By Michael Morse
The radio cracked to life.
“Baxter Street Command to Rescue 1.”
I keyed the mic.
“Rescue 1, go ahead.”
“I need a count.”
“One adult, five children in Rescue 1, six adults and five more kids outside.”
Those standing outside of the impromptu shelter shivered but managed to look cool doing it. They were teenagers for the most part and didn’t want to hang with the firefighters or little kids. Oh well, their loss. We were in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Providence, or anywhere.
My newfound crew sat in the back of Rescue 1: five girls, between ages five and 11. There were three sisters, a cousin, and a neighbor. The boss was with them, a woman of about 35, keeping the girls in line. They listened to her, for the most part, but as the incident dragged on and the shyness disappeared, things got more interesting. I often wonder if people here notice how white my skin is or if they just accept me into their neighborhood and don’t give it a second thought. I think the adults are more aware of racial differences, and if the kids are, they certainly don’t show it.
“If you had to do this all over again, what is the one thing you would take with you?” I asked.
“My puppy!” said the littlest.
“You don’t have a puppy,” replied the eldest.
“My jeans,” from one of the sisters.
“You got them on, girl,” said her sisters.
“FOOD!” shouted the cousin, and all of them agreed boisterously.
“I told you to eat before all this!” said the boss, exasperated.
“My phone,” one of them said.
“You have your phone,” said another, pointing to the phone in her friend’s hand, and everybody laughed, even me.
“The refrigerator!” said the neighbor.
“Perfect, we have a winner!” I said, before things got silly.
The girls carried on, asking questions, touching things, touching each other, giggling, squirming, and asking more questions.
“How come we had to leave our houses?”
“Because your street has a gas leak.”
“How’s a street leak gas?”
“When can we go back?”
“When the gas stops leaking.”
“When’s that going to be?”
“When they fix it.”
“What’s it do?”
“Starts your heart in case it stops.”
The Canteen Truck arrived on scene. A group of volunteers operate a rehab unit that responds to major incidents in and around Providence. They have cold water, Gatorade, and hot coffee and sometimes crackers and cookies. They bring sandwiches, soup, and chili to lengthy responses and are always a welcome sight.
“I’ll be right back,” I said and darted out of the side door of the ambulance. The Canteen arrived just in the nick of time; the questions were getting pretty darn tough.
The folks at the Canteen gave me a box of assorted cookies and crackers and made six cups of hot chocolate for the refugees. I was about to become an instant superhero. I loaded the bounty into a cardboard box and returned to my refugees.
“Anybody spills the hot chocolate is going out in the street,” I said in my best “Dad means it” voice.
The kids went bananas. You would have thought I brought them the Willie Wonka Chocolate Factory. I sat back in the captain’s chair and watched the party. They laughed and carried on and shared the cookies with each other, some crackers here, some Oreos there, a little peanut butter for you, some cheese for the little one.
If I could take one thing with me after 23 years of mayhem, it would be that very moment.
Michael Morse recently retired from his position as captain, Rescue Co. 5, with the Providence (RI) Fire Department after 23 years. He lives a few miles from his old station with his wife, Cheryl, a couple of Maine Coon cats and their dog, Mr. Wilson. He writes about his experiences as a firefighter/EMT in his books, Rescuing Providence and Responding, and contributes ar