Fire Drill at Our House.

One of our “sisters”, Marica’s Blog, had a fire drill at her blog site in case they went down. Now of course, ALL my girlfriends are quite well prepared….. bring great food….. so we eat like Kings during emergencies.

My Dining Room

Point is, looking back on my life, “Emergencies” have been some of my greatest memories. Think about it. During an Emergency, we’re all out of control at the same time. We rush to grocery stores, or make do with what is in the pantry. We come together as never before. Our normal schedules are blown to smithereens. We have to make do and adjust to events. Leaders rise to the occasion.

Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes, you’re the bug. AND Mother Nature has a way of humbling the common man.

But Fire Drills and Emergency Preparedness hold a special place in my heart.

When we first bought the B&B, no one had lived here for 23 yrs. Everyone in town knew we were conducting a complete renovation…… and the fire department and all the boys at the fire department can be seen from my front porch. They are literally….. right around the corner. Keep in mind, this is a small town. Back then, we only had one paid fireman, the rest…. (40+ men) were all volunteers, local guys, and we knew most of them. They approached me with an idea…..

  • Local Biz Man, Volunteer Firefighter: Miss Daughn, is it okay if we have a practice fire in your house before you renovate????
  • Me (You know those movies where a wide shot of landscape comes into focus quickly….. that’s what my eyes did): You mean you want to burn up my house???? After it took us 2yrs to get the family to sell it to us???? All that gorgeous woodwork and oak and staircase and transoms and float glass and original five panel doors and the mantles and the library bookcases…..???? (I was practically hyperventilating at the thought…..)
  • More local volunteer fireman: Oh no, Miss D, we won’t hurt a thing. It’s just artificial smoke. Stuff the boys use to train and learn new skills. We’ve been wanting to do it for a couple of years but never had a place big enough. Your house is definitely big enough and with so many rooms, it would be confusing…..and a great training event.
  • Me (eyebrows wiggling): Define “artificial smoke”, please.
  • The Guys: Oh no, Miss D, we won’t hurt anything. Smoke would probably be gone in less than hour. ……
  • Me: Warming to the idea….. I do love my firemen.
  • One Smart Fireman: You know Miss D, it might be a good thing to have a practice drill at your house. It’s so damn big, it would be good if the guys knew their way around that house, and these would be the guys would would respond to your fire….. Might save valuable time – or someone’s life.

Well that was all I needed. Sold.

And so we held a real Fire Drill…….. with BBQ and Beer to follow.

It was a helluva party and the boys got to drag out all their toys. I learned so much….. In my former life, I was a National Account Rep for ADT Security and designed larger fire systems for high rises, etc. I belonged to the same trade assoc’s as fire security officers and was trained in how fires move/don’t ever live above a 7th floor because that’s how long the fire ladders are…. etc. But these guys were real, and the artificial smoke looked real.… Of course, a few people in town thought the house was actually burning….. but most of them were friends of Grandma Della or my MIL….

Gotta love the busy bodies.

And for years, the first week of October is Fire Week in town. We took the kids to ride the fire engines and made a generous donation….. and of course I made cakes and cookies for the bake sale.

When I was Chair of United Way, I forced the issue and made the Volunteer Depts (9 of them) official 501c3’s so we could fund them. That helped buy bigger equipment.

Then, we had “The Great Labor Day Fire”. It was horrific. I was sitting at a friends by the pool, celebrating Labor Day…. I moved to a lounge chair as my husband was playing with Gunner, maybe 2yrs old, in the pool. I had a quiet moment to talk to Steve, who was like my second husband. He was a farmer, 7K acres and equipment buildings the size of Delta Airplane Hangers. That day marked our 97th day without rain. I was worried about his crop and so was he.

  • Me to Steve: Is the cotton a complete loss? What about the beans and the poor corn…. It looks sick.
  • Steve: The corn is gone. I don’t know, babe. I thought 60 days would be the crisis point.
  • Me: Are we hanging in?
  • Steve…… odd and eerie, gazed out across a whole section, 600 acres, he referred to as his “back yard” to the tree line serving as our horizon……. He said, “It smells like a good day for a fire. And it has me worried.”
  • I never thought about a fire…. 97 days without rain was bad, even the oak trees were weak. Scrub trees were like tinder. But Steve knew…..

