We got called out on auto accidents as well as fires. One in particular was instructive to us and to the people involved. It seems that a family was headed to the river on a fine summer afternoon with their inflatable raft. The raft was large, inflated and took up all the space in the back of the pickup truck the family was riding in. In order to anchor the raft in the bed of the truck, the adults decided to fill it up with their children.
As they were coming up the highway just south of our station, the raft got lifted and it took flight out of the pickup dumping all of the children on the highway. There were of course some pretty terrible road rashes but I don’t recall any serious injuries which was a miracle. Also a miracle that no other vehicle had been following them up the hill so despite their misfortune the kids would all survive to tell the story.
Another accident involved a car that had gotten a bit wiggly on the Murphy’s grade road which was a windy and semi-steep section of the highway. The car belonged to the state and had stickers indicating that it was only for official use. This was a problem for the drivers since it was late at night and there was a distinct smell of alcohol in their respirations. Our job was to make sure that the auto didn’t catch fire so we disconnected the battery and waited for a tow truck to tip the car back over again.
When things get dull, a group of young men and one woman can get creative. They tend to make their own fun as it were and many things began to happen during long dull sretches between fires. We found a flattened and quite dehydrated frog on a fire once, the victim of engine after engine rolling over. That frog became a mascot of sorts and it ended up in everyone’s bed at one time or another.
A favorite sport around the firehouse was to set the bed to collapse. This was easy to do since the side rails used simple hooks to connect them to the end posts. If the hooks were only partially inserted into the receiving holes, the bed would collapse with a loud clang and the undignified victim sitting atop the heap. We all learned to shake the bed before we got in which an unwary sociologist might have mistaken for some pre-sleep ritual, some homage to the gods of the bd. It was however mere self-preservation. Another favorite was short sheeting which we were all experts at. Now these things were only funny if they were done to someone exhibiting a short temper or a lack of patience or a lack of fire action angst. Only then could one expect a pleasing reaction from the victim.
We were all avid readers given so much time at the firehouse. The Amityville Horror was a favorite one year and was passed around by everyone. I decided that it presented a unique opportunity for a joke. On my days off I created a Paper Mache pigs head over a balloon and I placed a couple of red auto indicator lights in the eye sockets. It was painted pink and brown and in the dark it looked quite realistic. So one evening I set it on a broomstick outside my window and I ran some thin wires out through the screen from a small 12 volt transformer. I pulled down the venetian blinds and the trap was set.
My captain was especially fond of the book and had lobbied hard for everyone to read it. I was hoping that he would be the one to first discover the pig. I talked a friend into taking part in the plot and we feigned exhaustion in the TV room and said we were going to bed early. This meant that we could turn off the lights in the barracks and one thing firefighters did for each other was to respect the need for sleep. We were certain that the lights would remain off and we could safely pull up the blind.
We no sooner got into bed and had turned off the lights than my captain came bopping in with a basket of laundry and said that he was going to turn on the lights for a few minutes to fold his things. He no sooner turned on the lights than the yelled, “Ho-ho-holy ________, what the hell is that?” General hysteria ensued and my partner and I enjoyed the approbation of our peers at having gotten one over on the captain. The lighted eyes were not even turned on yet so I was a little disappointed that I did not get to give him the full effect. The good news was that the engineer was not even in the barracks when my captain was ambushed so we still had a second chance.
The joke sort of took on a life of its own at that time and everyone wanted in and had ideas to add to the mix. It was decided that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon should be played at the part with the heartbeat and since the engineer’s bed was directly opposite mine and faced the window where the pig was perched, we decided that everything was lining up for a spectacular haunting.
Everyone at last went to bed and the engineer was tucked in. I clicked on the lights in the pigs eyes and someone else started the record spinning and Pink Floyd’s bah-bum, bah-bum was booming low and ominous. I was dying a slow suffocating death under my pillow in uncontrollable hysterics and soon the entire barracks was laughing except for the engineer who was asking what the hell was going on in a very annoyed voice. He looked and sounded like Radar O’Riley from the TV show MASH and one glaring similarity had undone the whole plan, he wore round wire glasses but not to bed so he was blind as a bat without them. He could not even see across the room so the pig was some invisible blur.
One of our favorite activities on hot slow days were water fights. These masqueraded as training I suppose to the public driving by but there was nothing instructive about it. It usually began with an engineer or a captain firing a water fire extinguisher at us inside the barracks. This caused a mad scramble for the remaining extinguishers. Those of us who didn’t manage to commandeer an extinguishers raced for one of the fire boxes placed around the station. These were red metal boxes with a faucet and a 1.5 inch hose rolled up inside. These were quickly unfurled and the nozzles soon joined the fray. Sometimes when especially ambitious, one of the captains or an engineer would get in an engine and fire up the auxiliary pump pull off a live line and drive the engine out into the yard spraying the lot of us and causing general surrender. There was nowhere to go from there.
To be continued…