Tuesday’s Tale From the Tailboard


There is a certain type of relationship that grows among the men in a firehouse, not unlike the military. Personalities either blend, or not, but the bottom line–when the alarm rings, or a fellow firefighter is in need, they work as one. 

Christmas 1983: Bob and our sons went to Michigan to bring our youngest daughter home for Christmas and on the way home they were stopping in Chicago to pick up Bob’s niece. Simple enough–if things hadn’t gotten so complicated.  

It was the day before Christmas Eve, early evening traffic around Chicago, already dark, and they got headed the wrong direction on the toll road. Finally were able to get turned around, and then the fuel pump gave out. It was so cold the windows frosted over on the inside of the car. Fortunately, they hadn’t been stopped long before a Highway Patrol came along and loaded them all into his car and took them to a service station, and had the car towed in and a new fuel pump installed. 

They made it to Chicago, much later, much colder and with much less money. We didn’t use credit cards and not a lot of money in the bank. They made it to near Springfield, Illinois, and the alternator light came on.  It was now near midnight and very, very cold. After the light came on, Bob took the next exit hoping they could find someplace to check it out. They couldn’t find anything open, and the car was running fine, so they decided to continue on. Then–on the ‘on’ ramp to get back onto the interstate the transmission gave out and the car quit moving. He could go backward but not forward. There was snow everywhere, but from their vantage point on the ramp they could see the lights of a motel in the far distance. This was before cell phones, and a fence separated the interstate from any businesses, but their only recourse was to walk. To make matters a bit more complicated–Lori’s normal mode of transportation was a wheelchair, and for her to keep breathing at night she required the use of a respirator, a turtle-shell type of contraption that had a suitcase size power supply that had to be plugged in. 

They wrapped Lori completely up in blankets, even her head (pneumonia was a real danger for our daughters), put her in her wheelchair and Bob sent the ‘kids’ on ahead while he gathered the respirator, etc., they would need.  I can’t even imagine how they must have appeared. And it must have aroused the suspicion of another Highway Patrol as well. He stopped them and asked what was in the chair. When Kip replied, “my sister”, they were once again loaded into a patrol car and this time taken to a motel.  Bob witnessed this ‘taking away’ from behind…but the patrolman did come back after him. 🙂 

This time, the call was a bit more frantic. They probably weren’t going to make it home Christmas Eve. And since he wasn’t going to make it home, could I pick up his paycheck? Problem–he had the car. Well, sort of a car. 

I called the station the next morning, explained the mess, and that’s when the ‘brotherhood’ kicked in. Before noon there was a knock at our door, and two firefighters delivered not only the paycheck, but a collection of money they’d taken among the others.  It was Christmas. Every one of those men needed that paycheck as badly as we did. 

But they gave…because. 

P.S.–They went beyond the giving of money. Bob was working at the airport for his part time job.  Two other ‘brothers’ also worked there. We never found out how, or who arranged it,  but one of the pilots (with Bob along)  flew Lori back to South Bend, Indiana where her fellow workers met her.  And this same pilot bought Bob’s niece a commercial ticket to fly on into Chicago. 

We’ll never forget.

Kip and Lori 

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