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Joe's Neighborhood

Firetrucks and firefighters

10/4/2017

“You can sit behind the wheel if you want to. Go ahead.”

The firefighter, younger than my youngest child, is grinning broadly as he encourages me. He has me pegged. Yup, beneath my bald head is a tow-haired 5-year-old making firetruck noises while playing on the linoleum floor. Do I want to climb up? Please, get real. Can I also blow the horn?

It’s usually not a good thing to see a red truck blocking the street, ladders up top, hoses ready to go, firefighters walking down the street. But not today. The sun is shining. No smoke on the wind. Everyone is healthy.

Lieutenant Cory Macumber, Josh Boyle and Rob Harris, all from the Urbandale Fire Department, are making the rounds of neighborhood after neighborhood.

“Hello, Urbandale Fire Department.”

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What is going on?

Jon Rech, the fire marshal for Urbandale, explains to me later at the fire station:

“We’ve been doing detector replacements and battery replacements for years. However, this initiative started last year when Chief Jerry Holt put in for a grant to Endow Urbandale. The goal under that grant is to try to reach out to various neighborhoods throughout the city, to get in and check out folks’ smoke detectors. Are they there? Are they missing? Are they really old and really don’t work?”

So three firefighters enter my home (after I responded to their mailed offer to be on their list). They check all the fire alarms. Talk to me about fire safety. Explain how to deal with certain peculiarities of my home (like why the alarm always goes off when I cook but not when my wife does). And answer all my questions about escape routes and carbon monoxide poisoning and grease fires.

Surprisingly educational… but what about the firetruck outside? Can we go look at it?

Fire Marshal Rech, however, hasn’t yet given up on my education.

“We find that kids seem to do a better job with fire education than adults do. Remember in elementary school, you went to a fire station or the firefighters came to school? But nothing in high school or college. Our fire education stops in elementary school. Should we be surprised that as adults we don’t know to replace our fire detectors every 10 years?”

Yikes, busted! I didn’t know to replace my fire detector every 10 years. So that’s what the firemen do. They replace my fire detector. For free.

Oh, yeah, and they smile and laugh a lot. They almost make me forget about the firetruck out front. Are these guys crazy?

“Firefighters have to be a certain type of person because everyone is running out of a burning building, and they’re running in. We are firefighters, but we are here to serve the community.”

Fire Marshal Rech points to his patch, which states: “Mission driven, customer focused.”

“Whether we are called to your house because of a fire, or you’re having chest pains, or your detector went off and you have no idea why. That’s what we are here for. Typically, when we interact with people they are having a pretty bad day. So to be able to do something like this is a benefit.”

Yes, it is.

Now, about that firetruck out front?

Firefighter Boyle opens the big truck door.

“Go ahead,” he says. “Sit right up there.”

And I do. ♦

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