One Friday afternoon, I was playing a familiar role. I was Mr. Mom. This time however, I faced a much bigger challenge. I was taking care of five little girls: Rebecca-Marie Kaze, Page and Camille Rivett, and Sabine and Simone Puglia. They wanted to have a ‘Girl Fest,’ a name concocted by my wife signifying an all girls; no holds barred; praise the Lord and pass the ammunition type of play date. (I hate that term play date?but that’s another story.) “What was I thinking”! We were to rendezvous after school at 1500 (3 p.m.), at the bell, at La Cañada Elementary. As the minute hand was about to strike 12, I felt myself saying, “You can do this!” “You can do this!” (One more for effect)?"You can do this!”
Just in time to save the day, the Cavalry came. It was a red fire truck from Station 82, and it momentarily parked in front of LCE. Within seconds, the firefighters on board were enthusiastically engaged in answering a myriad of questions about their shinny red truck. One of the men sensed the children’s curiosity and said to me; “Bring the girls down to the station and we’ll give them a tour.” Within a millisecond, I responded, “We’ll be there!”
“Saved,” I thought! What a metaphor.
Page, Rebecca-Marie, Sabine, Camille, Simone, and I arrived at Fire Station 82. They welcomed us. Amidst a sincere display of friendliness, openness, and hospitality there was a sense of preparation, readiness, and an unnerving awareness of the potential of danger that could erupt at any moment. After years in the Marines, I learned to recognize such cues. Station 82 seemed to shine. The firefighters exuded confidence and it was obvious to me, that a sense of organization, teamwork, and camaraderie prevailed.
The firefighters of Station 82, shift ‘A’, under the command of Captain Robert Sanchez, gave us the ‘Red Carpet’ treatment! Under the supervision of firefighter Ed Magana, my little team manned the hose and fired the water. Firefighter Arnold Quinoes demonstrated the use of equipment and allowed the girls to board the bright red trucks. Firefighter Henry Padron gave us the “E” ticket tour of the station. And?if that weren’t enough, my girls were treated to a ride around the neighborhood on an engine with firefighter Janet Chateian at the wheel.
If Norman Rockwell were present with his brush and palette, he truly would have had the makings of a masterpiece. The expressions of the children; their excitement as they boarded the hook and ladder; along with the patience and tenderness of the crew defined by a pronounced physicality and stature; created looks of admiration that truly would have been the artist’s dream. This is a cover for the “The Saturday Evening Post.”
We need heroes! They show us the way. They show us what we could be. Through their trials and tribulations they return with the answers that make us better people. The early Greek writers knew this. Prometheus, the first Greek hero, braved the wrath of Zeus to bring fire to man and thus save civilization.
Firefighters are heroes and we don’t have to go too far to find them. Just down the block in Stations 82 and 19 is where they reside. They stand taller than most of us and put it all on the line when the bell rings. They are often the most gentle because they have witnessed firsthand the power of violence. Believe me, they don’t preach the brotherhood of man, they live it. And, sometimes in their job, goodbye is really goodbye. When you are driving by Stations 82 and 19 give them a parting glance, and if you have the time, stop by and say hello, bring them some cookies or a fresh baked cake. A poem by M. Vassallo describes their everyday heroism. Bravest hearts of purest courage: who could run into such danger, when life’s sweet and love is true? Who could die to save a stranger? Who could live as heroes do?”
After our tour, we said our good-byes and sealed our memories with a picture. I packed up Simone, Camille, Rebecca-Marie, Sabine, and Page and headed for ice cream. Amidst five little voices singing “It’s a Small World,” my thoughts were muted as I felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. It was good to be back with the likes of such men and women.