A week early I had taken an old household fire extinguisher to be inspected and recharged.
I had not planned to stop and reclaim it until I got a call that it was ready. But as I was driving by I saw the doors of the fire station were open and I decided to stop and check.
When I did, I found that not only were all the doors open, nearly all of the city’s firefighters were there working.
And the doors were not open because it was a warm winter day. No, they were open to allow hoses to be stretched and rolled, equipment to be cleaned and stored and smoke and the carcinogens that attach themselves to everything during a raging fire to be aired from the building.
This was the morning after the devastating triple fatality fire on Park Ridge Court.
And I will never forget the scene.
Tired-looking men — certainly some of our city’s best — were doing what needed to be done: maneuvering trucks around the narrow confines of the 100-year-old property, washing and wiping and drying equipment, readying the specialized tools of their harrowing trade for the next fire call.
They had done it all many times before, of course.
But seldom had they done it with such grim countenances and heavy hearts.
I am pretty sure they knew they had done all they could do.
Some were awakened at the station barracks in the middle of the night by the alarm that always portends something bad. Others were called in from home when it turned out to be something much worse than just bad.
A house was ablaze; fully involved as the firefighter’s say. The worst.
So they needed everyone. Plus help from the Milan and Huron River departments.
They were there within minutes of the 9-1-1 call, placed by someone who could see the flames licking the sky from a quarter mile away.
Then, wearing 60 pounds of gear, tightening masks to protect against the toxic fumes (but which could only tolerate the intense heat for a few minutes), and calling upon years of training and practice, the men who minutes earlier had been sound asleep, plunged into the blazing building.
They knew it was likely that someone was inside.
And, as we know now, they found three unmoving adult forms.
So they did what they could to rescue them, rushing them out of the inferno and attempting resuscitatation.
All to no avail. The Griggs family sustained the worst possible tragedy: mother and father and one adult son all lost to the soot and smoke.
And it looked to me like the firefighters took it personally.
As I said, I am pretty sure they knew they had done all they could. But still, I had the sense that they felt the fire should never win, that it could always be defeated with enough work and skill and courage.
Not this time. With no working smoke detectors in the home, the fire got too much of a head start for even the most dedicated fire fighting team to overcome.
The fire created unimaginable loss and grief for the family. But it took a toll on everyone who was there to fight it, as well.
It would be enough to make an ordinary person never want to go near a fire again.
Thank goodness the remarkable individuals who have decided to make fire fighting their life are anything but ordinary.
Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at jimbusek@ hotmail.com.