Sunday, December 21, 2008

How it was in Watervliet

Watervliet had a volunteer fire department, probably still does. The fire truck was kept on the ground floor of City Hall. There was a siren on a small tower on the roof. How 911 worked in those days: Cora VanHorn (as I said before) had the telephone switchboard in her living room. The VanHorns lived on Main Street right across from Dad's office. As I remember Mr. VanHorn was kind of useless, but Cora was a gem. If your place caught on fire or you discovered a fire you would call Cora and tell her where. She would immediately press a button that would cause the fire siren on City Hall to sound and the volunteer firemen would start running or racing in their cars towards Ciity Hall. Whoever got there first would roll up the big door and if the designated driver had not arrived would start the engine. Meanwhile whoever got there second would call Cora to find out where the fire was. Harold Pierce was the regular driver. His home was a half block away from City Hall and his garage/gas pump was where Dad and John's store was and Harold was about the fastest runner in town so he usually was in the driver's seat when the fire truck pulled out on the way to the fire. The volunteers who didn't get on board before the truck hit the road either followed in their cars or jumped into other cars. As the truck pulled out someone would shut off the siren. And away they would go, red lights flashing and sirens screaming ( the volunteers had lights and sirens on their personal cars but inside so as not to appear like police) The fire truck fiirst, followed by the volunteers in cars followed by curious townspeople in their cars off to wherever the fire was. The proper etiquette for the merely curious was to wait until the siren went off then call Cora and ask where the fire was. If it was a big barn in Bainbridge or a Paw Paw Lake cottage on a crowded street that was likely to be spectacular you would jump in you car and follow the parade. If it was only a grass fire, don't bother. If it was in town you could go out on the back porch and see the smoke. The firemen's chances of controlling the fire largely depended on water supply. If at Paw Paw Lake they would drop suction hoses into the water and have an unlimited supply. In town there were fire hydrants and the town's water system. Out in the country it was usually tough luck, get the livestock out of  the barn and use what water was available in stock tanks or sprayer tanks and try to keep it from spreading. (original emai date May 8 2008)

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