I’m a fireman. My job description includes climbing ladders to rescue people and animals from burning buildings. Sometimes they are reluctant to be saved. I always insist.
There was a full crew hanging around the firehouse when the call came. We had been polishing this and that, waiting for the eye-watering, award winning, secret recipe chili to finish cooking. We jumped into our boots and other regulation regalia and were rolling in less than a minute. Max, the dispatcher, stayed behind to guard the simmering pot.
We lit out, sirens screaming, to the old Grande Arms Apartments. When we screeched to a halt in front of the once-elegant building, all residents and pets had been accounted for and were huddled together across the street under a tree. All, that is, except Miss Myrtle Garland, an ancient spinster lady who had taught almost the whole town. Nearly every citizen under 70 had a story about being in her memorable first-grade class room.
Miss Myrtle was leaning out the window waving with one hand and clutching her dog with the other. She didn’t seem to be frantic, but of course patience and good humor had been her middle name for a lot of years. Our captain gave orders to raise the ladder. I scrambled to the top. She recognized me as soon as I pushed back the protective face plate on the helmet.
“Why…Hello there, Billy Samson. Fancy meeting you up so high in the sky.”
“Hey, Miss Myrtle. We’re gonna get you and Doogie Woogie down to safety. Just do what I tell you and we’ll have you on the ground in a jiffy.”
I don’t know if she was joking or not but she seemed to have other ideas.
“Actually, I was hoping to jump into one of those big round nets. It looks like a fun thing to do.”
I had to chuckle at that unlikely scenario.
“It might look like an adventure, but believe me, you and Doog-Dog will be glad you went down the more safe way. You can trust us. Pete and I know what we’re doing.”
She disappeared from the window. I could see she was securing Doogie Woogie in a pet carrier. Smoke was already spilling under her door from the hall but she was as unconcerned as if I had just dropped in for tea. The gravity of the situation seemed to be lost on this beloved teacher. She was even humming as she baby-stepped her way back to the open window.
“Here Billy. Take him on down. He’s pretty scared. This is his first fire.”
Pete maneuvered the cherry picker bucket right beside me and reached out to grab the handle of the shaking dog’s temporary home and set it on the floor. I could see the deathly tendrils of smoke weaving their way into the room and around the amazing inventory of knickknack presents she had collected from students over decades.
“Hurry, Miss Myrtle. There’s plenty of room in here with Doogie.”
Pete was in position to assist her but all of a sudden she slammed the window down.
My partner and I looked at each other in horror. We both yelled at the same time. “What in the world is she thinking?”
I grabbed the ax and broke the glass. “Where are you, Miss Myrtle? Why did you do that? “
I heard a raspy, trembling voice. “I can’t leave all these precious things, Billy. This is my life about to burn up. How will I remember why I was here?”
I climbed in and scooped up her frail body before she could resist. I handed her to Pete and he set her beside little Doogie and pushed the going-down button. She was sobbing. It had never occurred to me that first-grade teachers could cry, or would have a reason.
The ambulance stretcher and a warm blanket awaited on the ground. I had time to speak with her before she was whisked away.
“You’re gonna be just fine, Miss Myrtle. You’re safe and the whole town loves you.”
Her temporary lapse into panic had not diminished that famous humor.
“Yeah? Well, you listen to me, Billy Samson. I want every single one of those treasures replaced. I don’t care how old you people are. Get some crayons and glue and Popsicle sticks and get busy.”
When she used that well remembered teacher-voice, all I could say was, “Yes Ma’am.”
Sometimes… there’s more than one way to rescue a friend.
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