By Kevin Hibshman
Story 3: Lighting Strikes!
Summer was prime time for my sister, our friend Brenda and I. We were the ambulance chasers, running after the sirens and flashing lights. When the town fire siren began booming, we’d run to the end of our street where we could watch the emergency equipment roll out. It was the most adventure life in a small town had to offer.
One humid August morning the skies went dark. The radio had been broadcasting severe thunderstorm warnings for our area. We were excited as we loved to watch storms blow in. In a matter of minutes, the wind would pick up and begin whipping the trees, thunder would roar and lightning would slice through every window in the house. This particular storm did all the usual banging and crashing followed by a brief but violent downpour. The sun had already begun peeking through again when suddenly, every hair on my neck bristled and the loudest crack of electrical energy we had ever heard startled my entire family into a moment of silence.
“Something got struck,” my father, bringing us back to awareness, finally blurted out. “It sounded so close,” my mother added, her voice trembling with fear she couldn’t totally disguise. She always pretended to be less afraid than she actually was for the sake of us kids. We were all still shaking slightly when the fire siren rang out. “I’m not surprised,” my father quipped. He was happy to be proven right.
I decided to go to the front porch to see if I could tell which direction the fire engines were racing in. I didn’t have to wait to find out. A huge pall of gray smoke was billowing up over the rooftops that partially blocked my view. “It’s up on Main Street,’ my father again. “Looks like a house must have been hit.” Brenda stepped out on her porch and we waved her over. I cried out: “You can see the smoke from here!” We decided we would have to walk uptown, about three blocks away, to investigate.
The ambulance chasers set out, chatting nervously as we all but ran to whatever scene was transpiring. We reached the town square and could immediately see everything. Fire trucks from neighboring towns began arriving. Our department had recently purchased a brand new ladder truck but shortly after it was put into service, the hydraulic system on the ladder broke. It was called out anyway and just sat there sadly. We ambled on until were were directly across the street from the house that was burning.
Flames were shooting up from the roof, smoke pouring from the eaves on all corners. Firefighters were scrambling, some entering the house, some hooking up hoses to the hydrants nearby. We could hear the crackling flames and smell the wood burning. A small crowd had gathered and we gleaned from the eager gossip that everyone in the house had escaped safely. A ladder truck from a town close by had taken position and we watched in the awe as a single fireman hurriedly climbed to the top.
It didn’t take long for the crews to bring the fire under control. The roof and entire second floor of the house were gutted. We departed for home when they started rolling up the hoses and replacing gear back onto the trucks. In a strange turn of events, the very next summer the same home owners faced devastation again when lightning struck their garage and burnt it to the ground. They say lightning never strikes the same place twice but it does come terribly close.
Story 4: The Old Gas Station
Through our years as ambulance chasers, myself, my sister and our friend, Brenda, often had to be content with simply watching the fire trucks speed by us as the location they were responding to was simply too far for us to travel. Ironically, our very own street saw its share of action. We were always amazed when the engines zoomed down our street and stopped within viewing distance. One such incident occurred on a balmy September afternoon.
We were wrapped up in a game of kick ball in my backyard when the siren blared suddenly. It was our custom to drop whatever we may have been doing to run to our corner and wait. This time we were spared the short trek. We realized quickly we would be skipping that part of our routine when two police cruisers and an ambulance charged down to the east end of Front Street. The entire fire department which was comprised of three engines, soon followed. This we had to see!
We impatiently informed our parents we were about to run to the intersection to get a first-hand glimpse of what was happening. They made with their usual: “Don’t get too close and keep an eye on your sister.” She was about ten years old at that time. When we arrived at the site, heavy black smoke was pouring out of the roof of the old gas station, long since boarded up and forgotten about. Police were diverting all traffic and warned us to stay where we were.
The firefighters got down to business and it seemed to take no time for them to begin dousing the few flames jutting up out of the roof. Twenty minutes or so later, we watched as two fireman climbed a ladder and began poking around the melted shingles. I admired their courage as there was no way I’d ever find myself atop a building that had just minutes ago been ablaze. We were immediately startled by an anguished scream. One of the firemen had fallen through the roof! A lady who’d been watching with us screamed also. There was a long moment of suspense after which we saw the fireman being lifted out by two others. He seemed, remarkably, to be uninjured and this brought a muffled cheer from the small group of spectators. I breathed my own sigh of relief.