By Michael Morse
The fire station is our home away from home, and we like to make it as comfortable as possible without actually spending any money. We put a couple of bucks into a fund every week, and when we get enough money, we upgrade. There is usually a vote, and everything is orderly; three or four different groups of people peacefully debate the need for a new TV, refrigerator, ice machine, grill, or ping pong table. Sometimes we get along so well that we actually agree to buy three or four refrigerators and lock them up tight. Every now and then, somebody bleeds during the peaceful talks, but we are emergency medical technicians after all, and we have plenty of bandages available.
We know the value of a dollar, and we are famous for keeping as many of them in our pockets as possible. Just one look inside a typical fire station’s living quarters gives a casual observer all the evidence needed of our generously frugal nature. The television is the focal point of the day room, and thankfully so; it is, in all likelihood, the only thing that even resembles “new.” A faux leather couch from a firefighter’s aunt’s house is nestled next to a donated orange recliner and an easy chair from a yard sale surround it. A table salvaged from an abandoned school sits in the middle and a 40s-era lamp without a shade gathers dust in a corner. A magazine rack may or may not still be leaning against a wall. Nothing matches, everything is old and salvaged, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Our kitchens are state-of-the-art culinary preparation areas festooned with vintage 70s-era appliances and cutlery. Every now and then, a stove or microwave needs replacing, and if nobody assigned to the house has a spare one, we replace it with something beautiful and practical. “Kitchen by Craigsist” is a perfectly acceptable remodeling option, and it can be quite charming. Occasionally, the doors fall off the refrigerators, but we have tons of nuts and bolts around (glue and duct tape, too), so we get far more life from the old Frigidaire than the average citizen.
When enough pieces of a matching set of glasses, dinner plates, and flatware necessitate buying new ones, the perfect place to dump the old is at the firehouse. At least once a decade, somebody brings in his old stuff to add to the other old stuff we have in our cupboards, so there is always enough old plates and utensils to go around.
And the funny thing is? Somehow, it works. It’s our house, we respect it, and we keep things comfortable without getting carried away. The system has worked for generations. The fire service is steeped in tradition, and those traditions run far deeper than anybody not enmeshed in it could possibly realize.
Firefighters are, without a doubt, the most generous, bountiful, unselfish, charitable, altruistic, free-handed, beneficent, hospitable, philanthropic, and unstingy people ever created. When asked to donate to charity, we are the first in line, and we will do all we can for people in need. When one of our own is struggling, the rest do what it takes to get that person back on his feet. We throw lavish fundraisers, steak frys, hockey tournaments, or whatever we can think of to help whoever we can, firefighter family or not. It’s just in our nature to take care of people.
I believe the places we call our home away from home reflect this tradition; we make do with what we have, and if we don’t have it, we make do.
Michael Morse is a former captain with the Providence (RI) Fire Department (PFD), an author, and a popular columnist. He served on PFD’s Engine Co. 2., Engine Co. 9, and Ladder Co. 4 for 10 years prior to becoming an EMT-C on Rescue Co 1 and Captain of Rescue Co. 5.