By Suzy Lowry Geno
We celebrated our "silver anniversary" this year. No—we weren’t celebrating our marriage (that will be 30 years in December).
We were celebrating the 25 year anniversary of our house burning.
That sounds strange to some people. But what could have been a major tragedy was not, as no one in our family was injured and none of the firefighters were hurt as well.
And although we lost just about everything we owned and had very meager insurance, the lessons we learned and the blessings that enriched our hearts were cause to celebrate then, and to continue to celebrate now.
If you are striving to lead the "simple life," as we try to do, you’ve no doubt realized by now no one can truly live a life on their own, no matter how they strive to be self-sufficient.
It was the area’s volunteer firefighters who touched our hearts then and continue today.
Most rural areas in the South didn’t have even the most basic fire protection through the years and our area was no exception. The two "larger" towns in our county then (with the largest having a population of about 4,000) both had fire and rescue departments but only the largest town had even the semblance of a full time fire department at the time.
A few other areas of the county had just begun struggling fire and rescue all- volunteer groups. But I had even written an article for our local newspaper noting that, if you were in a wreck, you’d better hope you were in one of those three areas of the county, because back then in other areas you might be pretty much on your own until an ambulance could reach you, about 45 minutes after the initial call.
The day our house burned was cold, drab and rainy, as only an Alabama spring day can be.
I had worked that morning, gathering the local law enforcement and fire news for our local newspaper. I came home at lunch and our not-quite-two year-old played himself to sleep in his playpen. I took a brief nap laying across our bed.
About 30 minutes later, I decided to tidy the house while Nathan still slept. The washer was chugging and the dryer tumbled full of diapers (yes—you know those cloth things you used to pin onto babies’ behinds!).
Suddenly the smoke detectors began to sound. I walked from the kitchen to the dining area, where my much-beloved piano and my theater-style organ, were situated at right angles to a roll top desk my father had just built for me.
I could trace the fire racing across the wires in the ceiling which was already smoldering.
I grabbed Nathan out of his playpen with one arm and grabbed the phone with the other, calling the sheriff’s office (this was way before 911 dispatch) and telling the dispatcher (who I had only two hours before interviewed about the past week’s emergencies) my OWN house was ablaze.
All I could think about was getting Nathan out of the house, having attended and covered enough fire meetings to know how quickly a person could be overcome by smoke and other burning chemicals inside a house.
I walked out with Nathan on my hip, both of us in our sock feet, as I could hear the police and fire scanner in my small office blaring out the fire call—to my own house.
We stood in the drizzle at the end of the driveway and watched as Oneonta’s fire truck came chugging up our dirt road, with police officer Gary Bynum leading the way in his patrol car.
Soon to follow were volunteer departments from Susan Moore, Rosa and Royal and I think even a few Snead volunteers!
My car was parked nearly against the house. A firefighter went inside the blaze, retrieved my keys from the kitchen counter and moved my car, which was filled with about 100 boxes of Girl Scout cookies we were planning to deliver that afternoon after school!
I was given a neighbor’s jacket to cover Nathan and soon found myself seated in a volunteer firefighter’s warm pick-up truck. When Beth and Jannea arrived home on the school bus, and my husband, Roy, arrived home from work, we were all still there.
What had been our "dream home" in the woods, was now mostly a smoldering mess of twisted beams and soggy carpet.
My piano, a special gift years before from my parents, was a chunk of steaming charred wood. My organ simply melted. My camera equipment did the same.
But there was a stack of photo albums the firefighters saved. While the photos around each page were lost, sitting in the middle of each page was one photo I could salvage! How those priceless memories mounted up!
There were other precious finds. A tiny pink stuffed mouse Jannea treasured was found in the girls’ bedroom.
Tiny bits of our lives we could save and treasure.
All but two of the men who responded that day were volunteers. Volunteers who not only left their warm homes or jobs in the middle of that dreary day to come to our rescue, but who had also spent countless hours in drills and training so they would be ready when disasters struck.
Since that day our county has been blessed with additional volunteer fire departments, as well, as a great deal of newer equipment and more complex training and educational opportunities for those volunteers.
Now if you have a wreck, a house fire or a medical emergency just about anywhere in our county, aid will be by your side in a matter of minutes thanks to those many dedicated volunteers who have not only given of their time for calls but have also pushed for more governmental help.
Some in our county even now boast new fire engines and rescue trucks thanks to Homeland Security Grants.
But I can tell you this, it’s not all the fancy red equipment that matters. The training is important and I will ever be thankful Oneonta’s paramedics knew just what to do when they came to our home on the night of February 11th when my husband was having a heart attack; but the training is not the most important thing either.
What IS important are the dedicated men and women who give their time, and even sometimes their very lives, to being ready and on call when their neighbors experience an emergency.
Whether they are with a paid department or are volunteers, everyone I’ve ever met has given waaaaaay more back than any salary could ever pay.
A few years back, my then 80-year-old mother, my then ten-year-old grandson and two of my mother’s 80-year-old friends were injured when their car was "tee-boned" by a car speeding over a hill and driven by a bounty hunter.
I rushed to the scene as my grandson was loaded onto a helicopter and as my mother was loaded into an ambulance. But I was greatly reassured. Doing everything from directing traffic to providing triage were those same dedicated volunteers and medics I had watched progress through the years.
Recently some local firefighters entered a burning apartment and pulled out a woman whose health problems had prevented her from leaving the fiery tomb. They were trained, they were wearing the right turnout gear and the right equipment, but it was their personal caring and their personal risk that made the difference.
I love the simple life and simple times.
But there is nothing more basic and more simple—and yet nothing more profound—than someone being willing to lay down their own life to help others.