Days like today are exactly why I bought a fire engine.
Every week, our local library hosts different programs that specifically cater to young kids. When I was little, our library getaways consisted of sitting quietly out of fear as a gruff old woman read stories and struggled to hold the book up long enough for us to see the illustrations. Even as she read, there was no emotion. She didn’t act out the scenes or make funny voices. She just read the book like any other parolee required to do so through community service.
Tara, the woman who runs the library program in our town, is awesome. She engages the kids, she makes sure every child can see the illustrations, and she asks questions throughout the story to maintain interest and help them retain what’s being read. Considering 97% of children have the attention span of a gnat, it’s quite an accomplishment to hold 30 kids at bay throughout an entire story. Short of threats, I don’t think I could do the same.
Michael and Kamryn love the weekly programs because she does a lot more than just read books. Typically, the books are intertwined with lessons, activities, and hands-on experiences. She’s brought in a mobile Planetarium, pottery instruction, police officers, and even helped the kids make Sushi for their parents (sans fish) during a program about Japan. It was more like glue-based Elmer’s rice wrapped in the kind of seaweed wrap you’d crumble into an aquarium, but it was adorable to hear their spirited tales about all they had learned.
This week, she wanted to do a program about the brave and heroic work of firefighters but feared the afternoon would be a bust because she couldn’t get a commitment from the fire department to attend the event. Heather and I offered to bring Perry to the event so the kids could explore the truck, climb into the cab, work the siren, and just see a fire engine up close.
While I couldn’t tell the kids jack about being a firefighter, I could at least show them something shiny to take their minds off the fact that I’m a total nitwit when it comes to firefighting.
Fortunately, the fire department ended up coming to the event anyhow and sent along two firefighters to do a short demonstration for the kids. They showed off all their fancy equipment, talked about how they enter burning buildings, how they put out fires, and shared a lot of other things that made every male in the library feel like a useless dweeb.
Following their firefighting chat and demonstration, they opened it up for questions, which turned out to be the most entertaining part of the whole afternoon. If you haven’t heard children conjure up questions just so he or she can talk, you haven’t lived.
The first three questions asked were completely normal.
“How much does your fire coat weigh?”
“How do you talk to each other in a fire?”
“How many firefighters are in the firehouse?”
After these, the questions stopped coming. The group had reached its logical limit. Only after Tara cajoled them into asking more questions did the verbal purging begin.
“Oh come on, there must be SOMEONE out there with a question for these firefighters…raise your hands!”
Just then, about 15 hands shot up, and not one of the children attached to those hands had a clue what they were going to ask until they were called upon. Only when they were pointed to did they’re little brains start to summon a question.
Child #1: “Uhhhh. Ummmm. What if your axe breaks?”
Firefighter: “Then we get a new one from another truck.”
Child #2: “Uhhhh. Do people save you if you get hurt in the fire?”
Firefighter: “We always enter homes in pairs so my fire buddy would help me if I found myself in trouble.”
Child #3: “But what if he died and you drowned? Who would help you?”
Firefighter (looking at partner): “Uhhh, well, probably another firefighter.”
Child #1: “Ummmm. What if ALL of your axes break?”
Firefighter: “Well, then we’re having a pretty bad day. We’d just use another piece of equipment.”
Child #4: “Uhhhh. What if a house burns all the way to the ground because you were late?”
Firefighter: “We try to be as fast as we can. That’s why we have lights and sirens.”
Child #5: “How do you know when someone has a fire?”
Firefighter: “People are pretty good at letting us know. That’s what 911 is for.”
Child #1: “What if ALL of your equipment breaks. Like everything. Even your trucks?”
Firefighter: “Well, then we’d call another fire department to help us.”
Child #1: “But what if all of THEIR….”
Tara: “Okayyyy! I think we’re good on questions…who wants to go see the fire engine?”
Black Friday sales have nothing on the flash mob scene that erupted when Tara offered up the fire engine tour. Ignoring please for calm and civility, the children spilled out into the parking lot and took to Perry like an ant colony on a sugar cube.
Kamryn passed out free fire helmets to all the children and the adults seemed to just sit back and live vicariously through their children’s excited exploration. They worked the lights, shouted gibberish over the external PA system, and even turned on the siren. The smiles were ear to ear and endless. They pretended to drive as they perched themselves in the driver’s seat, they pretended to work the deck gun as they put out imaginary fires, and they explored every square inch of diamondplate.
We had such a great time with these kids, and seeing all the smiles that came with all the laughter absolutely made my week. Every child got a fire helmet and every child left with a bunch of memories. To think Perry would have otherwise ended up dismantled and left in some scrapyard made me realize just how fortunate we were to have been given the opportunity to buy him. Every mile driven, every dollar spent on storage, every $180 oil change, and every gallon of diesel fuel burned has proven to be an enriching investment for the soul.
Even though Perry has cost us thousands, it’s easy to justify the sacrifice when you stumble upon scenes like this one: