Firehall

by Jessica Veter from Westover, ON
Sep 3, 16

My hometown of Flesherton, Ontario had a volunteer fire department. This was in the days before pagers and mobile phones, so in the centre of town stood there was a siren. If there was a fire, the siren would begin wailing, and all the volunteer firemen would leave their day jobs, jump into their cars and speed to the fire hall. 

When the siren went off, every kid in town jumped on a bike and peddled like mad for the fire hall too. It was like a mass evacuation in reverse. We were often at the hall before the firemen were. With our feet half-stuffed into our running shoes, we speculated gleefully over whose house was going up in smoke right now; Ricky was sure he’d seen smoke over the west side of town. Wesley thought he’d seen smoke coming from the baseball diamond. Michele had smelled something burning as she came down Hill Street. Our excitement grew. Could the fire be at the school?

By the time the firemen arrived we kids were practically vibrating. Within moments, the big doors rolled up, and the fire truck was revealed, with its flashing lights sending us into a fevered cheering. 

Kids scattered off the driveway. Mr. Kell, fire chief and owner of the ice cream parlour, was at the wheel. He maneuvered majestically out of the hall, sounded the big horn and acknowledged us with a salute. By the time the truck’s siren came on, every kid had jumped back onto a bike. 

We would follow the truck down the main road, feet spinning, streamers streaming, until we couldn’t keep up anymore. First one kid would drop back and then another; then someone would say it was hot, and the whole gang of us would retire to the local pond for a swim.

The summer I was twelve, the siren at the corner went off, and my brother, who was two years younger than I, went to the hall without me. He told me all about it, of course. Someone’s abandoned pig barn had burned to the ground, but it wasn’t as exciting to me as it had been the year before. I stopped hearing the siren soon after that. I assumed I had outgrown it, but then I realized that no one heard the siren anymore. The volunteers were all wearing pagers and the siren had been disconnected. There had been complaints that it was disturbing the peace of the village. Now, by the time the kids knew the fire truck was rolling out, it was already gone. No more excited meetings outside the hall; no more frenetic post mortems at the pond.

I found it sad.

Well, recently, after twenty years of city living, my husband and I moved our three boys to rural Flamborough.

A few months after we arrived, I was out in the garden and I heard something I hadn’t heard in over thirty years. It was just a ghost of a sound, but it was unmistakable. In Flamborough, a rural area with notoriously bad mobile coverage, the local volunteer Fire Department still relies on the siren. As I listened, I imagined men and women dropping what they were doing and heading for the fire hall. And then I imagined every kid in the village doing exactly the same thing.