There's a nature preserve that borders my back yard. We set out on our usual route, about a half mile walk. But then I varied it & went exploring and took some different paths, up some steep hills, down some hills, over to the lagoon, and so on and so forth. I figure we went five miles at least. Came home, got the puppy some water. It was 10:30.
This was the first Sunday in 6 months that I had not been down at the fire station for equipment check.
I still had not had breakfast.
Dear Wife was abed watching TV. She's still on the mend from that broken shoulder & I do the cooking. I got out the ingredients for eggs & homefries & coffee & etc.
Turned on the stove.
That's when my pager went off.
"838 to all Tisbury fire personnel. Report of a chimney fire at the Barnes residence, number 1 Colonial drive, the road next to Cronigs Market. White house, first on the left beyond the Cronigs lot."
I figured (correctly) that that must be Mike Barnes, owner of Aboveground Records, son of crazyman trucker Trip Barnes, for whom I have driven long and short haul furniture trucks, and of Trip's first wife (of four) Judy Cronig, with whom I work at the Island Food Pantry.
Shit. I turned off the stove. Went to tell Dear Wife. "Sorry baby, no breakfast. Fire."
Almost immediately I heard dispatch responding to the trucks signing on. "Roger 623, you're on the air at 10:31. Roger 661, you're on the air at 10:31," etc. Of course they were rolling quickly! The trucks were already outside and guys were already there for the equipment check! Good timing, Mike!
"Roger 610, you're on the scene."
Of course, my truck wouldn't be signing on. My truck is off-island. Sniff, sniff. My gear is in my van -- got it off the truck before it left for service -- so
A few minutes later, while I was en route, I heard dispatch: "All 551 personnel, 610 requesting mutual aid. . ." So, our chief was requesting the ladder truck from Oak Bluffs, the next town over. Sounded like perhaps a bad fire.
I got to the intersection of State Road and the Vineyard Haven-Edgartown road in about 3 minutes. Here came a police cruiser screaming up the road. Then one more fire engine from our station. Then some guys with red lights (I just got my permit application & don't have a red light in my car).
I put on my high beams & pulled out behind the last of the red-light guys following behind the cruiser & engine. Zipping by people pulled over on the right & left.
I pulled into Cronig's lot, got out my gear & suited up. Walked down to the fire scene. A bunch of ladders, and over on the far right side of the roof, two guys wearing air packs were removing the chimney cover. A lot of smoke was coming out, but nothing too horrible. No flames. The front door was open. Lots of guys standing around with hoses in case things got worse. The chief & assistant chiefs were standing together; chief was holding the accountability board, which is used to keep track of firefighters on the roof or in the building.
I said, "Excuse me chief, but are there any officers from my truck here?"
Chief said, "That's Troy up on the roof. None of your other guys are here."
"Anything I can do?"
The Oak Bluffs ladder had arrived & was being positioned. It's red. Tisbury trucks are green. It was just for insurance. This fire was not scary.
Alan came up. "Chief, there's an oil furnace. Want me to go shut it off?"
Alan is a firefighter is whose day job is installing & repairing furnaces. He knew the house. Alan's the only black guy in our company. Or, dark-skinned, anyway. I think maybe he's Wampanoag.
"Sure. Good idea. Take John with you. Show him what's what. John, where's your tags?"
"Fuck if I know, Chief. They're on 641 or something. The utility truck where we put our shit when 651 went off-island."
"Yeah, well, you should know where your tags are."
Every firefighter has two name tags. When you go into a building or onto a roof, you give one to the accountability officer, in this case the chief.
So, Alan and I went around the house to the back door. Before we got there, we came to the propane tank. He lifted the lid & shut it off.
We went to the back door, into a kind of family room. In front of the door to the basement there was a small fender amp and, on a stand, a really nifty dark mahogony solid-body SG-shaped 3/4 size Guild electric guitar.
"Holy shit what a sweet guitar!" I said.
"Yeah, well, move the stand so we can get to the basement." There was also a nifty telescope blocking the way. We moved that too.
So we went down to the basement, which was cluttered with tools, toys, boxes, went to the furnace, and Alan showed me how to disable the fire sensor. "Furnace off," he said. He radioded the chief with that info.
We went upstairs and he showed me where the emergency furnace shut off switch was. "Turn that off too, please. I'm paranoid."
Clearly there was very little danger here. The fire was confined to the chimney & was mostly out. We were being overly cautious. We went into the living room, where there was a fire extinguisher and a lot of green powder on logs in a fireplace that were mostly extinguished. Powder on the hearth & rug & leggo toys. Some children must have been playing in front of the fireplace when the chimney caught. There was a smell of bacon in the air. Somebody else was missing breakfast.
On the way out I asked him about the blue flame reportedly seen at the Codding Lane fire. "Yeah," he said. "You got to be careful when you have propane feuling a fire. You don't want to put out that blue flame, cause then you've just got gas building up and it could explode."
Went back around to the chief. Up on the roof, the guys had succeeded in removing the chimney cover, and one of them was looking right down the chimney (wearing an air pack, obviously) as the smoke still billowed out.
Chief said, "Look at Doobey, with his head right down in that smoke. Looks like he's muff diving on his high school girlfriend."
"That's our chief," I said. "Keeping discussion professional at all times. Is your radio on, Chief?"
By this time my captain had shown up.
So, he sent me inside to put down a tarp, remove the smoldering logs into a metal pail & carry them outside & extinguish them; little jobs. "Give the rookies things to do. Keep them interested."
Soon the fire was declared out. Various trucks & engines dismissed.
I went over talk to Mike & his wife. They're about 30 years old. Their two sons looked to be about 6 or 7. They were profusely thanking all of us. "You guys are incredible. You're fantastic."
"Man, that Guild," I said. "Holy cow. And was that a 3/4 size strat I saw on the living room wall?"
"Yes," those are our boys' guitars.
"Christ," I said.
"You know what else I have in there? Two 1972 telecasters. When I realized it was a real fire, I got my wife & sons and cats out, and then you guys showed up. But if that house started to go down, I was going to bolt in there for my guitars!"
So, I walked back to my car, and Joe called out to me & said, "John, come down to the station if you have a second, the new books came in."
My pager came on, "Roger 610. All companies clear of the scene."
I went up to the barn to get my tags to put with my gear so that I wouldn't be embarrassed if another fire happened before the truck came back, and then I went down to the station to pick up my brand new copy of Fundamentals of Firefighter Sills (1,030 pages, 4.8 pounds).
Then I went home, made breakfast (it was about 1PM), got really sleepy, and took a nap. I was friggin' exhausted.
When I woke up, it was 3:45. My dog was hyper. I took her for a walk.
I went to the grocery store & got some dinner stuff.
Cleaned up the breakfast dishes.
Went to bed.
Today I walked the dog and wrote this.
Maybe I'll get back to that other article some day.
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