Tuesday’s Tale from the Tailboard

To the Rescue—Again

It was one of those days. Our Lori was slowly, very slowly, improving after being in a coma, the result of a car wreck. (Lori would never allow us to call it an ACCIDENT.  Over and over again, when she was able to communicate, she reminded us that there were NO ACCIDENTS with Jesus.)

And though she was improving, she still required a respirator to breathe. Even before her wreck her incurable neomuscular disease made it necessary to use the respirator at night. Now, because of her head trauma, she needed it during the day, too. 

We were tired. All of us. But we were encouraged that at least she was out of the coma and making some progress. 

The down side to this day—there was freezing rain. While we didn’t need to be out in it, we did need the electricity to stay on for the respirator. There was an emergency battery backup, but there was only a short window of ‘help’ we could expect. 

Peering from window to window didn’t still the storm. 

Opening the door and hearing the crackle of the frozen branches did nothing for our anxious hearts. 

When the lights flickered, we felt so very, very vulnerable. 

And you guessed it!! The electricity went off. 

Alarms buzzed. 

Our hearts pounded.  

We were on an emergency call list for the electric company, but the outage was so widespread, and weather becoming worse by the hour, that there was no way they could get to us any faster than to any of the others whose lives depended on electric power.

That’s when we called for HELP. One phone call, and the Fire Department was there with their generator. 

These were the same fellas who made it possible for us get Lori home by ambulance plane from Indiana after her wreck. 

These were the same fellas who worked extra shifts so that Bob wouldn’t have to lose his sick days. 

These were the same fellas who came to our door with money they’d collected to help. 

And the same fellas who sat with Bob, on more than one occasion, when the days seemed never to end and the mornings brought no visible relief.

Oh, how blessed we were to have them. What comfort those yellow coats brought us. Their slipping and sliding on the ice to hook up the generator. Their smiles, hugs and assurance that all we had to do was call if we needed anything else. Their tender greetings to Lori. 


Much needed, and greatly appreciated help


Tales From the Tailboard

The Call You Never Want to Receive

Spring break, and all the grandkids were here at the lake. Even though it was still quite cool, they assured me it wasn’t too cold to fish or be in the fishing boat or paddle boat. Weather is very subjective when you’re a kid. Remember?

When the phone rang and the caller ID showed ‘Becky’ as the caller, I thought she was just checking on the kids. Instead she said “are you where you can talk?”  I went into the bedroom and shut the door to take her message–still thinking it was probably going to be a surprise for the grands.

Instead: “I just got a call and Kip has been hurt at a fire. They don’t know for sure, but he may have a broken neck. I’ve called Rob and he is going to meet me at the hospital in Wichita.  But, please don’t say anything to the kids until we know more.”

Need I say that day surely had more than 24 hours?

The scenario: He’d been training a crew. they had the basement full of smoke, and there was a ‘victim’ in the basement. Their part was to enter the house and find the ‘victim’.  When they didn’t come when he thought they should, he stepped onto the landing that was between the door and steep flight of steps into the basement with the intent of finding out why they were hesitating. He was in full gear, which included a SCBA pak, which weighed around 30 lbs. or so.

Just when he stepped onto the landing, the crew came through the door and he was knocked down the entire flight of steps.  Because they were so steep, he actually didn’t hit a step and only stopped when his head hit the cement floor at the bottom of the steps. He hit with such force that the brass eagle on the front of his helmet was flattened. Teeth were broken. There was instant pain, and he couldn’t move.

After hours of x-rays, MRI, CAT scans, etc., they did send him home that same day, but the ER doctor told him he had taken the kind of fall that a lot of people didn’t survive. He was off duty for six weeks. To this day he has pain that will probably always be present. But he’s alive!!

I have to think of the many, many wives, mothers, sisters, sweethearts, etc., who receive such a call and the outcome is entirely different. Their loved one doesn’t come home that day, and will never come home again. Today is ‘voting’ day, and I’m reminded of the men and woman who daily put their lives on the line so that we can enjoy the freedom that we have in this wonderful United State of America.

Yet, knowing all that doesn’t take away the heart-stopping feeling that comes when a mama gets the call she hoped she’d  never receive.

Tales From the Tailboard

First Time Behind the Wheel.

When one was on the job for 32 years, and has been retired for 18, it means 50 years of memories. It also means trying to fully recall events that were firsts.  But we all know–some things you just never forget.  Such is the first time Bob drove an engine on a fire run.

There was a six-month probation period for new firefighters. During that time you were the probee–the new guy, the flunkie, etc., and you prayed for someone else to be hired so you would no longer be the low man on the ladder. That time was also an intense learning time. Before you were allowed to drive an engine on an actual fire call you had to know where all the streets in town were located, which streets were your area, and where the fire hydrants were located on said streets.  Station #1 went north and west of the train tracks which dissected the town, and station #2 went south and east. However, if it was a structure fire, then an engine from each station responded, and hoped there wasn’t a train on the tracks at the time.

Since the first engine a probee would drive (the one they trained on) was the one that responded to car and trash fires in the city limits and all fires outside city limits, whether car, trash, grass or structure, plus the one that was sent on mutual aid, each man also had to know the location of the various county roads, by number (naming of county roads didn’t come into being until the 9-1-1- system), and whether the address was an east/west/ or north/south road. (no Google maps 50 years ago)

The day Bob made his debut drive was also the day they were assigned to paint the running boards and the tailboard of this particular engine–with aluminum paint. He remembers thinking that even if an alarm did ring, he’d be able to step over the running board.

Well, the alarm rang and it was dispatched as a fire along the railroad tracks. He recognized the location as being in his territory-and in his excitement he stepped on the running board anyway.

The officer in charge always rode shotgun.  Chief at that time was  Elvin Warhurst. He set high standards for himself, and for his men. One of his goals was that the driver knew his streets before he ever responded, behind the wheel, to an alarm. He didn’t want the driver talking to the officer en route to the fire. Some officers were adamant about this rule. Others were cautious enough not to be driven to the wrong address, so would allow talking.

Bob doesn’t remember if he asked questions. He does remember being very nervous, and his leg shaking so badly, he didn’t think  he was even going to be able to hold the clutch in to shift gears.  Now–lest you think this was a simple 1-2-3 shift, it wasn’t!!  In fact, this engine was probably one of the most difficult to drive. (This will only make sense to men, but it is interesting to note) This GMC truck had a two-speed axle.  So one would shift into gear #1, then into high-axle #1, then back to gear #2, and then high-axle #2. And somewhere in this shifting you would break sequence between high and low axles. If you happened to miss that shift, it was very difficult to get into any gear, and would sometimes require coming to a complete halt and starting all over again. Need I say it was a probee’s nightmare. No firefighter, or his officer, wanted to be stalled in the middle of the street, sirens howling, and gears grinding.

They did get to the fire, and it was only a kerosene smudge pot that the railroad was using to keep their switches thawed.  Some passerby saw it and called it in as a fire.

I asked him, while we were talking this morning, if he kept that day in mind when he was the officer and had a probee driving for the first time.  He just smiled, and said he didn’t remember.

So, anybody out there who drove, for the fist time, with Bob riding shotgun?  Let’s hear your side of the story!!

That’s the tale for this week!

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