April 15 was a somber day in Boston this year. It marked the one-year anniversary of the Marathon Day bombing, an event that took three lives, and then a fourth, and injured 260 people, many of whom lost arms or legs. It is a day that scarred the city for who knows how long and gave new meaning to the words “first responders.”
Late in the afternoon on that recent anniversary date, I walked down the stairs at my office to a room where we have workout equipment. I spent about 50 minutes on the treadmill, showered, and walked back up to the twenty-second floor. At the top of the stairs were three firefighters in full firefighting regalia.
“What are you doing here?” one of them asked.
“Working out,” I replied. I paused for a minute and could smell the smoke.
“Didn’t you hear the fire alarm?” he asked.
I confessed I had not, leaving out the fact that I remove my hearing aids before exercising. He looked at me with doubt on his face. Thinking of nothing better to say, I added, “I work here.”
“Where’s your office?” he asked. I wondered why he wanted to know. Did I look like an arsonist? I told him it was at the end of the hallway and I would get my stuff and leave.
“The elevators are shut down,” he said, “and it’s a lot of stairs for someone who just worked out. I suggest you wait until we get the all clear signal.”
I decided to take his advice, so I sat down and we continued the conversation. He explained that this was a one-alarm fire, meaning that three units responded. I think he said 40 firefighters plus three chiefs. “We’ve had a lot of fires lately,” he told me.
“I know,” I said, thinking of the recent fire in Back Bay that claimed two firefighters’ lives. “Are you married?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered “and I have nine kids, the youngest is 13.”
“Does your wife worry?”
“Yes, she does,” he answered, “but I always let her know where I am. I’ve been a fireman for 30 years. I’m retiring this year.”
I looked at the next firefighter, a middle-aged man with a handle-bar mustache. “I’ve been with the department 29 years, at three different stations,” he volunteered. “Right now I’m stationed in the North End, and you wouldn’t believe how friendly everyone there is.”
“As a matter of fact, I would believe it,” I told him. “I sold Fuller Brushes in the North End when I was a law student. It was a very friendly neighborhood.”
“You’re a lawyer?” he replied with a raised eyebrow. “Can I have your card?”
The youngest of the three firefighters turned to me and, apparently reading my mind, said, “Two years.”
“Do you like it?” I asked.
“It’s a great job,” he answered. “I used to be in sales, but this is a lot better.”
Then the one with the mustache, said, “You should drop in at the station. We like company.”
I thanked him for the invitation and told him that my father used to drop in at the fire station and sometimes took me with him. I remembered that he and a Claremont fireman named George Plante were great friends and owned an old, wooden fishing boat together until it sank in a storm in Newburyport harbor.
At that point the senior member of the trio told me I could hitch a ride on an elevator that two other firefighters were about to unlock and take down. By then another lawyer had shown up from downstairs. He and I joined the two firefighters, who were wearing 55 pounds of equipment and carrying hoses and other equipment with them.
I stepped outside and the building was ringed with fire engines. I thought to myself, I’ll never complain about waiting when a fire truck holds up traffic while pulling back into the station. I felt safe coming down in that elevator and grateful for first responders.