Column: The story of a firefighter and his strange dress code

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 28, 2002

Because of the Sept.

Thursday, February 28, 2002

Because of the Sept. 11 tragedy, there has been a great deal said about firefighters. Last weekend, a TV program dealt with the subject in a manner more dramatic than tragic. It has emboldened me to share a firefighter episode that is neither tragic nor dramatic, but purely ridiculous.

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I believe my hometown in Nebraska now has a full-time professional fire team. Up until my family left Nebraska City in 1934, and probably some years after we left, the town was served by volunteer firemen.

My father was one of them. He was not a man who dabbled at anything he did. It was generally agreed that he and one of his friends were the most dedicated of the firemen.

I don’t know what the other fireman’s name was, because my father seldom, if ever, got a name right. It was something Slavic I believe, because my dad always referred to him as &uot;Nosky.&uot; He always referred to dad as &uot;Crook.&uot;

They were fiercely competitive. It was a dangerous competition because it led both of them into the worst of whatever fire was raging, pushing them beyond what was normally expected.

It was a matter of pride to both Nosky and dad to be the first one to get to the fire. There was no secret about it and before a fire was even announced the other men had usually placed their bets.

Dad had developed a system. Never did he go to bed without first placing his long rubber fire coat, his helmet, his high rubber boots, and protective gloves on a chair next to the bed. He refused to wear nightwear because taking it off in order to dress would slow him down.

There was a family in town with a house resembling a mansion, which cost almost as much to maintain as a mansion. They couldn’t sell it and they pined for a cozy little cottage with lower taxes and less need for household help.

Whether or not they tried to burn it down from time to time was never determined. They were a friendly sort of family, though, and long before the house finally burned everyone was wishing them well with the project.

It was a cold, bleak winter midnight about this time of the year, as I recall, when the call came through that once again the mansion was burning. Dressed only in his rubber coat, boots, helmet and gloves, my father was off in a flash.

The firemen were so used to being called to fires at the mansion that they made it in good time. The man of the house was, as usual, not present. Out-of-town, reported his wife and mother-in-law. The fire hadn’t had a chance to get much of a start. As customary, the women had arranged a bountiful lunch with hot coffee for the firemen.

It was at this point that my father realized he had something of a problem. He said the kitchen where the lunch was being served was one of the hottest rooms he’d ever been in. The other men had all shed their coats, now laid out in a heap on the kitchen floor. He was in no condition to shed his.

With perspiration running down his forehead, he pled a severe chill, thanked them for the invitation to the lunch, but said he thought he’d better get home. Unfortunately by that time his fellow firemen had put two and two together and joyously blocked his way to the door.

&uot;Hot coffee,&uot; they chorused, &uot;best thing in the world for a chill.&uot;

They ushered him tenderly to the table and pleaded with him to take off the hot coat, a plea in which they were joined by their eager hostess.

&uot;If I’d had my axe in hand,&uot; dad said later, &uot;I’d have whacked their damned heads off one by one.&uot;

It made, of course, a wonderful story for the firemen. The women who lived in the mansion sent my father a whole chocolate cake the next day.

The time came when he could laugh about the incident, as did everybody else, especially Nosky.

Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears Thursdays.