Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Truth About Fire Trucks

There’s something about fire trucks that get children really excited.  Perhaps it’s the flashing lights or the blaring sirens, or the honking of the horn.  Maybe it’s just the color red that catches their attention.

My brother had a fire truck birthday party one year, which all of us thought was the greatest thing ever.  My Mom and Dad transformed a giant refrigerator box into a fire truck and we pretended to drive it around while screaming siren noises.  We became heroes in our own minds as we rescued people and put out fires.      

I don’t know if any child truly knows what a fire truck stands for, but I can remember the first time I realized what it was all about. 

My Dad, brother, and I were in the car one day driving through the neighborhood and I spotted smoke on the horizon.  “Daddy, there’s a fire,” I said.  He told me that, no, it wasn’t a fire, it was just smoke from a grill.  But I continued to insist that it was a fire and he drove us through the neighborhood until we reached a house that was engulfed in flames.

We got out of the car and stood along the other side of the street while we watched the house burn.  I can’t remember exactly how I felt but I did realize that there was no fire truck in sight.  My Dad and several other people were calling 911 and requesting help. 

I must have been 6 or so and I had never seen anything so real in my entire life.  The fire truck didn’t get there in time and there wasn’t much left of the house.  No one was hurt, but everything was gone. 

After that I went through a stage where I was paranoid about my house catching fire and burning to the ground.  I was most concerned about having my stuffed turtle, pet goldfish or dog get lost in the fire.  At some point it also crossed my mind that I could lose someone in my family…

If the fire truck doesn’t get there in time when someone is in the house, then what happens?  I started saying prayers whenever I heard sirens.  I wanted everyone to be ok.  It was still exciting to see a fire truck, but at the same time I knew what was on the other side.  Someone could be really hurt.  Whether it’s a car accident, a fire or other mishap, someone could die.

As soon as I started driving with a permit when I was 15 I would always get out of the way of a fire truck or ambulance as soon as I heard one.  Even if it was driving on the other side of the road I would pull over.  That’s what you were supposed to do, and everyone did it.  In Colorado it was fairly easy for emergency vehicles to get around quickly, and no matter where I was, no matter the time, the sound of sirens would diminish as soon as I heard them.

That’s not how it works here.  Once I hear sirens it seems like they go on forever.  This is partially due to the fact that the roads are small and hard to drive through in many places, but it is also due to the fact that people don’t get out of the way.  One of my friends was expressing her frustration at this the other day.  She told me, “People in Seattle don’t get out of the way like they should.  I can’t stand it.” 

I can’t either.  Granted, there is traffic because I live in a packed-in city but I want people to make the effort—there is someone on the other side that needs help. 

I would like to have a kids’ view of fire trucks again.  They see it as someone rushing to the rescue, which is true (I admire firemen greatly), but in the back of my mind I can’t help wondering who is hurt.  I want to believe that a fire truck always represents safety, but I can’t quite do that anymore.

This past summer when I was visiting Ohio I saw smoke on the horizon.

Here is what I wrote: 

Something is burning
On the horizon,
Black clouds of smoke
Permeate the blue
In sky, and I am
Sitting in my car
Watching through the
Window, from a distance
While someone is
Surely someone is
Screaming, while
I watch (unfeeling)
The burning sky.


I might be doing ok, but there’s always someone who isn’t. 

This is reality.

And I just want to be the girl at the fire truck party.

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