His first actual fire call changed him for life, but not in the dramatic way some might think. In the middle of the night, he woke up to the siren wailing in the distance, down over the hill. He quickly got out of bed and dressed, racing to the car. He sped toward the station, less than a mile from the house, impressed with his reaction time and rapid response to the emergency call.
When he got to the station, he found he was a bit behind the curve. Numerous cars were already there, and all of the fire apparatus—two pumpers and a squad truck—were already gone. Luckily, the call was only right down the street; he could see the flashing lights at the nearby bank. Driving the short distance, he saw the apparatus positioned around the building and ground ladders raised to the roof. The fire was minor in nature, but he quickly figured out he needed to pick up the pace if he ever hoped to make it onto one of the fire trucks.
After that, Dad became an efficiency expert’s dream. Clothes were carefully laid out on the bureau each night before bedtime. Keys, glasses, and cigarettes were strategically positioned. The most radical idea was yet to come: an automatic garage door opener. Those were unheard of in our neighborhood, but Dad took it to the next level. Most garage door openers, even today, have the button that activates them in the garage next to the car. That wasn’t enough for Dad. He put an additional button in the closet in the bedroom which allowed him to hit the button while getting dressed. The garage door would already be open when he reached the garage, saving a good five seconds. A NASCAR pit crew would be impressed with his speed out of the house. When I was about 11 years old, we moved to a new house in a nearby neighborhood. One of the first things wired in was the activation button for the garage door opener in the closet of the master bedroom.
The original models weren’t even solid state, instead they used tubes. The warmth from the tubes made them attractive to animals. My cat loved to sleep on top of the Plectron because of the heat it emitted. The cat loved it until the high pitched squealing tone alert went off at full volume. Then he would jump simultaneously up from the radio and off of the top of the refrigerator upon which it sat. It was a sight to behold.
Because of all this, as a young boy, the importance of speed out the door was ingrained in me. When relatives visited, I knew to advise them of safety measures I had developed out of necessity. If the tones went off, I would yell “quick, Grandma, get in a chair! He’ll trample you.” This came from the experience of being treated as a track hurdle while playing with toys on the floor when a fire call happened to come in.
Our engines varied in vintage from 1957 to 1975 back when he was a chief in the 1970s and 80s. What didn’t vary is where things were located. You could open any compartment on any of the four engines (three first line and one reserve) and each piece of hardware, nozzle, appliance, wye, gate valve, etc., would be found in exactly the same spot on every piece.
Hose was a pet peeve of his. We had a spare load of hose for each engine stored in doughnut rolls on hose racks in the rear of the building. I would catch him regularly rearranging the hose on the racks so the end butt of each roll was in perfect alignment.
If he saw you put a roll of hose on the racks and not line up the butt with the adjacent ones, you would hear about it instantly. This was not one of his saner practices.
Dad was terrible with names. Guys in the department upwards of five years were “hey you.” If he did know your name in less time, it was not necessarily a good thing as there was likely a bad reason why he remembered it. At least when I joined, he had no excuse not to know my name.