And so the fire began. Some idiot with a low hanging muffler causes sparks on the pavement while he was coming into town…………. It began a SEVEN MILE LONG fire.

By 2pm that afternoon, every man with heavy equipment in the county was involved. Firemen as far as Memphis to Jackson were flown in. They created fire lanes, and moved an incredible amount of earth that day. I’ve never seen anything like it. But by God, they were prepared. We learned later…. the fire was so big….. NASA photographed it from space.

My husband, who owned a construction company with heavy equipment, came home about midnight. I had to throw away all of his clothes. Saved the RedWing boots, somehow. He sat for a half hour in the shower…. and all those men went to work the next day. Yeah, it was quite a Labor Day.

New respect for the Firemen.

And when Gunner hit High School he had to create an “invention” for a school project. He created a Hamshaxe, that was a hammer, an axe, and a tool to rip shingles off a roof. It was a 3 in 1 tool to help firemen during a fire. Ohhhhhh, the local firemen were divine help to my son. They measured and re-measured existing fittings on all common firetrucks so the tool could replace the regular axe they had, and they posed for pictures while the proto-type was made with help of a local junior college. Gunner won 1st place in state for that idea…. and would have won nationals….. if not for a technical foul on the application by his teacher.

Soooo, the firemen have always been in our lives. And the firehouse has benefited greatly from my catering leftovers through the years.

That said, Emergency Preparedness is something else completely different….. cuz all manor of disasters can hit. We have to be prepared for hurricanes, droughts, fires, tornadoes, anything.

I’ve written before about the Great Ice Storm of ’94, which took out 7 million telephone poles in our region.

Our town leaders excelled so spectacularly during that emergency, that our Mayor was promoted to State Gov’t and our Fire Chief became head of state Emergency Management….. and then his performance during Hurricane Katrina was so spectacular, we was elected Head of Emergency Management for all 50 states.

I wrote about how much I learned during that “emergency”, and that FEMA ain’t got $hit on our guys. Most impressive. And the women….. Webster’s definition for the self-reliant. Amazing skills.

But here’s the kicker and how we wind around back to Marica’s blog “Preparedness” and the “Fire Drill”.

Our Ice Storm was so severe, that several gov’t entities did a study on it to be better prepared for a similar disaster. Of course, the “study” took several years.

So, there I was, minding my own business, making breakfast for guests, flipping rooms, doing laundry….. when the doorbell rang in 1997……… three years AFTER the Ice Storm.

It was a group of executives from Entergy, our power company and the power company for 7 states, plus local officials, few I knew, some I didn’t. They asked if they could come in and talk to me. Their main office is right up the street from our house…. a short walk.

I obliged, but understand “need to talk to me” is coded language for “they want me to do something”.

More background: The local exec for Entergy is a pompous ass; the exec who can’t shoot straight. Completely absent in every major town emergency where I was strangely and WHOLLY involved. He apparently got his job because of Daddy, but ….. I don’t know what he ever did. On the other hand, the executives above him were charming/professional/efficient and I liked/respected them. Many of their annual events were held at our house and we became familiar. Once, I practically had them on board to light my oak trees out front for Christmas.

  • Me to Executive Kelly- the big boss: What do you think? Lighting those enormous oak trees with Christmas lights would be incredible for the town.
  • Kelly to me: Miss Daughn, those trees are over 100yrs old and probably over 100′ tall.
  • Me: Yeah, it would be gorgeous, nothing like that has ever been done before…… here.
  • Kelly: Miss Daughn, each tree would probably take a transformer to carry the load. (This was before Chinese cheap lights and low voltage). Do you have any idea what the electric bill would be?
  • Me: Well, that’s why I want an Energy company to sponsor the trees for Christmas. You can put a sign out front. It would be Entergy’s Christmas gift to our town. Hey, everyone is here to take pics with their kids anyway.
  • Kelly: Miss Daughn, we would have to put in 4-5 transformers around your house.
  • Me: Well……….. is it okay if I borrow a few transformers…… I wouldn’t need them for more than six weeks during Christmas.
  • Kelly: Miss Daughn…….. really?
  • Husband bumping into the conversation: When did you decide you wanted to light the oak trees? Honey, you can’t do that…..

