Four-Alarm Coffee

Breakfast with fire and rescue

By Beth MacDonald

I’d really like to be one of those calm, put-together people when a crisis strikes, someone who’s graceful and elegant. Someone who can keep their wits about them when everyone else is losing theirs. My husband, Mason, somehow pulls it off. I am more like Kevin from Home Alone, slapping my face and screaming. Catastrophe never seems to have the decency to strike after I’ve gotten dressed and applied fresh makeup.

Generally speaking, I wake up early, drink my coffee on my back porch in my pajamas and admire my garden. My hair looks Einstein-crazy and I’ve got the previous night’s makeup smudged on my face. Entertaining the Fire and Rescue Squad is not part of my normal routine.

One morning, coffee mug in hand, my dog was barking at what I naturally assumed was the usual — nothing.

“Shhh! Stop. Stop. Don’t bark. There are only deer out there.”

“Bark. Bark. Barkbarkbark.”

I rolled my eyes. I needed to engage the two useful brain cells that had awakened. I looked toward our garage and saw plumes of smoke rising above two trucks parked on the side of the detached building. I ran over, saw flames a few inches from the vehicles, rushed inside to wake Mason, and called 911.

Exactly two breathless seconds into the call, I wished I hadn’t skipped Pilates for, let’s say, the last month. Between wheezing gasps stating my name and address, I tried to express the potential urgency of the fire. I had to repeat myself three times. The 911 operator couldn’t understand me. I sounded like Darth Vader trying to make an emergency call that the Death Star was about to blow up. Heaving, hunched over, I was finally able to get out the basic details.

Mason calmly got out of bed, went directly to the source of the problem, took a shovel, and began to put the fire out at its base. I supervised. “Maybe you should get away from the gas tanks. They’re exactly six inches from the flames,” I said. He ignored me. He had on matching sweats, sneakers, his hair looked combed, and he was easily extinguishing a potential disaster. I looked like Garth from Wayne’s World.

I was still trying to catch my breath when the firetruck pulled up. I looked down at myself, and bolted inside (they probably thought I was in search of my oxygen tank). I tried to put my hair in a ponytail so I looked somewhat presentable, but my low pony only made me look like a young man in Colonial America eager to start his woodworking apprenticeship.

I went back outside. Vanity is useless when you’re at the mercy of others. Why was I even trying? The fire marshal was now on the scene and looking directly at our chimney, asking if we knew anyone who would have put hot ashes in the pine needles. Wait, what?

I looked at Mason, my eyes bulging. “YOU did this?”

“Yeah, I’m the dummy.” He said it so matter of fact, without shame.

“You took the ashes out of the galvanized bucket and put them IN the pine needles?”

“Yeah, uh huh, that happened.” He stood there, nodding, arms crossed, shoulders shrugging.

I put my hoodie over my head and pulled the strings shut. I slowly started backing away toward my neighbor’s house like I lived there and was just an innocent bystander. My neighbor was taking pictures of the firetrucks in front of my house so I tried to hide in the bushes instead.

Mason thanked everyone that came by to put the fire out. The town’s fire and rescue team was accommodating and kind, even though I knew we’d be the topic of a social media, public service announcement later. I could see it now, “Smokey Says Don’t Be a Moron.” I’m sure they wouldn’t use the word “moron,” they are much more professional than that. My internal monologue is not. Sometimes I think our lives serve as a living, breathing Public Service Announcement, a bold kind of volunteerism.

While we were very aware of the danger we put ourselves in, we were even more grateful that we had a capable and amiable Fire and Rescue Squad. Later, Mason dropped off a thank you note with some cookies our daughter made. He apologized and promised not to be left unsupervised again — a promise he’s not capable of keeping considering I have no idea where he is at this very moment, and I can hear the not so distant buzz of power tools.  PS

Beth MacDonald is a Southern Pines suburban misadventurer that likes to make words up. She loves to travel with her family, read everything she can, and shop locally for her socks.

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