Herald Journal Columns
Sept. 26, 2005, Herald Journal

Neighbors helping neighbors

By RYAN GUENINGSMAN

Beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . the sound of a volunteer firefighter’s pager alerting him to a house fire call one weekday around noon.

One firefighter jumps up from behind his desk at the local bank to head to the fire hall. Another drops his wrench, climbs out from underneath the vehicle he is working on, and heads to the hall.

The firefighter who just got done working the night shift also hears the steady “beep beep beep,” climbs out of bed, hastily gets dressed, and heads to the fire hall.

“Most of the guys are out of town working during the day,” he thinks. “We’re gonna need as many people as we can get.”

The plumber working in the next town over hears his pager go off, and thinks the same thing. He immediately leaves his job site and heads to the fire hall to suit up.

The crew of about eight guys make it to the hall, get on their turnout gear, jump in the truck, and arrive on scene, second only to local law enforcement, who arrived a few moments before them, and who have checked to make sure there are no occupants in the home.

The police chief and fire chief meet and determine an action plan. With the few guys they have, their options are limited. Mutual aid is called for immediately from two neighboring communities.

A retired firefighter, on his way home for his lunch break, sees the fire just down the street from his house and, recalling his years on the department and knowing the department is at times short firefighters during the day, stops and assists the local crew.

He quickly makes himself useful, hauling air tanks, hoses, and providing drinking water and assistance to the other firefighters at the scene.

An off-duty sheriff’s deputy, who lives across the street from the home on fire, is ready to sit down at his kitchen table and figure out monthly bills when he hears the commotion across the way and comes out to check out the scene.

Neighbors and other passers-by also stop and see if any assistance is needed. A local reporter, on scene to cover the fire, also notices the number of firefighters, sets the camera aside for a few moments, and helps the retired firefighter carry several air tanks and bring drinking water to those who just came out of the burning house.

Several firefighters’ wives also hear about the call, and head to the scene almost instantly with fresh sandwiches and drinking water for their spouses and those who are working the fire.

In what seems like a lengthy time for the first few on scene, it is just minutes later that the first truck from the neighboring town arrives at the scene of the fire.

Then the next town’s crew arrives and, before long, a full crew is hard at work, knocking down the blaze. The retired firefighter is still passing out drinking water to the teams that exit the burning home.

What was a quiet neighborhood about 10 minutes earlier has suddenly become the scene of a three-alarm fire (one alarm for each fire department on scene).

While this is something local fire officials are trained for, it is not something they ever want to happen. This one touches especially close to home for the local fire chief, as he and his family live just homes away from the one on fire.

A scene like this can be found, hopefully not often, in almost every community throughout the nation at some point in time.

People pitch in at all hours of the day or night to help their neighbors and, in some cases, people they may not even know, in a time of need.

Every once in a while, I will come across a scene like this, which makes me thankful that I am from a small town, where people are not afraid to pitch in and help their neighbors out.

In larger cities, it is not always possible to become a member of a “local organization” or be a part of a local committee. Even most fire departments in rural areas are volunteer-based, and almost all of them are looking for new members.

Most of the time, all it takes to get involved in an organization, like a fire department or Lions club, is attending a monthly meeting, and perhaps some training exercises and fund raising events.

Fire departments, for example, don’t always focus all of their time and efforts on fighting fires.

When the pager went off for the house fire, one firefighter was sitting at his desk working on plans for an upcoming joint bloodmobile and bone marrow donor drive that will be taking place at the fire hall.

The fire department, through a series of fund raising events, has even offered to cover the costs of joining the bone marrow registry to those who are interested.

Another local fire department spent some time recently doing repair work at the home of a man who is overseas serving in Iraq, to which he and his family were most appreciative.

So, “it’s not all about putting the wet stuff on the red stuff,” as one local fire chief likes to say. It really is about so much more than that.

It’s about taking some time out of our already way-too-busy lives to stop and help out or become involved in a local organization.

Many of the local fire departments are looking for members, and now is the perfect time to sign up for an organization such as that. Why wait for New Year’s to resolve to partake in a new venture?

Oh, and did I mention the person who called in the house fire in the first place is a member of the city maintenance crew, who happened to be on that street trimming trees?

He, along with the rest of the city maintenance crew, took time out of their schedules, as well, to assist at the scene of the fire.

This just goes to show that in the event of a tragedy, people will come through for their neighbors.

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