Two weeks after I had volunteered for the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad, there was a house fire in our town, and it was my first time to suit up in my new gear. The call came in the evening just after dark. When we arrived on the scene, the floodlights illuminated the smoke curling around the edges of the roof of the one story kitchen wing of the house, while the two story section next to that wing showed no involvement yet.
The fire chief, Don, asked me to get an ax, while he carried a hose on his shoulder, and we would climb the ladder just set up onto the roof of the kitchen wing. While I was thinking to myself, “Me? Climb onto the roof of a burning house?” he asked me, not as a question, but as a dare, “You can chop a hole in a roof, can’t you?” And I said back, “I’ve been choppin’ wood since I was ten. I guess I can.”
All the time, I was thinking to myself, “I hate heights. What am I doing, climbing onto a roof?” But peer pressure can be a good thing, especially when there is no time to reflect. Ax in hand, onto the roof I climbed.
“The best way to learn,” Don said, “is on the job. You’re going to ventilate this attic.” So he showed me where he wanted the hole, and how big to make it, and warned me to be ready to jump back, if there were more flames than he expected, when we opened it up. Meanwhile he had signaled to charge his line, and he held that hose secure and ready to release. Then I chopped my first hole in the roof of a burning house, and stood downwind of the smoke that began to pour out of it. As the smoke began to turn red Don directed the stream into the hole in the direction of the light.
Five years later, another alarm came, this time in the afternoon, when I was the senior volunteer on duty. The fire was burning at a church down the road a mile from my own church, and when we arrived on the scene, we saw smoke pouring from the vents under the roof of the one story fellowship hall next to the main church. Only a small amount of smoke wafted into the hall underneath a false ceiling that allowed no access to the attic. We prepared to climb onto the roof and ventilate the attic.
The minister of the church stood nearby, and when he saw what we were preparing to do, he said, “You’re not going to chop a hole in my roof!” Part of me wanted to say, “O.K. I don’t want to climb up there anyway.” Instead I said, “We have to. We can pour all the water we want on the outside of this building, and all you’re going to have when we’re done, is four walls of concrete block.”
Not appreciating my vast experience, he said he’d make sure I was kicked off the squad. He thought I was just wanting to burn down his building. We saved the building, though the hole in the roof needed some patching, and the water damage required a new ceiling, and new wiring had to be installed according to code, among other things. No one asked me to resign my unpaid volunteer job, but for several reasons it seemed a fitting time to move on to other jobs that needed doing. I left the chopping of holes in other people’s roofs to other people.