Unless you have been in a medically induced coma or just haven't watched a lot of TV lately, economic times are, shall we say, still troubled. All over the country, fire and police departments are being whittled down in an attempt to save money and balance budgets. Fire stations are being closed, companies shut down, neighborhoods left unprotected and firefighters laid off.
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
One that really got my goat was the closing of Engine 8 in Philadelphia. Engine 8 had been in business since colonial times and arguably had ties to Ben Franklin. Located in Center City Philadelphia, I looked through the doors many times as a kid. I even wondered out loud what reaction Ben Franklin would have had to this new development.
So naturally when I drifted off to sleep the other night, I was somewhat astounded to wake up and find a shadowy figure in our bedroom. I leapt from the bed and sized up the intruder. He was an elderly man, somewhat portly, wearing bifocals and of all things a fire helmet. I asked something intelligent like, "Who are you?"
He calmly answered, "I'm Ben. Ben Franklin of course. You have heard of me, perhaps? You know kite flyer, Silence Dogood and such." He went on to suggest I put on some pants.
"Uh yes!" I stammered, pulling on a pair of jeans. "Uh dear, Ben Franklin is here," to alert the wife as to our late night guest. She answered, undaunted that there was a signer of the Declaration of Independence in our bedroom, with, "I asked you to vacuum today."
Suddenly we were gone and I found myself on a street corner. People hurried by dressed in colonial clothing. Streets were cobblestoned, and a horse and buggy clicked by. "Where are we?" I quickly asked. "Was that like the Star Trek 'beam me up thing?' I didn't feel anything."
Ben calmly answered, "Philadelphia of course, my adopted home. I am originally from Boston you know. And no, that transporter beaming up stuff is primitive technology. Walk with me, Will."
"Ben, I mean Mr. Franklin," I began, "Look what's going on. They are closing fire stations all over the country. Attacking pensions and collective bargaining agreements everywhere. Pay cuts. It's just not fair. What do we do? You started one of the first fire depts..."
"Ben looked over his bifocals and chuckled, "You do realize you are talking to a historical figure that has been dead several hundred years?" He stopped and cleaned his glasses, still chuckling and pointed at my feet: "You just stepped in something a horse left."
Leaning up against a tree trying to clean the bottom of my shoes, I became annoyed. "Look Ben! They even closed the engine that has ties to you in Philadelphia. First due at all sorts of historical sites."
"Yes, I know there is a bust of me on the wall at that station. Makes me look jowly, like I have a toothache." he grimaced.
"Ben!" I protested "that pumper was first due at Betsy Ross' house. She sewed the flag!"
"Ahh Betsy Ross. Lovely lady. Good bit younger than me. Pity she didn't like older men. My son, the one we don't talk about much, Deborah wasn't the mom; anyway he officiated the service in New Jersey in I think her third marriage."
"Ben, focus!" I pleaded. "This is like the movie 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure' when they go into the desert with Jim Morrison and all he does is give them more questions."
Ben quipped, "The guy who played Sammy Davis in that was spot on."
"You get movies?" I asked, somewhat shocked.
Ben stopped and looked at me. "Will," he began, "after we formed the Union Fire Company, we had a dramatic impact on fire loss. There were 30 original members. I think we went in service on July 1736. I knew good intentions weren't enough to combat fires. We needed a trained force. Ahh yes, we even had our own buckets and bags."
"We don't have bags or buckets anymore," I answered exasperated, "but I have some bags from the local grocery store if you need them."
"No," he smiled, "my firefighting days are over. You know I was postmaster, too? What does going postal mean?"
"Ben, how do we reverse all of this?" I asked.
"Will," he lamented, "When the well is dry, we know the worth of water. The public needs to know what is going on. The only thing that is more expensive than education is ignorance."
I laughed, "Ben, I can't go to work and tell everybody Ben Franklin visited me. I'll get sent for a drug test … again. The other day Ben Stein even came out against us. Said we are so privileged it isn't funny"
Ben stopped and looked at me, "The teacher in Ferris Buelher's Day Off? Will, half wits talk much but say little. But he's right on that. Not closing fire stations and layoffs, but you are privileged. You are a part of a noble calling. You are privileged to be called when homes are threatened by fire. You are privileged to save lives and property. Is the Old Towne Tavern still open? Do they have a ladies night?"
With that, Ben waved and began to walk away. I called after him, "Ben, what about collective bargaining?" Ben crossed a cobblestone street and began to fade. "Will you at least sell me that helmet?" I yelled.
Ben looked back and smiled. "Watch for bigdaddy1776 on eBay."
With that he was gone. Suddenly I awoke. Wow! It had been a dream. But you know we are privileged to do what we do. A young firefighter told me that once and he's right. I couldn't wait to tell the wife about my dream. However, she first asked the next time I come home with manure on my shoes to please leave them outside ...
About the author
Will Wyatt, who is originally from New Orleans, has been in the fire service for 25 years. Will currently works as an engineer/operator at the Village Fire Department in the Houston, Texas, area. Will also works part time at another fire department and part time at a 911 emergency medical service. He has held numerous ranks with fire departments in the Houston area including full time training officer, fire marshal and deputy chief. Will holds a master fire fighter certification with the State of Texas, an instructor certification, pump operator certification, an associate degree from Houston Community College and a basic EMT certification. Recently will authored a book on the fire service entitled, "And a Paycheck, Too!" Check out an excerpt here. Contact Will at Will.Wyatt@firerescue1.com.
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