A Trip to the Fire Station

One of my Facebook friends, the former mayor of Lexington, regularly posts status updates that she’s having coffee at a fire station. Sometimes it’s No. 1, sometimes it’s No. 6, but it’s always a fire station and I could not be more jealous of her and her day.

Having your morning coffee with a couple of firefighters is the cat’s pajamas, for several reasons.

For one thing, firemen can be the most masculine, studly guys in a tri-state area, but they have the best conversation skills, they’re skilled gossipers, they’re good listeners, and they make the best coffee of any city employee.

When I was a reporter, there were stretches of years where my job was to make the rounds of the police station, mayor’s office, law director’s office (if he was in. They’re never in) and fire station. Sometimes, depending on how slow the news day was, I also had to include the parks and rec department, zoning inspector and the sewer guy, although that was not the deal when I got a journalism degree.

My favorite part of covering municipal government was having coffee with the firemen. In East Palestine, Ohio, they even bought me a mug with my name on it and put it on the shelf above the sink. It’s things like that that set apart firemen from policemen. The East Palestine police guys were nice and all – they did bring out the photos of the unidentified corpse faces for me when I got bored – but they just didn’t have the whole package.

At the fire station, I would go into the kitchen, get my coffee and start listening to the conversation that was going on at the kitchen table and on the couches that surrounded it. There was always someone in town having an affair, someone else embezzling money, somebody either coming out of the closet or holding tight to the door, and often there was a juicy non-criminal act like the 25-year-old who opened up the lunch place that only sells egg salad is marrying the 60-year-old lady whose house is all pink. You know, the really good stuff. There wasn’t a single thing I could write down in my reporter’s notebook and use to do my actual job. But it was still the best part of my day.

At other fire stations, the firemen weren’t just volunteers who hung out in the fire station kitchen in the off-hours of their day jobs, but they had 24-hour shifts and they would sleep in the fire station like in Backdraft and Roxanne. Those firemen would cook all of their meals. Sometimes I’d go into the Salem fire station and one of them would lead me by the arm to the table, where they’d have me try their new chicken cacciatore recipe or a nice flan. There could have been an arsonist gone amuck a block away and I would have been hard pressed to put my fork down to get there in time for a picture before it dwindled down to smoking embers.

All of the firemen I’ve known loved reporters. There was never any risk that a reporter was going to write something bad about the fire department or the guys in the rubber suits. They put out fires and drove ambulances. What’s not to like? But they lavished us with coffee and food anyway.

I sometimes saw my firemen friends in action. Occasionally there was a fire and we would all rush to set down our mugs and get there. Despite all the desserts and sitting around the couches, when there was an actual fire, they put it out with giant hoses and really hard-to-turn steel things.

I miss the fire stations. There’s one in my neighborhood and I sometimes wish I’d run out of gas in front of it, so I would have an excuse to go in and ask if they have any coffee and good gossip.

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