Christmas day there was a dreadful fire that stole peoples lives; children too. The adults were well intentioned. They were trying to keep up the fantasy of the Santa story for the little ones who were worried Santa might singe his britches when he came down the chimney. The adults removed hot coals from the fireplace but apparently didn’t fully extinguish them. The house fire came as they slept.
Fires can be terrible things.
Since I was a little girl my family always had a fire blazing in the hearth on a winter night. I have spent many a blissful evening snuggled up with a book comforted by a crackling fire at my feet.
My father taught me how to build a proper fire, criss crossing the logs to allow air to circulate to create a strong blaze. He was a miser with the heat, keeping a close eye on the thermostat, but diligently cut and hauled as much firewood as we needed. One Christmas he gave us lounging sacks that looked like sleeping bags without the zipper. We could have been a model family for an infomercial.
I light a fire when the weather is chilly but our fireplace is hugely temperamental. It has a very small flue, and it takes a kind of magic I rarely possess, to encourage the smoke to go up and not out into the room. I know how quickly smoke fills a space, burning your throat and eyes, and how time compresses into a singular moment of helpless panic.
I’d seen a fire extinguisher knocking around the house for years but typical of how life works, it wasn’t until this terribly sad Christmas fire occurred that I thought I really ought to learn how to operate it. I threw the dusty old thing in a bag and drove to the fire department. I was headed straight to the top for my tutorial.
I had to ring a doorbell which surprised me, but after all, the firehouse is not only a place where the firemen work but their home away from home. A couple guys answered the bell, welcoming and cheerful. I brandished my extinguisher and asked if it was still viable, whereupon John (my new friend), showed me the gauge that indicated there was no pressure. Brushing away the grime, he pointed out that I’d brought in a relic from 1971 as all extinguishers are stamped with their date of manufacture.
Oh my goodness. I haven’t a clue where this thing came from – maybe when my parents moved south they gifted it to me, or the previous owners left it behind. But it was worthless.
John gave me a few pointers – if you have a fire in your oven, shut the door and call 911. With the oven door closed, the fire isn’t getting any oxygen and will extinguish itself. But still call 911.
If you have a fire on the stovetop, put the top back on the pot and turn off the stove and dial 911.
In a nutshell he said , go buy a new fire extinguisher, check the gauge once a month, hang it where it is convenient to grab in an emergency but above all else, Call 911.
They responded to over 3500 calls last year.
Their calling is to save our lives when we screw up. Before and since 9/11 they have persevered doing God’s work in the trenches. And their keenest desire is to be there when we need them.