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Bob’s Meanderings: False Alarm

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It was late Saturday afternoon, April 30th and I was having a nap. I had been raking the lawn earlier in the day. Maybe the first attempt this year was a little too exhausting but anyway it zapped my energy and so later in the afternoon a rare half-hour lie-down seemed in order. Our bedroom is on the ground floor parallel to Grace Street. Joining me were two of our cats who can sleep at any time anywhere.

The first siren was a softer one and I sort of heard it as a part of a dream. The second harsher one from the second fire truck seemed like it was the next room as it was only three meters from the bedroom window. The three of us jumped in unison, the cats almost out of their skins with me right behind them.

A 911 call had been made from a cell phone. It was a youngster’s voice that described smoke coming from both the Catholic School and the Church. Both were very close to where I live. Worrisome for sure but the response was quick. The firefighters couldn’t see smoke though or any sign of smoke.

One of the Westmeath firefighters had already spoken to Sheila. All the homes in that proximity were canvassed just to be on the safe side. The kid had called 911 as a prank it appears but by then all had vanished. By this time, the two firetrucks were joined by two police cars. One circled a few blocks a couple of times hoping to spot a culprit. Some neighbourhood kids had showed up out of curiosity where the fire fighters and police were congregated in front of the school.

They were quizzed by the officers but no information was given about the call. Both squad cars did stop at one house close by but even if the offender lived there, what method would you have for a 10-year-old!

The only positive take-away was ‘no fire.’ In the past I saw three homes go up in flames, so sad because little can be done and worse still, neighbours you knew would have lost everything. That was reason enough for the municipality banish burn barrels from the village, although I saw two unauthorized ones burning litter on the same day weeks earlier. Both families were rather new to the area and probably wouldn’t have known they were breaching a bylaw.

There’s a story which is probably folklore by now that still intermittently circulates about a guy years ago stopping his car to call on his girlfriend. Apparently his visit wasn’t appreciated and he was rejected. He became so agitated, he went to his vehicle and set it on fire. By the time the fire engine arrived it was pile of rusty junk. Now no car and no girl. What is left for him?

Another fire was a total loss due to inaction by the fire department. This home with a small storefront was literally across the street from the fire hall. The fire chief was out of town at this time (an uncommon occurrence) but had one of his volunteers appointed to be in charge.

After the fire started, the volunteer was shortly in the driver’s seat of the fire truck. Only a few meters from him but he couldn’t get the engine started even after many attempts. He watched the property go up in flames while he was still trying to start the engine. He blamed himself for not being able to do his job. Others blamed him too.

When the chief returned he explained, “The ignition in the truck requires turning to the left not the right. I forgot to mention that to the volunteers.” Years later I talked with the same volunteer about it who shook his head and said, “I still regret that horrible day and I still get teased about it.”

  Comparing the prank 911 call putting those involved at risk for just doing their job with an incident in Ottawa last week. A school bus driver with students on board was pulled over by the police. He had been travelling 106 km/h in a 60-kilometer zone. He was charged with stunt driving. Likely he will never drive a school bus again.

Both were very serious. With a little common-sense they could have been averted.