The Show Must Go On

“We’ve got a fire on the stage!” I tore from the back of the Performing Arts office, sprinting for the Stage Right doors.

I grew up in a firehouse. I always knew someday I’d be not only a firefighter, but that special breed above all else, a ROWLEY firefighter. Episodes of ‘Emergency!’ piqued my interest and stealthily indoctrinated me with the value of EMS. Dad would leave at all hours of the day or night, answering box alarms sounded on the air horn in the center of town. He kept his turnout gear at the top of the back stairs, which he only used when going to fire calls. In later years we had an extension of the Red Base, a pre-911 fire department party-line emergency phone. I could listen in on the dispatchers as the emergencies happened! We could even sound the ‘fire whistle’ from our front hall, although I never succumbed to the temptation.

I used to attend drills on Sunday morning with Dad, learning all I could. I remember checking equipment; my specialty was the batteries in the flashlights. I have one vivid memory of sitting on top of the engine during a pump drill, guiding the deck gun and using it to blast the bark off dead trees.

I don’t exactly remember my first emergency call. I have one vague memory of sitting in the cab of Engine 7’s 1947 Howe on a flooding/service call. That truck was sold in 1980, so I was still pre-teen.

I remember my first call as a driver, and my first call as a Lieutenant.

On the medical side, I remember my first day on the ambulance as an EMT. We did dialysis runs all day long. First call as a newly-minted paramedic: an electrocution. I remember my first cardiac arrest, but that’s a subject for another post. I remember my first cardiac arrest SAVE, which should be yet another post. I remember my first fatal crash, and the first time I used the Jaws of Life.

First emergency, though, ummmmm. . .

First really big fire? Malden Mills, December 10, 1995. I doubt I’ll ever see another like that; it’s a story to tell the grandkids when I have some.

Very first emergency, uhhh. . .

As I rounded the corner, I could see my best friend approaching from Stage Left with a dry chemical extinguisher. He let loose on the small fire, barely missing me in his zeal. The charred remains of a smoke machine sat on the smoldering carpet on the stage riser.


While he unplugged the smoking hulk, I strode to center stage and waved for the sound man to turn up my microphone. I politely asked the milling crowd, waiting for intermission to end and the show to resume, to evacuate the auditorium. They didn’t hear a word, as our sound man had missed the cue.


Returning to the seat of the fire, we peeled back the carpet and checked for extension. Fortunately there was none.


I returned to the office to look up the phone number for the local fire company. This was pre-911 in our area, and it wasn’t a real emergency anyway. Just a little smoke, now.


When the first engine arrived, the Captain was irate we hadn’t pulled the box. We saw no need – the fire was out. What’s a little smoke?


The engine company inspected our work, evacuated the smoke, condemned our smoke machine, and stomped out. Dress rehearsal was over.


The date was March 16, 1989; second Thursday of the month and the night I was appointed to the Rowley Fire Department.

5 comments

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  3. Tiger Schmittendorf

    Now that's funny.

    It's similar to the story of my high school graduation (I joined the fire department as a “senior member” when I turned 18 half-way through my senior year) when I was interrupted to revive someone who had fainted, twice.

    I didn't get points for the call but I did get a scholarship from our Ladies Auxiliary!

    Great story. Thanks for sharing.

    I'd love to connect more of your stories at http://www.runtothecurb.com. Let me know if you're interested.

    Stay safe. Train often.

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