Stoking the fires of love

By Sarah E. Reynolds | May 12, 2017

As a longtime reporter, one of my ambitions is never to have my name mentioned on the scanner. I'd like to say that's because reporters are supposed to cover the news, not make it, but it's more personal than that.

The scanner is the device used to monitor various emergency responder radio channels. We listen mostly to the rescue channel, where we can hear about crashes and fires that we might have to cover – and a whole lot of calls for people who need the EMTs, sometimes in a medical emergency, sometimes not.

Listening to these calls, some of them sound fairly humiliating for the subject, if he or she were aware of what's being said. No symptom, no matter how delicate, no matter how private it might seem, is unmentionable when dispatch is informing medical first-responders of what to expect on a call. Bad enough to have it broadcast that you've fallen and can't get up; how much worse for the world (or at least part of it) to hear that you've done, as Milton Berle coyly put it in an ad for men's underwear, “everything in [your] BVDs.”

Part of not wanting to be spoken of on the scanner, of course, is hoping not to be a situation where that would be necessary: long may I stay out of car crashes, fires and other dangerous situations and remain at least healthy enough to go to the emergency room by personal car. But the other side, as I've just alluded to, is the desire to avoid the embarrassment of having my intimate personal details, including possible foolishness on my part, trumpeted to an audience of strangers – and worse, coworkers.

So it was a good thing that I had weekend duty – and was therefore in possession of the scanner – last weekend. Fortunately, it was a quiet weekend: I went to one crash, which was cleared by the time I got there, and the driver of the single vehicle involved had no passengers and went to the hospital with wrist pain.

On Sunday afternoon, it looked like rain, and Maureen decided to burn some brush, including last year's Christmas tree. I asked whether she had printed her burn permit off the website where you can get them. “You don't need one if it's raining,” she said. So, she figured she was covered. Maureen is a responsible sort, and it did look like rain, so I didn't worry about it.

She asked me to drag the tree from our deck, where it has lolled the last four months, to the area where she burns stuff, and I did that, then went inside to read. After a while, my phone rang.

“Get me a bucket of water right away!” she said. I jumped up and went looking for a bucket. Nothing in the mud room, so I went upstairs. Aha! There it was, in the bathroom. I filled it from the tub, the seconds seeming to drag as the water inched up the sides.

Finally, I carried it downstairs and out the kitchen slider to hear, “What part of right away do you not understand?!” Later, Maureen told me there was a bucket on the deck that I hadn't known was there.

I ran to put my bucket of water on the fire, which was spreading towards three things we didn't want to catch – an old, disused chicken coop, the woods between our house and the neighbors' and the shed that houses our riding mower, two ATVs, and assorted other gas-powered equipment. The water made a satisfying slosh as it landed on a small area of the fire and quenched it with a puff of smoke. But there was more fire, so much more.

I ran back over to the house to fill the bucket from the outdoor tap. Maureen was yelling instructions at me about where to put the water. Her tone clearly expressed her frustration that she was unable to move faster herself to get there and put the water where it was needed. As the nearest sentient being, I was the recipient of that frustration.

Back and forth I ran – or fast-walked at least half the time, since I was carrying a bucket full of water – splashing water on the edge of the spreading fire one bucket at a time. Meanwhile, Maureen was filling the other bucket – we had two – at the tap. Sometimes she would bring it to me on the ATV. Every time, she would holler at me about where to put the next bucketful. With all the running back and forth, I was winded, and started to wonder if I'd collapse before we got the fire under control.

Somewhere in this frantic process, and I truly don't remember exactly when it was, I had a bright idea: call the fire department! I paused to do it, and Maureen yelled to ask me what I was doing. “Don't do that,” she said, when I told her. I figured she was worried about a fine, since she hadn't gotten a permit, so I hung up, knowing I would get a call back. When dispatch called back, I told them we had a brush fire that had gotten out of hand and I was afraid it would spread.

Maureen said I could “tell them why they're here” when the fire department came, and I was entirely willing to do that. After what seemed like about 100 more trips across the yard carrying water, the fire department arrived, and I have seldom been happier to see anybody. The fire was mostly out by then, but the ground was still smoking, so I was relieved when they sprayed plenty of water on the burned area, ensuring it wouldn't start again.

One of the firefighters was kind enough to come over to us and say, “You did the right thing. We were having a boring afternoon, anyway,” with a big grin. Maureen pointed at me, and said, “She did the right thing,” which made up for most of the yelling. After being in our yard less time than it took them to get there, the firefighters got back in their trucks and left.

Then up the driveway came the forest ranger to give us a talking-to about burning without a permit and the possible consequences thereof, financial and otherwise. He was actually pretty nice about it, and let us off with a warning. My spouse again did the handsome thing and made clear that she was responsible for the fire and the failure to pull a permit; that, in fact, I had been “the sensible one” who called 911. With that, I forgave her the rest of the yelling, the fire, everything.

And all this time, the scanner had been safely inside our house, where none of my coworkers could hear it, if they would even have recognized our address. So I feel that my ambition in regard to remaining unmentioned on the emergency airwaves is intact.

We decided after that to have a quiet night, although Maureen did make a fire – in the woodstove.

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