You never know when you'll need a firefighter

There are certain things that I most certainly do not appreciate when they seemingly pop out of thin air.

Rabid dogs immediately come to mind, as do electric bills that defy logic, frost on my windows when I’m running late for work and songs in television shows that are played at a volume 19 times higher than the rest of the program. You can also add in snakes when I’m messing around in the yard, rolled-up Aces for an opponent when I’m playing poker and that belching sound from my liquid soap container when I’m standing in the shower and come to the cold realization that I’m out of soap.

On the flip side, there are certain things that can materialize in an instant that can bring an immediate sense of joy with them. An old friend stopping by for a surpise visit can generate instant happiness, as can the sight of a snow plow finally making its way down my street, crumpled-up cash in a jacket pocket that has been hanging in a closet for six months and firefighters materializing out of the darkness to extinguish a fire.

Maybe I should explain that last one.

My nextdoor neighbors, whom I’m very fond of, had a fire in their shed on Monday night. Standing outside with them and a handful of other people from the neighborhood, we watched as flames engulfed the shed, spread to a few trees and threatened to extend to my house or theirs if the wind changed even a little. We were all talking about how thankful we were that another neighbor spotted the flames and called 911, and that all people and animals were in safety as the fire continued to grow.

But there was also a lot of nervousness among the crowd.

Suddenly, drops of water hit my face and I noticed a wall of smoke appearing from the fire. Firefighters from the Millville Volunteer Fire Company had come from the back of our neighbors’ home and were spraying down the flames and tackling the blaze in a hurry.

Instant relief.

We all knew things would be fine at that point because the people who volunteer their time, energy and effort were there to make it so. A fire truck appeared at the front of the house, and more firefighters made their way to the burning shed. I chuckled to myself at one point as a handful of them were working diligently to remove a ladder from the truck without doing damage to my mail box.

“Forget the mail box,” I was thinking to myself. “Just do what you have to do.”

They did. They put out the fire. They talked with the homeowners and asked them questions and gave them comfort. And they were courteous all the while, even to my little mail box.

In short, it was a treat to watch them at work.

I’ve always respected firefighters, as well as police. As the old saying goes, they often run into situations that the rest of us would run away from in a heartbeat. But my respect and admiration for them only grew as I saw them battling this fire so close to home.

I can’t even tell you how many fires I’ve covered in my lifetime. I spent a good chunk of my reporter career covering police and fire, so I’ve had the opportunity to watch emergency responders in action, and I’ve always been impressed by their bravery and competence. But this fire was more personal to me than many others, and their deeds struck a chord more than normal.

It’s important that we all remember that our local fire departments are filled with brave volunteers. They operate as well as they do because of donations and grants, and they operate to save lives and property, not to maximize profit and appease shareholders.

The world economy has been bleak over the past few years, and that has hurt fundraising all over. Charitable organizations are struggling to help as many people as they’d like and volunteer fire companies are feeling the pinch, as well. If you can, send them a little donation. The next fire could hit close to home.