The fire siren split the quiet spring afternoon with its insane blare, and I was the first to respond to the station. Earlier I would have tried to drag my feet, but it would have been obvious since my office and home were just two blocks from the station. I put on my firefighter suit and boots, and had opened the main door and started the engine when a couple of other volunteers arrived. The bad news that I had to relay was that the call came from the General Motors Foundry, a five block long complex of oversized buildings filled with molten iron and steel. The good news was that they were asking for precautionary backup. They didn’t think that we needed to call for mutual aid from other departments. Their own crew was fighting the fire already and they thought they would have it under control when we arrived.
We hurriedly drove, siren screaming, to the east end of the complex and the open hangar door that looked like it could admit two or three fire trucks simultaneously. A little Hyster lift-truck preceded us down the aisle past employees standing nonchalantly, waving, obviously out-of-work for the time being while the problem was being resolved elsewhere. As the building swallowed our fire truck and we tried to look ready for whatever task awaited us, we at least felt some relief that the workers seemed unconcerned, not panicky and not ready to flee.
Turning a corner near the far end of the building we saw an area of smoke and steam ahead, water hoses charged and spraying under the command of three other volunteers that belonged to our squad, but also worked for the foundry. They did in fact have the fire under control, and I said my silent prayers of thanksgiving as we learned what had happened. It was a vehicle fire, and grease fire, that had ignited some storage boxes nearby. Fortunately they had an in-house plan for immediate response. This was the first time that anyone remembered that they had called in an outside fire department, and they were grateful to learn that we could respond so quickly.
Whether they knew it or not, they were not more grateful than I was that they didn’t need the help of three volunteers who were ill-prepared to do much more than they had already done. We were deep inside the belly of a building that looked like nothing less than a Towering Inferno even when it was not on fire. We took even more seriously the immensity of tasks that we might face and the training that we needed.