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Why some firehouse pranks make us laugh

In my book, there is a difference between horseplay and pranking

By Mick Mayers

I am surprised sometimes by the perception some people have about what we do in the fire station all day. Just as it is not like in the TV show “Emergency,” with some harrowing rescue every day, it also isn’t just lounging around, watching TV and waiting on calls. There is work to be done in and around the station, as well as out in the district, and there is constant training as well to hone our craft. The situation, however, when you get a bunch of guys or girls who live with each other a third of their lives, is that they sometimes need to distract themselves with amusing pranks.

In my book, there is a difference between horseplay and pranking. Pranks take on a more cerebral level; for example, one of my colleagues once took an old pump impeller and a handful of washers and nuts, threw them under an engine, and poured a little transmission fluid on the pile. When he came back an hour later, there were four pair of feet sticking out from under the pumper. The crew was anxiously trying to figure out how in the world the pump impeller could have actually fallen out (it wouldn’t have).

Years ago when we had a common bunkroom, I had a colleague who was previously a Marine. Each shift his bunk was immaculately made first thing in the morning, complete with hospital corners. One summer day, a few of us chose to take our lunch break in the cool of the bunkroom rather than hanging in the kitchen. I saw Carl’s rack sitting there, so perfectly dressed, and had an inspiration. I grabbed the bedclothes and whipped them all in the air, completely wrecking his handywork. I then calmly returned to my bunk to watch the fireworks.

The others in the room looked at me like I was crazy, but I just put my hand up to silence them and laid down on my bunk, grabbing something to read. In a moment, Carl walked in and was shocked by the appearance of his bed.

“Who did this?”

Silence.

After a moment, without looking up from my book, I said, “Sue did. She came in here mumbling something about you and just went off on your bunk.”

Sue’s bunk was also an amazing work of art. Having done a stint in the Navy, hers was equally able to have a quarter bounced off the top-sheet. Carl made his bed back, then crossed to Sue’s bunk and trashed it. The others in the room were trying hard to stifle their laughter at what was now pretty obviously going to be a few moments of entertainment. I refused to look up, afraid that if I had I’d give away the joke.

Fortunately, Carl and Sue went back and forth for at least one more round before I was ratted out, and of course, the laughter was uncontrollable. In all my years in the fire service, moments like these remind me of the bond we have, a special one that not everyone in the world has with the people they work with.

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