Well, I never did get the oak trees done for Christmas…. but here were the same fellows, sitting in my living room, ready with a new plan for me. Each of them was carrying stacks of folders and loose-leaf binders. This is pretty much how the conversation went……

  • Me: You boys want some coffee or iced tea?
  • Kelly: That would be nice Miss D, this is going to take a while……
  • Me, wandering back to the kitchen, why didn’t they make an appointment?????, girlfriends in the kitchen wondering what the heck was going on up front and if they were missing something big…. Returning with Ice tea and veg/fruit/dip to nibble on…… cuz DAUGHN is ALWAYS PREPARED.
  • Kelly started: Miss D, How many people can you house here?
  • Me: Well, I have 5 guest rooms, queens and kings for beds, so 10 people.
  • Kelly, putting down his pen, looking at me deeply, like he was in pain, leaning in: But in an emergency, how many can you handle?
  • Me, leaning back: What kind of an emergency? Tell me what you mean and what you need….
  • Kelly: Well, you know we’ve been working on this emergency plan since the “Great Ice Storm”.

  • Me: Nodding, I heard all about it.
  • Kelly: Well, your house is right down the street from the Entergy Hub, where we keep all the trucks and equipment. We could walk to and from your house, in an emergency.
  • Me, still nodding.
  • Kelly: And we also know, since many of us have stayed here over the years, you have an old boiler for a water heater, which never runs out of hot water, and can be manually turned on without electric, in case the lines go down.
  • Me, chuckling to myself, these boys know me so well……. they know about my magical water heater..…?
  • Kelly continuing: And we also know your husband and you moved into the house after the ice storm and he wired all the HVAC blowers to one location, only requiring one generator to keep the heat/up and running for the whole house, so the whole house would be livable. And we also know your stove has no electric ignition….. and you planned it that way, so you can still cook.
  • Me, thinking, these boys had done their homework…. when did I tell them all that???? Did I have too much wine one night and spill my guts?
  • Kelly: You see Miss D, the fire station is just not big enough. We learned that when the FBI boys were here and we remember what you did feeding those FBI guys. Plus, you have more bathrooms. You are walking distance from the hub, and you are the natural first choice for the guys in an emergency.
  • Me, warming up to the idea: How many men?
  • Kelly: Well, in an emergency situation, most of those guys would be grateful for a cot. Hell Daughn, when they travel for hurricanes, most of them have to sleep in their truck.
  • Me: I went from zero to 100mph immediately. I was incensed. My eyes went wide. Every since the Ice Storm, the linemen became precious to us. I teared up every time they rolled out of town to another city to help with a tornado/hurricane. EVERY time they left, the women in town stacked their dashboards with homemade morsels for the trip….. We LOVED our linemen. The idea of tired men having to sleep in a truck….. after what I KNEW they were doing all day, made me boiling mad.
  • Kelly, sitting back: You see what I mean??
  • Me, leaning in, girls sneaking around the corner to hear: Okay, I’m all in. Tell me how many men you think you need to house here and we will figure out a way to make it work…… for an emergency.
  • Kelly, immediately responding, he had the number all along: I need 60 men, here, fed and housed.
  • Me, leaning back in my chair, remembering how much bourbon those boys drank during the ice storm….. provisions for 60 hungry and tired men…… for God only knows how many days……. WOW….. I was calculating in my mind but interrupted by the girls.
  • Theresa was first: You bet your buttocks we will house them. Of course, we will.
  • With Theresa speaking boldly, four more women appeared in the living room, arms folded, defiant, ready to chip in and help. I will NEVER forget them in that moment. Brave women, ready for anything. If those 60 men were waiting outside, they would have had lunch ready in less than an hour…….. made from SOMETHING they found in the kitchen, and it would have been fabulous. I was continuously in awe of those women and I still am to this day.
  • I however, was not quite sold: Mr. Kelly, …… I was stalling…… I’m trying to figure out how we are going to do this in my mind.
  • Lisa interrupted: Remember when we had 50 of G’s (stepson) classmates for a slumber party? We turned the upstairs into a bunkhouse. He’s right (she was pointing at Kelly). There are enough bathrooms. We could even cordon off the library cuz it has sliding doors = bedroom, and the dining room has more sliding doors = another bedroom. We could make the living room the dining “hall”. The downstairs baths are enough for going to the bathroom in the middle of the night and the upstairs showers….. well, they would have to take turns…… but there are 5 showers upstairs. We have enough towels and sheets already….. and pillows…….
  • Ceci interrupting: The only problem I foresee is the laundry. We have to have a dryer, and it’s all electric. Those boys are going to need laundry done after a day’s work, and we don’t know how long they will be here.
  • I told you those women were good. They could organize an army.
  • Kelly and the others were impressed.
  • Me, still not 100% on board: The problem I see is food….. provisions.
  • Kelly, moving his body towards me: Tell me what you want/need.
  • Me: My husband is a contractor. I know how much hungry men NEED to eat to keep going. I don’t normally keep 60 steaks in the fridge. Or 180 eggs in the fridge for ONE breakfast, although (laughing) I usually do have 20lbs of bacon in a freezer at any given time. And we can cook, and they will all eat well, IF AND ONLY IF I can get some of the girls to me. In the ice storm, no one could move. We were all stranded. We would need supplies and I would need help in the kitchen and laundry.
  • Kelly, smiling…. he already had that answer and pointed to another guy to give me the details: We’ve already worked out the logistics on how to supply you, Miss D.
  • Me, baffled.
  • Me………. so they knew I would say yes…… ahhhhaaaa.
  • Other guy went on to explain…… it was like an Army plan. I needed to name 10 people for assistance, 12hour shifts, girls nodded. They would bring them to me. No problem for dryer, he was making notes. Impressive and very military-like.
  • Kelly wound it up: Chances are, in the immediate aftermath of an emergency, people will be scattered. You would probably have to be heavily involved in the first 24 hours. But after that, if I cannot get trucks to you, we can drop a helo in your back yard, or at the school next door for provisions…………. just give me a list of what you want….. and I will provide it.
  • Me, dazed at the idea of a helo in my back yard to drop off Bourbon and eggs and bacon…. OMG.
  • Me to Kelly: Do you KNOW how much this is going to cost?
  • Kelly, slight grin: In an emergency, Miss D, I don’t care how much it costs. I’m not worried about you being fair, you’ve always been fair with us. Just take care of our men.
  • Theresa, answering for me: You mean OUR men. Done, we can do it.

