By Diane Feldman
Yenta’s note: All the stories in this column are from the same source: Jim Conway, Edinboro (PA) Volunteer Fire Department. They are written in first person (Jim).
When I first started with the volunteer service, we had a fire in a local rural bar. We called for assistance from several other departments, and the chief of the Venango (PA) Fire Department (VFD) responded. Unfortunately, his “red light” car was in the shop, so he drove his wife’s car.
He was “flying” down the road to get to the structure fire and was pulled over by a PA State Police officer, who inquired, “Where’s the fire, pal?” The chief explained that the fire was at the bar and that he was the chief of the VFD. The trooper replied, “I didn’t know Venango had a fire department!”
The chief was a little put out that no one recognized his department’s small-town efforts but asked for and received an escort to the scene. The trooper obliged to verify the chief’s claim but let the chief off the hook once he saw the fully involved fire.
Needless to say, at our next awards dinner, we gave a “Certificate of Authenticity” to the chief, along with a certification that “Venango does indeed have a fire department.” In fact, the statement “I didn’t know Venango had a fire department” has become part of our lore. When we hold a fire school and one of the small-town boys starts bragging, inevitably one of our older members will quip, “I didn’t even know _______ had a fire department.” Then they duck before the fists fly.
The reality of firefighting
You may remember the old firefighter recruiting posters showing the heroic “truckie” descending the ladder carrying a beautiful (and lightweight) damsel dressed in a flimsy nightgown and eternally grateful to her hero. I think the very thought of making that rescue caused me to join our local volunteer department.
Anyway, the reality of firefighting was one night when we responded to a two-story wood-frame residential apartment with a fire in the hallway blocking the exit. We had an entrapment in the rear bedroom.
One of the guys who was on the first in engine placed a ladder to the bedroom windowsill and glanced down to hook up his air. Unbeknownst to him, the victim, who was a 350-pound woman, sleeping partially in the nude, with only a light top on, saw the ladder and started to quickly descend. Our hero, without looking, leaped to the ladder and started up at full speed, only to be met with resistance. He looked up, and his mask went straight into the very ample posterior above him.
I never saw anybody descend a ladder so quickly. The victim, who was completely ungrateful, finished her descent and ran off, never to be seen again (at least by us). In the meantime, our hero was turning the air blue because of various insults he had received to his equipment. He seemed to grow angrier when we suggested calling in a haz-mat team.
A number of years ago, we had three bar fires in one year. One of our members, who loves to drink beer, holds the dubious distinction of having the last drink in all three bars. Bubba (his real name) would wait for a break in the action, slip into the bar, slide his mask to one side, and then suck on the taps.
The result of his research shows that Red Dog definitely outflows Miller in structure fires, at least according to Bubba.
He would have had a fourth bar to his credit, but the fire was in the attic, and the fully stocked bar was tempting to some of our weaker members. (Think of the salvage possibilities.) Thus the chief posted a 400-pound fire cop in front of the bar, since the fire cop also worked as the local constable. That was one fire police line we were not going to cross!
Image found on Wikimedia Commons courtesy of Coolcaesar.
Diane Feldman, a 22-year veteran of PennWell Corp., is executive editor of Fire Engineering and conference director of FDIC. She has a B.A. in English communications. She has been a yenta (look it up) for most of her life. If you have a story for the Yenta, e-mail [email protected].