and with us, all.
And, for those who want to know, “How am I doing?” I’m keeping busy, helping Erie 4, “the oldest, privately-owned and funded volunteer fire company that is still working as part of a town fire department in the United States of America” as their clerk, and I’m helping to raise money for our public library as the Vice President of the Friends of the Georgetown Peabody Library, and I work to help promote the visibility of small businesses in town as a member of the Alliance for Georgetown. I am a member of two local quilt/needlework guilds, and I am sole proprietor of Terry’s Thoughts and Threads, in which I make and sell quilts and books. Of course, I also help Rick with fabric accessories in our Wooden Toy and Gift shop. Retired after 30 years of teaching public school classes, I am enjoying my free time, and spending every minute I can with Rick. At a recent doctor’s visit, I was pronounced ‘unlucky in health but doing quite well.’ And that’s good enough for me. I’m happy. I’m ‘fine.’ As I often say, I’m not perfect. But I’m enough. My goals in life are simpler now. I just want to continue to be enough.