Our town, though small, about 3000 residents, lay adjacent to a town of 43,000, with other small towns nearby. The town boundaries encompassed railroad yards, an Interstate highway, a major automotive foundry, and a variety of industries, businesses, and housing stock.
When the fire alarm came, in the evening after sunset, from the fireworks factory, we expected the night might prove interesting. Knowing how many chemicals and how much explosive material could be involved, the chief did not wait to call for mutual aid from the surrounding volunteer departments. He appealed for help immediately. Memories of the Crescent City propane explosions were still fresh among the crew. Many buildings and several firetrucks had been lost in that conflagration.
Sprawling over thirty acres, the fireworks factory consisted of many small metal buildings widely separated and scattered around a level field. The distance between buildings was a benefit. When we arrived one building had already exploded, leaving small fires in evidence in several places. That looked dangerous. Surely time was short and the prediction of what might happen next, impossible.
Our vehicles provided the light beyond the fires, and we began the fight with the water from the tanker trucks, while we hooked up our hoses to the distant hydrants and ran great lengths of hoses onto the property. We had to position ourselves between the fires and the potential sources of further explosions. A trailer park and more housing sat on lots just beyond the fences. We hurried to put out a score of small fires, and grass fires, and we succeeded. We spent the next two hours combing the grounds for smoking coals and hotspots. With little fanfare, the mutual aid companies and eventually our squad rolled our hoses, packed up, and went our separate ways.
There were no multi-colored displays, no “ooh’s” and “aah’s,” no entertainments of any kind. We were glad.