The Day The Fire Truck Caught Fire

True Fire Tale by Michael J. Legeros

My first assignment out of the academy was Fire Station Nineteen,
recently opened in northeast Raleigh, near Mini City.  In an ironic
(but logical) twist, the city's newest fire station housed one of
it's *oldest* first-line units.  (Logical, because the station was
built to cover an area with a traditionally low volume of calls.
Hence, the busier stations got the newer trucks.)  Engine #19 was a
1968 American LaFrance 900 Series pumper, one of two ALF pumpers in
a department that was relying primarily on Macks.  (The other, old-
er LaFrance remained on the reserve roster until Station #20 open-
ed a year or so later.)  Needless to say, for someone *far* more
excited by the newer, larger, shinier trucks-- such as a recently
delivered trio of 1989 Pierce Arrows-- the reality of riding such a
seeming... antique was a bit deflating.

Still, it was a big, red, right-there-for-the-taking fire truck.
And while it was not without its "challenges"-- from cramped jump
seats to a hand-cranked booster reel-- the engine had a certain ec-
centric charm.  There were the plastic windows, for example, that
were snapped into place when it rained or got cold.  (The original-
ly open-canopied truck had a homemade fiberglass top, but no roll-
up windows!)  Ours was also the only engine with an actual bell,
which we utilized as a warning device.  (As Engine #19 had a smal-
ler siren, a single rotating roof beacon, and no air horns, we'd
make every noise possible when Cheating Death on Capital Boulevard,
AKA crossing six-lanes of traffic during rush hour.)  In fact, the
truck was even the site of a successful, albeit not terribly roman-
tic marriage proposal by Yours Truly!

Now, like most vehicles, fire trucks have their problems.  Pumps
leak, transmissions fail, lights and sirens stop working, and so
on.  (And like some vehicles, they also get into traffic accidents
from time to time!)  As for the repair history of the LaFrance, I
can remember of couple of incidents:  once, when dispatched to an
apartment fire a mile or so away, the engine wouldn't start.  The
call would've been my first "real" fire and we missed it.  (In the
six months that I was stationed at "Nineteen," I never did get to
see the inside of a burning building.  Not till I was transferred
and pulled a three-cycle stretch at Station Nine, did I receive my
literal baptism of fire.)  Another time, we ran over the battery
charger.  (Think "flat as a pancake.")  And then there was the day
the fire truck caught fire.

The alarm was for some sort of structure fire, as I recall.  Maybe
a kitchen fire.  The truck pulls onto the apron; I close the bay
doors behind it, excitedly jump into my seat, and bang once on the
engine cover.  ('Twas the signal to the driver that he could com-
mence a-commencin'.)  Right turn onto Spring Forest Road, with both
myself and the other "private" facing-rear, but turned around to
watch where we were going.  Suddenly, smoke.  White smoke, filling
the cab.  The smell of burning plastic.  The jolt of immediate de-
celeration as we pull onto the shoulder.  In a sort of embarrassed
disbelief, I watch as an extinguisher is pulled and carried to the
cab.  Meanwhile, the acting captain radios that we can't respond.
(Another engine company is dispatched to take our place.)  The fire
is promptly put out and, soon, shock gives way to laughter.  Sure,
we're disappointed.  Though we wouldn't wish a fire on our worst
enemy, The Country Club, as its called, sees all too little action.
But we got a good laugh out of it and, in a profession that's often
as comic as it is tragic, that really was just another day at the

Copyright 1998 Michael J. Legeros


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