"It's really down home," Terry, a Lieutenant at the fire department, intoned under her breath. I was franticly sewing EMT & VFD patches onto my new uniform shirt and trying to ignore that particular odor of church basement kitchen that the Lions Club Hall had in spades.
We were sitting behind a stack of plastic Fire Chief helmets, fire-safety coloring books and a pile of brochures from volunteer applications to wildfire evacuation plans. Next to us was our department's bake sale, then the Lions Club table selling sloppy joes, nachos and soda, a free craft table, Girl Scouts selling corn dogs and hot chocolate, a coloring contest table and, looking very out of place, a white coated optometrist offering free glasses cleaning. The door was a revolving mess of kids carrying in snowballs, sawdust, sled dogs, mud and the baby bunnies somebody was selling from a dog crate outside. Every few minutes a new contest was announced. Hula-hoop. Cakewalk. Jump rope. Someone was offering face painting, and the percentage of kids with unidentifiable smears of color on their faces was increasing exponentially.
Terry told us that her son wanted to buy a pet rabbit once. She gave him the usual spiel about feeding and cleaning out his cage, then added a truly Alaskan touch. "I told him, 'If you don't take care of it, I'll feed him to you for dinner,' and he knew I wasn't kidding because his father and brothers had brought home rabbit before, and I'd cooked it. And I tell you what, I never had to tell that kid to clean out the rabbit cage twice." Good advice.
Soon it was our turn to entertain the kids. My patches were sewn on, albeit a little crooked. "Just keep moving your arm around ... nobody will notice," laughed Terry as we edged through the crowd. Instead, I put my turnout coat on over the shirt and headed outside. Terri gathered kids and did a quick check on fire safety:
"Does everyone have a reflective house number?"
She eyed the parents standing behind the candy-eager crowd.
"They are free, and we have them inside. We can't find your house without one."
Back to the kids, "And what do you do if your house is on fire?"
"GET OUT AND STAY OUT," screamed the older kids. The little ones rolled in the snow.
"And what if your house if full of smoke?"
"Crawl! And GET OUT AND STAY OUT!!" Screamed the older kids. The little kids looked nervously at the firemen.
Bill and Earl were set up now, fire-hose in hand. They knelt in the snow and braced. Bill gave the signal and Jim, over at the engine, turned on the pressure. They lurched as the water slammed through the line. Bill counted down and opened the nozzle. A white spray of water and candy flew towards the snowy field ahead of us. The kids stampeded past Terri, and I dodged the back-spray snapping pictures.
I didn't bring home a bunny, although it was tempting. Peter said we would have named him Stew.