The siren blasted on a fall evening after dark, calling us volunteers, not to an retail merchant’s store, but to a single story ranch-type house set on a one acre wooded lot, with several other homes nearby. The house was smoking heavily when we arrived. The owner had been smoking heavily also, but he awoke in time to escape and stood nearby. We responded with a full crew and three trucks and had the hoses out and charged when the explosions started inside the house. We began to hear whizzes and pops against the side of the new firetruck where I was adjusting the controls, and I felt something hit my helmet hard.
“What’s inside that’s doing that?” Don, our chief, asked the owner, and he answered, “A hundred or so guns, positioned around the house, and lots of ammo. They’re worth a lot of money. I’d like to see you get busy and save what you can.”
Don called out in his loudest voice, “Pull back. Pass the word. Pull back now.” As the explosions continued and the occasional sound of stray bullets, also, the crew repositioned the hoses and the trucks about thirty yards farther back, aiming the new high pressure hoses from a distance, breaking the few windows that remained, blasting holes in the burning sides of the house, but mostly watching that the wind did not carry flames or debris toward the neighbors north and east of the house.
The owner was angry, and protested the decision to pull the crew back and away from the house. It was obvious that the house was going to be a total loss, after the delays and the new orders from the chief. “As I see it, I’ve got three duties that come before saving your house. Saving my firemen. Saving your neighbors’ property. And protecting our equipment.”
“What about my stuff?” the owner asked. Don answered that the owner had already taken care of that, when he set fire to his own armory and shooting gallery. The owner did not respond well. The year was 1974, before the country as a whole had gone gun-mad, but this man already had the conviction that he had to be ready for anything. That’s why he had loaded guns and ammunition in every room of his house. Unfortunately, he was not quite ready for anything.