Monday, May 9, 2011

Look at me, I'm an Old Timer already

And then was I was 16, I decided to end my on-and-off romance with Sandra Dee.  I say "on-and-off" because her lawyers told me if they caught me ON her property again they would see to it that I was hauled OFF to jail. Just kidding. I've never been to Hollywood or even any further west than Oakland...Maryland. Sandra was my first crushlet, but I doubt that she even knew I existed.  Had she known the depths of my love and devotion, she certainly wouldn't have married that Bobby Darin character.  I just loved her, but I'm sure I was only one of millions of young men whose hearts were set aflutter by the adorable visage of the woman born Alexandra Zuck.

So, I decided to join my local volunteer fire company to put Sandra's rejection behind me, and in June, 1967, I joined the Providence Volunteer Fire Company. I always point out that if the requirement for high school kids to do a certain amount of public service hours had been in place back then, that would have been one high school requirement I could accomplish easily.  I spent many an hour learning the skills of firefighting and putting those skills to work in all sorts of emergency situations.  Not only did this teenage avocation lead directly to the career path I have followed in the public safety field, it taught me lots of things that come in handy to this day, such as preparation.  I never pull into a parking spot or garage; I always back in, so I can leave without delay if I need to. I never enter a gathering hall without scouting out all the exits, and to the many shop owners and grocery store managers I have hectored over the years when their fire exit doors were blocked, I am not the least bit sorry.  I always make sure to have emergency tools and equipment and basic life support gear in my vehicle - you never know when they will come in handy.

And more valuable than anything are the relationships with the people from the volunteer days.  We had our "Old Timer's Night" the other evening, and if you ever want to feel your bones creaking, just open your mailbox one day and find yourself on the Old Timer's list for anything.  Boom. Reach for the Geritol. Some of the guys have gone to their rewards, in many cases far too soon, and lots are still kickin' around and have gone on to see their children take their own places in the fire company.  That's got to be an awesome feeling. 

As you might expect, the science of firefighting and handling emergencies in general has changed a billion percent since 1967.  The predominant theory in those days was, if something's burning, or some fluid is somewhere where there shouldn't be fluid, pour many hundreds of gallons of water on it.  Since then, we have learned that for certain types of fires and hazardous material situations, the last thing you'd want to do is add water, but again, we did what we knew how back then.  

And no one ever dreamed, 44 Septembers ago, that a foreign enemy would so coldly and calculatingly hijack airplanes full of jet fuel for really long flights and crash them into buildings and the Pentagon (and try for the Capitol, only to be thwarted by incredibly brave men and women).  No one ever envisioned the resultant hellish inferno of 9/11/01, and no fire department anywhere ever lost 343 firefighters in one Stygian river of pain and agony until that awful Tuesday.

The ineffable loss of that day can't be summed up in words, which might be why, even as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, we haven't seen a flood of books and special editions of magazines on the topic.  Better to let symbols speak for us, and that is behind the significance of my old company obtaining a section of a steel beam from the World Trade Center.  It was acquired through New York City officials, and brought down to the fire house here outside Baltimore to serve as an inspiration, a touchstone, a sacred symbol of the losses of that day, and the resolve that saw the nation through them.  It will be mounted outside the meeting/training room, where everyone will have a chance to be in the presence of something that was with those 343.  The significance is profound, and the fact that our Old Timer's Night came five days after the death of the bastard bin Laden, who wreaked this wretchedness, reminds me that, in whatever fiery corner he now dwells, my only regret is that it took almost ten years. AMF, OBL.

During those ten years, the lovely Sandra Dee, my childhood ideal of beauty and wholesomeness and all attractive things, passed away (2005).  I'm sure she is in a special sweet place in Heaven.  

They tell that it's not for us to predict or discuss, but I'm gonna go out on a beam here and say that bin Laden is far, far away from there. 

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