Friday, August 17, 2007

So, who invented fire?

By Kevin Duling

Thirty years ago, the end of the county where I reside decided to put together a fire department. The river rafters and the railroad had started enough fires to make the locals tired of putting them out with pickup sprayers. A board of directors was arranged and a fire chief appointed.

In the late 70’s the department acquired four trucks to call their own. Two of them were 1958 military surplus jeeps, one was a 1955 double deuce military rig, and the other was a 1948 tractor tanker. Thirty years later, we have acquired over $1.5 million in assets, but we still use three of the first four trucks.

A neighboring fire district had a large blaze last year. They called for our help. I had the luxury of taking the 1955 double deuce. There is something about seeing smoke from a distance that makes you accelerate to very high speeds. My spirit turned pale when I realized how fast I was traveling when I entered a five mile downhill grade. (I assume my flesh turned pale too, but I couldn’t see myself)

The reason I turned pale was I remembered helping the chief figure out why the brakes didn’t work the previous fall. If I died, at least I died volunteering for something and would be remembered with a legacy. A legacy of being willing to help, but still not mechanical enough to fix the brakes on a 1955 machine.

At the bottom of the grade was the turnoff to the fire. I remember remarking about the number of people helping (getting in the way, mostly) direct traffic as I idled by the turnoff at a mere 55 mph. That doesn’t sound fast to you, but in a fully loaded double deuce with 95 percent of its brakes missing, that is a brain shaking speed, literally.

As I was coming back to the turnoff, one of the helpers stopped me with a clenched fist stating I was going too fast and was going to kill someone. I humbly agreed and did my best to hide what I really wanted to say.

With the fire burning through some grass and brush, I cranked my pump up, charged my nozzles hooked to my enormous bumper, and proceeded to put the fire out. My brother was lucky enough to grab one of the newer 1958 rigs and he met me somewhere in the middle.

It was time to head for home. Now the issue at hand was seeing if my 1955 deuce could pull itself back up the hill I screamed down. The automatic transmission had a tendency to kick out of gear when you least expect it.

Small volunteer districts gain equipment by using old rejects from larger departments. For about ten years, our department used hardhats that looked like they were rented from the Battlestar Galactica exhibit at Universal Studios. Combine that with our bright yellow jumpsuits and 1950’s trucks and we were quite a sight.

Unfortunately, our old radios that were the size of a regulation football had to be let go, due to technological advances. Fire communication is now the buzzword in the fire service. During a fire incident, our communication is usually as follows:
“Kevin, get that truck over to the east side and take that flank out!”
“What? Could you repeat that?”
“I said; take that truck to the other side and take that flank out!”
“That’s what I thought you said. So, I will take my truck down the sidewalk and order some takeout. Roger. Food would be good, but why do I have to drive on the sidewalk, over?”

Our department was founded from necessity. A group of farmers got together to meet a need. It’s easy to miss the days when communities could get together with common visions, ideals, and a sense of service. Perhaps those days don’t have to be gone forever.

Kevin Duling is a wheat farmer and freelance writer from Maupin, Ore. Kevin’s short stories can be found on the Capital Press blog every Friday. Comments are welcomed at

Copyright, July 2007

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