I was exchanging emails today with a friend who lives in Lebanon. She’s a night owl and, in one of her emails, she mentioned that it was five to one in the morning her time.
At that point in our exchange, I had run out of news and other things to say, so it suddenly came to me to cook up an instant tradition: “The tradition of telling fire fighter stories in the wee hours.”
Yes, an instant tradition that, like instant coffee, has only convenience to recommend it.
Nevertheless, here is the email I sent back to her (the story is true):
Five to one in the morning?
Why didn’t you tell me! Don’t you know, my friend, that by tradition the early morning hours are the time for fire fighter stories!
I mean, have I told you before now that years ago I paid for my college room and board by working as a fire fighter?
It’s true! I used to run into burning buildings for fun and profit! I was mad then, perfectly insane, and I even voted Republican!
But, have I told you my favorite story from those years yet?
The story begins at 5:00 in the morning. I am asleep in bed at the fire station when the alarm comes in.
A motel is on fire!
I leap out of bed even though I am still mostly asleep. I hurry to put on my uniform. Then, I hear the fire trucks starting up. Jeebers! The other men are way ahead of me!
How did that happen? There is no time to pause to find out. I rush through putting on the rest of my uniform, and I dash for the truck bay.
When I get there, the trucks are already leaving, but I run and jump on the tail platform of the last fire truck headed out. I grab the safety bar with both hands, as I am supposed to do in order to keep from falling off the truck.
I made it! What a relief! I allow myself a smug smile. Nothing can defeat a real fire fighter.
As we siren down the road to the motel, I look over my shoulder. There is a station wagon behind us, following us to the fire. The station wagon is full of little kids and driven by a mother in her housecoat. Obviously they are following us to see the fire.
Little kids! How sweet! They probably want to grow up to be just like me.
Suddenly I become aware of a horrifying sensation — my pants are sliding down my legs!
I look down — in my haste I had forgotten to zip up and belt!
Damn it! There is no way I can take both my hands off the safety rail, nor even a way to reach that far down with just one hand and pull my pants up.
I look over my shoulder again — only my great big fire fighter’s turn-out coat protects me from mooning a whole family of kids and their mother.
It happens that’s the only saving grace of the morning — my coat — for my pants by now are almost around my knees. In a moment of painful self-recognition, I realize the kids in the car behind me are perhaps no longer wishing to grow up to be just like me.
We reach the motel. The truck stops and I am at last able to reach down and pull up my pants. But just as I finish, I look around and notice the TV crews have arrived with their cameras.
For one tenth of a second, the thought crosses my mind that they have filmed me and that I will be on the morning news pulling up my pants at a fire.
For one tenth of a second, I grasp that my brother fire fighters will never let me forget this morning — not even forget it for at least 30 minutes after I have died — even should I be so unfortunate after this morning as to live to an old age.
For one tenth of a second, I vividly imagine my Chief’s face when he tunes in the news that morning.
For one tenth of a second I come the closest I will ever come as a fire fighter to fainting on the job.