Where is your house number?

By Peter Lammert | Sep 01, 2012

Years ago when I first joined the fire department in Thomaston, responding to a fire call at someone’s home was a bit of a mystery. The calls were dispatched by a dispatcher in our station and the call would be broadcast something like “Chimney fire at Robinson's.”

Ginny Robinson patiently explained to me once that there were five separate and distinct lines of Robinsons living within the confines of Thomaston. She tried to explain the lineage of each but the second cousins that married each other and where they lived had me totally confused.

What I learned over time is that when you arrived at the station, you could always ask the dispatcher which Robinson had a chimney fire but rather than a street address, the question was answered with a first name. That might lead to the next most logical question of where do they live? That question could have a response of something like “On the Meadow Road” and on it would go.

If you have ever been at a volunteer fire department station when a call for a true emergency comes in, it is always a miracle that no one gets run over by responders “kinda aiming” their vehicles at an open space and killing the ignition, opening the vehicle’s door and running for their gear in less time than it took you to read this. Hollering information back and forth while truck engines were revving up produced a cacophony of noise. Drivers were being urged to either Go — Go — Go; or Wait a second – Wait a second — Wait a second, with each phrase hollered at a higher decibel level than the previous as the second or third firefighter was pulled onto the tail board.

I was never on the first-out truck, which was a 1954 Chevy that had a front-mounted Darley pump plumbed to a 500-gallon Monel water tank on the back. An extra wide tail board accommodated as many as three firefighters. The tank was re-filled quickest after a fire by putting the station hose down the tank fill pipe that was located behind the driver’s side of the truck. It stuck out above the tank by about a foot and could probably hold an extra two gallons of water. I soon found out how this little bit of water would get me to a fire scene.

If I ended up driving the second or third truck out, what I soon learned was to watch for fresh water spills at road intersections. Following these spills, I usually could end up where we were called with but few exceptions. But those are other stories. The captain of the new Bangor fireboat could share one or two with me on that front.

So what has all of the above got to do with house numbers? Today, when you have an emergency, 911 is called without hesitation. I’m glad I don’t have to work at Knox Communications Center. As both Bob and Tony would tell you, I would be telling some of the callers where the bears were and how deep the do-do was. I give the utmost credit to the dispatchers who work there for being able to handle the array of calls that they do without going off the deep end.

So they get a call from a land line, which is the old black telephone line that drops from the utility pole nearest your home, through the woodwork in the home, to the reliable old Ma Bell handset located most always in a convenient spot. The minute that connection is made, Knox Dispatch knows where the call is coming from and if I have heard correctly, a map showing the location of the call pops up in front of the dispatcher at the same time. Now for readers who no longer have a land line, but who call 911 on their cell phone, may technology continue to be your friend. Your cell phone call is routed to the nearest call center designated to accept cell phone calls. From here certain information is gleaned by the dispatcher and the call is then forwarded to the department having jurisdiction over what is needed in that call. I have circumvented all this switching by putting the Knox Regional Communication Center phone number in my contact list for when I have to see a police officer about what some crazy has done in the Village Cemetery. It might behoove you to do the same.

Anyway, what about house numbers. I’m almost there. When you are having an emergency and the response team is on the way, they usually have been dispatched to the street or road number that appears on the screen when the call is answered. So the response team is looking for your house number whether it be day or night, snowing, hailing or raining or responding as mutual aid from another town.

If you even have numbers on your house, will they pass the following test:

Are they visible from the road? Or are you the kind of person who puts gold-colored numbers on a house that is painted white or tucks them up underneath a porch roof so that they are only visible to someone standing in front of them or put them on one corner or another? Don’t you answer these questions, you put the numbers up so you know where to look. Get a neighbor to see if they can see them from the road. Offer to see if you can see their numbers.

Can they be seen at night? There are houses around that have what the parents call the front porch light. This light is usually turned on when you are expecting someone to call. When the light is on, does it shine upon your house numbers. If you don’t have a front light illuminating your house numbers, get the new reflective numbers and get the largest size you can buy. Three-inch-tall numbers have been the standard but taller sizes are available. Buy two sets. Put one set on the front door in a place where a person in a passing vehicle has the best chance of seeing them. If you have an outside light, wait until dark, put the outside light on and put the numbers where the light will shine on them. Put the other set on the side of the corner of the house, again at head height, of the side facing where most emergency vehicles will come from.

If you have numbers on your mailbox, will they pass the following test: Are they on both sides of the mailbox? Help could be coming from either direction not just the way the rural route carrier drives. Are the numbers visible from a telephone pole away from the box? If not, get bigger numbers for both sides of the mailbox. Are the numbers easy to read? Light-colored surfaces should have dark-colored numbers and visa versa. Does your roadside mailbox get covered with snow during storms? If so, think about putting a separate number sign above and behind the roadside mailbox, parallel to the road, using reflective letters and the sign could even have a roof over it to keep the snow off the numbers.

Emergency responders to your call are hampered by lack of numbers or numbers that are hard to see even if they can be located. Use contrasting colored numbers large enough to be seen from the road in all conditions. If you do not know your street number, call your town office and ask for the 911 addressing officer.

Remember, emergency response can’t get to you if they don’t know where you are.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Joanne Lee Richards | Sep 07, 2012 21:14

OK, now I need new BIGGER numbers...thanks Pete!

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