My index finger is in some sort of medical device.  Some spring clamp thing on my finger is connected by one of those twirly phone cords that used to be a thing to some screen and tickertape thing counting down my fabulous life.  Sitting in an ambulance at the fire station, with Group 4 wondering where the hell my pulse went.  Let's hum along.


Nothing is registering.


“Maybe we should reboot it”, I offer.  Just before my cover as a visitor from Krypton is about to be blown, there’s a beep, and then some numbers.  Some low numbers.  Some high numbers.  Low numbers for pulse, high numbers for oxygen saturation.  The mountain climbing / stair climbing pays off.   Low resting pulse rate and excellent oxygen saturation.  We’re doing some cross-training with our EMTs and I’m trying to zen my way into a low sixty pulse rate when the dooo DOOOO doooo tones over the station’s speakers let us all know cross-training is OVER.  It’s a fire. 


RATS.  Got my duty boots on and we’re all at the station, so the adrenaline race to gear up and jump in the first rig out the door is gonna be hampered by ten seconds of getting out of the ambulance and twenty seconds of unlacing boots.  Plan B grab the switchblade from my turnout jacket pocket, slice the laces and I’m out of the duty boots and into the bottom half of my turnout gear in under fifteen seconds.  Throw jacket on grab helmet and take the twelve well-practiced steps to the business door of Engine 33 and … Zach got there first.  RATS.  He won, fair and square.  I’m second in. 


Thorne and Alan join the back seat party.  AC1 Jeremy and Troy are up front, doing the command and driving bits.  Others follow in Tender 35 and Squad 39.  There is no way to really know all that is going on as it is going on, so you focus on the task(s) at hand, in sequence.  Here’s a good place to say AC1 Jeremy in command and Troy on the pumps is a solid combo.  Troy is a radder version of Bernoulli, and there’s no one I’d rather have at the pump panel if I’m on the wet end of the hose.  Radio crackles and dispatch says semi truck on fire at the interstate rest stop.  Learn semi is full of asphalt shingles.  I’m no molecular chemist, but asphalt shingles are gasoline, in solid form.  AC1 calls for tenders from Arlington and Portage.  The water we have on hand is not going to put out a semi full of solid gasoline. 


The C9H13NO3 (ok, I dabble in molecular chemistry) race continues in back with the fine motor skills of strapping into air packs and getting masks ready to go while on the move and trying not to have your unbuckled seat belt alarm go off for too long.  Four guys ready to go and we use the lights and sirens time hauling up the interstate for pre-planning.  Mostly centered, because we’re righteous dudes, on who gets the nozzle.  Zach got to the nozzle seat first, so it’s rightly his.  Alan had the nozzle at the Bluebird Circle house fire, I had it at the last car fire and Thorne is joking about just needing the water can so … Zach is on nozzle.  I am Zach’s back-up.  Thorne and Alan can stretch a second line, or man the deck gun. 


Kind of wish the back of 33 had one of the finger clamp things.  Because rolling lights and sirens to a fire and zenning your pulse down into the 60s would be super cool. 


Make it to the rest stop.  There's no smoke plume.  We drive around a bit.  “Ever see Spinal Tap?”, I ask Thorne.  Remember that scene where they could not find the stage? 


Something like that.  Except it is an interstate rest stop, with a purported truck on fire.  Not at the rest stop proper, it turns out.  And not much of a fire, we find out.  Semi with a back tire smoldering on the entry ramp to the interstate from the rest stop.  Thorne’s joke is not a joke.  He de-smolders the tire with the water can.   Portage and Arlington can head back home, and so can we. 


Lessons learned?  I’ll get to that.


Night before last, 1:00 AM(ish) phone alarm goes off on the nightstand.  Jolt out of bed, eyes start to work in the hallway and read “—FIRE—  Nature: FIRE” on the screen.  Don’t scroll down because that wastes time.   Semi-dressed, out the door and underway in twenty seconds.  Beat Zach into 33 this time.  Cpt. Brandon also in back, Mike in the driver’s seat and Chief Cam in command.  Off we go.


The not scrolling down to read the first dispatch is a choice, that has become a practice.  I’m at the Pavlov’s dog stage of firefighting.  Bell rings, dog salivates.  Alarm goes off, I head to the station.  It used to be terribly (read: somewhat) embarrassing that I’d be heading to the station every Wednesday at 6:00 PM when the County tests the alarm system each week.  Conditioned response has its downsides, I suppose.  But The Replacements on the radio, turn up volume, see pecan pie, eat pecan pie, hear fire alarm, head to the station immediately all work for me.  They take some of the thinking out of the equation and -- truth be known -- there’s too much thinking going on all the time (often about the dumbest of things) that lightening the equation by several variables is a solid quality of life boost. 


Off we go to a fire alarm.  Which I would have known, if I would have scrolled down in the hallway at home.  A fire alarm at a place where the alarm tends to short out and go off when it rains a lot.  It has rained a lot, and there’s no fire.  But you can’t take that for granted, so you (read: we) show up. 


I’ll live with being the butt of family and second family jokes about bolting out the door for the weekly Wednesday dinner hour (really, who chose the dinner hour?) County alarm test.  Being the butt of family jokes is generally bemusing to me.  What is also curiously joyful now that I have gotten used to it are the middle of the night calls.  Not the calls themselves.  Calls are serious business, even when they are false alarms or not the fully on fire semi-truck full of armageddon roofing we thought we were heading to. 


What is curiously joyful is how normal the middle of the night vibe is.  Oh sure, we were all sleeping just a few minutes ago.  And maybe (or maybe not) we’ll all get back to sleep when whatever it is we are doing is over.  But a problem at 2:00 AM is not substantially different than a problem at 2:00 PM.  It is darker but, ya know, we each have like three dozen flashlights hanging off us, so darkness is not a deal-breaker.  Someone has a problem.  We show up to help. 


24/7/365.  And the lesson-learned heartening / bemusing part is how second nature it becomes.