Wednesday, October 26, 2005

An Unexpected House Warming Party

Most people, when they call the fire department, know they have a fire. When the flames are licking up the walls or shooting out the windows, the situation is pretty definite.
But what do you say to dispatch when you don't know whether you have a fire or not?
You say you don't know whether you have a fire or not, that's what. Then they think you're a nut. You think they think you're a nut. You think they may be right. Detailed visions of public mischief charges chase through your head.
It is not satisfactory.

We lived in one of those old houses that was semi-attached, ie. for a space the exterior wall was flush against the next house. It all began when our neighbour had a fireplace built against this mutual wall.
One evening a friend of hers borrowed our axe to cut up firewood so they could have one of those convivial wine-drinking evenings before the fire in her new fireplace.
My husband, muttering maledictions and an old Maritime proverb about the lending of axes, lent.
Some time later the axe was returned, dull, with the head dangerously loose in the haft. The curse was already working.
Sometime later I was fumbling about in the dining room closet. The wall felt hot. I could fry an egg. I informed our neighbour. She promised to not apply any more fuel, roast chestnuts, etc. The parallel stoking was going well, it seemed.
A while later I felt the wall again. I could broil a steak. I went back upstairs. I told my husband. We sat on the bed, sniffing the air and trying to decide whether to call the fire department. Or not.
We went and looked at the children. We decided they were worth making fools of ourselves over. We called the fire department, with enough hemmings to complete an entire wardrobe and enough hawings to drive a team of 16 mules. We made fools of ourselves.
Fortunately, the fire department has protocols.
They sent their longest, reddest fire truck, siren ululating, lights sweeping over the formerly quiet street like red demons. Lights came on in neighbouring houses. We cringed.
Five men strode to our door, grim faced, steely eyed. They were all seven feet tall. Two carried
axes big enough to cut the head off a horse.
My husband showed his true colours. He said, "Good evening , gentlemen. Would you come this way please?"
I showed my true colours, too. I hid behind him.
We showed them the closet.
The biggest fireman laid his hand on the wall. He pulled it away and examined the blisters. "Hot," he said, in a satisfied tone.
He turned to one of the others.
"Axe," he demanded.
He swung the axe.
"Fire," he said complacently, as the shooting flames nearly took off his eyebrows.
They watered everything down.
They also axed a hole in the adjoining living room wall after carefully folding back the rug.
They apologized for that. They checked upstairs. They apologized for going into our bedroom. They soaked the basement wall after carefully removing all my husband's power tools from the workbench.
Then they shovelled up the debris, they swept up the soggy bits, they mopped water clear to the front door. They hoped they hadn't disturbed the children.
They said it was the sort that by 3:00a.m, the flames would have been shooting through the roof. The crew captain fixed me with a stern eye and ordered me to call them if I so much as burned dinner.
I wanted to kiss their huge, rubber-clad feet.
We waved good-by. They waved back.
Warriors of the working day.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...
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jason evans said...

Oh my God! That's not good! Hopefully not too much damage was done. Glad no one was hurt.

Was it a flue fire or did the fire escape the firebox/chimney somehow?

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I just Praise the Lord that you had the sense(sixth....only attributed to women)to call the fire dept. I'm glad you are here to write about it!

Bernita said...

Thank you both.
As near as we could tell afterward, the contractor who had built the fire place neglected to use any fire brick ( perhaps thinking there was an air space between the buildings) and the heat transfer ignited the old dry wood in the studs and lathe.
There really wasn't much damage, barring two holes in the walls and some smoke, as it was caught before it got very far.
All our lives, it seems disaster had flirted with us and then turned away.
The children slept through it all.

Mark Pettus said...

My dad's favorite story about growing up is about the time he burned down the house. He'd gone hunting, and when he got home he forgot to unload his shotgun before he went into the house. When he discovered the gun was still loaded, he removed the shells and tossed them into the fireplace. You can imagine what happened to the burning embers when that first shotgun shell went off. Dad was twelve at the time.

Thank goodness my kids don't have a favorite story like that.

Years ago, I worked as a volunteer fireman in a small Texas town. My favorite memory is of the lady who made us remove our boots before she let us walk on her white carpet. I never knew using an axe on someone's wall could be so much fun.

Bernita said...

Mark, wonder if your father was stretching things a bit. Can't see a kid smart enough to be trusted with a gun wasting shells that way. Wonder he wasn't killed.
That woman was just a little unclear about the concept, huh?

Rowan said...

Oh my! Thankfully you are all okay and called immediately. We had a similar issue at our cottage in near north ON. The neighbour had a large bonfire of leftover wood, branches, debris, etc. Then they all went inside to watch hockey. After about an hour or so of watching sparks fly down the shore due to the high wind, and only attitude from the neighbour, we called the local OPP. As in your case, they sent the most impressive truck they had. As you found out, better to call and appear foolish than let the fire burn.

Bernita said...

Hi, Rowan, thank you, fellow Northlander, for stopping by.
As you say, 'tis safer to send our vanities to the bonfire, rather than ourselves.

ali said...

I know a fireman. He's says that most times, people wait till it's too late. They're afraid of looking silly for calling out the fire brigade to a 'small fire'. So I'm very glad you didn't :).

Bernita said...

Thank you, Ali. Our fireman were very clear about that.

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