My two boys are absolutely mesmerized by anything connected with firefighters. They have model fire trucks of various sizes, a firestation, several plastic fire helmets and a fairly authentic firefighter’s costume that they received recently. Their aunt is an acting captain at a local firehouse and is often the centre of attention when she is around. On a day trip to ride an authentic steam engine in Hunstville this past week, Liam caught site of a pumper testing its equipment alongside a local river. Guess which vehicle drew most of their focus!
One of our rituals as we pass by the local firehall each morning is to try to predict how many garage doors will be open and how many firefighters will be sitting out front. We live parallel to a fairly busy street and whenever an emergency siren can be heard by either of them, there is a mad dash for the front door to see whether a fire engine might be on its way through.
So when the first sirens were heard passing by our house this evening, shortly after the boys had gone down for the night, I waited to hear the pitter patter of little feet moving towards the bedroom window. When the second vehicles roared by our front door, I was certain that the boys would be awake and rushing to see what was happening. The third fire engines did cause a stir upstairs, but it was my wife telling me that she thought there was something happening on our street.
I moved out onto the street, only to find several other people flowing past our house and around the bend. As I turned the corner myself I saw one of my neighbours houses fully involved in a full-fledged fire. It was a devastating scene, one that caused my whole body to tense up. I didn’t know the family that lived in the house, but I knew that the teenage sons may very well be home alone this evening.
As I stood on the grass a few doors down from the blaze, hydrants and hoses were being joined, ladders were being removed from trucks and the radio transmissions came in loud and clear. When the aerial truck arrived, I knew it was going to be a long evening.
I’m telling you this story while it is still very fresh in my mind because there was a big part of me that wanted to go and get the boys to show them the real work that firefighters did. To this point, they had only seen demonstrations at fall fairs and station open houses. But this was different; this was real! I knew that this was a scene that they would never forget.
In the end, I decided against it. Actually, it didn’t take that long to make the decision. I knew that the images that were being played out in front of us were going to stay with me for a long time, and the same would likely be true for the young and the old that lined our normally quiet little street. As much as I believe in the power of the moment, and grounding learning experiences in the reality of the modern world, there was something almost too powerful about this moment.
I’m sure that many would have considered this a teachable moment, but there was something in the weight of what was happening that somehow rendered this experience sacred and, for these few hours, this little part of the world holy ground. So as the boys slept soundly, our street was abuzz with emotion and activity. The world is full of teachable moments; part of my role as both a teacher and a parent is to discern when the time is right—or wrong!