Ode to a Firehouse

Ode to a Firehouse


Remembering and reflecting upon the daily visits to the neighborhood firehouse


“Oh, they’re putting up lights,” nine-year-old Liddy says as we walk past Station Four, her hand loosely holding mine. Several firefighters are working to untangle the glittering strings they hang every November. Watching, I realize how long it’s been since we paid much attention to this place that was once an everyday destination for us.

“Do you guys remember how much time we used to spend there?”

Brennan shrugs and smiles. “Kind of.”

Liddy was born when Brennan was just eighteen months old, a toddler on the go. While Liddy needed to nap and eat and snuggle, Brennan needed to be on the move. We went to gymnastics and music and story times and play groups. None measured up to his favorite outing, which was free, always open, and located just a few blocks away.

Rain, snow, hail or sleet, we would make our way over, with Brennan stomping through puddles, crunching over snow or, on lazier days, riding in back of the double stroller. If we were very lucky, someone might call out, “Hey buddy!” through the wide bay doors. “Come on in.” Then Brennan might get to hold a heavy helmet, wrestle with a huge pair of boots or even get a boost into the enormous front seat, where he would sit wide-eyed and dazzled by the array of switches and buttons. Once, one of the guys teased Brennan about his spot behind Liddy in the stroller. “Your sister’s got you stuck in the cheap seats again,” he laughed. “That’s what we’re calling you from now on. Cheap Seats.”

If the truck was out on a call, Brennan would stand on the sidewalk dejectedly, willing it to return. “Ahh,” he would sigh happily if we caught them coming back, with all the pomp and flash involved in getting their truck backed in to its resting place.

Our visits always ended with Brennan happy and satisfied, and worn out with the excitement. And with me thinking about how far a small act of kindness could go, offered quietly alongside everyday heroics. Like my own memory from decades before, when paramedics were attending to my grandmother after she’d had a stroke. I stood with my younger sister on our grandmother’s porch, trying to feign an adult’s expression of calm, only to have a fireman walk up the steps in his heavy gear and fold me in a hug.

It’s hard for me to believe nearly ten years have passed since those walks over to the firehouse. I’m not sure how much he remembers of those visits, but they remain vivid for me, and one stands out in particular. It was the time we happened upon Brennan’s heroes in action as they put out a fire in an abandoned triple-decker just a few blocks from our house. I felt a little self-conscious about letting Brennan gaze out over the scene like it was entertainment, so I kept him back a ways, telling him we wouldn’t stay long.

Then one of the firefighters who was gathering up a line called out, “Hey, I know that guy!” To my embarrassment, and to Brennan’s delight, he had recognized us.

“We spend a lot of time at the fire station,” I explained, red-faced, to a laughing neighbor.

After an enthusiastic wave, the firefighter moved on to get the work done and I tugged at Brennan and told him it was time to get going. “Your friends will be leaving soon too,” I told him. “Heading to the firehouse. But we’ll see them tomorrow, I’m sure.”

Photo: John Parise