And that was the day we became part of the emergency plan.

Of course, we never thought we would have to do it….. right? I mean now, we have the Weather Channel. Houses have generators for emergencies. We have information at the tip of our fingers with the internet. Surely we would never have another incident like the Great Ice Storm…… Right?????

Well……

About two years later, the ice started piling up. Truck drivers got off at our exit and began to stack up on the beltway around our city. I remembered the emergency plan and went to the store……… Made an enormous pot of stew and another one of chicken soup, pans of lasagna….. we were in a flurry while we still had the ovens. We were washing laundry as fast as we could, waiting for the electric to go down.

And the call came from Kelly…………… He said, “Are you ready?” I was stuttering. At least all the girls were still here.

But they did not mobilize that time. Instead, we ended up with 12 truckdrivers spending the night.

But every time the weather hits…… we fly into action. When the snow hit this February (remember how bad Texas was?) I made 28qts of veg beef stew and enormous loaves of homemade bread. We ended with US Postal Employees hunkered down at our house for a week, cuz they would walk to the post office from here.

Be prepared.

Cuz ya’ never know who will show up on our doorstep…… and we are always prepared. As much as any human can be.

So, whether it’s a Fire Drill for a Blog at Marica’s Place or a real fire or a real emergency………. find your way to our house. We’ll figure it out. We’ll have fun, eat like kings, and probably make a few new friends along the way.

Out of our tragedies are born the best of memories.

12 thoughts on “Fire Drill at Our House.

  1. Like, like, like – I still can’t like on the main page – have to go to reader version!

    Miss Daughn – You gotta put it all in a book one day! It will be a hit!

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