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What to Do in Case of Fire

What to Do in Case of Fire
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Welcome to the October 2008 edition of “Jud’s New England Journal,” the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, editor-in-chief of Yankee Magazine, published since 1935 in Dublin, New Hampshire.

What to Do in Case of Fire

As a volunteer fireman, I learned early on how to mask my fears — and my inadequacies.

There’s a “coming together” evident in a small New England town after the summer is over. Social divisions become noticeably fuzzier. Town organizations spring back to life with renewed vigor, and almost all are socially integrated. An exception is the volunteer fire company. No “year-round summer people” become firemen. It’s always all townspeople. And unlike many other town organizations, it’s active all summer, too.

I’m not sure whether or not I qualify as a bona fide “townsperson” — after all, I came “from away” — but nonetheless I was a volunteer fireman here in Dublin, New Hampshire, for about 15 years. I was and still am inordinately afraid of fires, and I have zero aptitude in mechanical matters. However, upon arriving in town 50 years ago, I felt it was my duty to join the fire company simply because the fire station was located a hundred yards from my Yankee office. When the siren sounded, I was one of those readily available. The first man to reach the firehouse after the alarm began to wail always jumped into the 10-wheel, multiton fire truck, started it up, and commenced to move out in the direction indicated on the truck radio. Later-arriving firemen would hop aboard as the truck moved, bring the second or third truck, or follow in their own cars.

I was very often that first man to arrive at the station. And that constituted a problem. To put it simply, I could never remember how to start or how to shift the many gears in that big truck — or for that matter, how to tune in the radio.

The solution to my problem presented itself around the time the company purchased waterproof fire coats and helmets for us volunteers to use during a fire. They were hung on the rear of the truck. The first time the alarm sounded after the purchase of this equipment, I was once again the first arrival at the station. Instead of jumping in the cab and struggling with the gears, I ran to the rear of the truck to fetch my new coat and helmet. Running back forward, I noted to my intense relief that someone else was already in the driver’s seat starting the engine.

So at every subsequent fire, I made certain I took a long enough period of time fetching a coat and helmet to avoid the driver’s job. Often this required initially running around and around the truck a number of times until someone else finally arrived, but no one ever caught me on that particular ruse. During a fire alarm, the main thing is to run. It really doesn’t matter to anyone where you’re running to or why. Just run.

I eventually resigned from the fire company, feeling I’d served my stint and that there were enough men close by the fire station. But despite my fears and all the rest, I miss the fire company today. I particularly miss those times after the fire was out, when a can of beer or a little whiskey might be passed around while we were on night duty, occasionally hosing down still-burning embers. There was a euphoric feeling of having worked, endured under trying circumstances, and succeeded together. “We’ve never lost a cellar hole,” we always said at some point.

I have never, before or since, felt more a part of what I might call the central spiritual core of the town than I always did during these quiet times after all the excitement was over.

Wonderful memories. But I’m still a mechanical dunce.

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What to Do in Case of Fire

Updated Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

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