Hard as it may be to believe this old man went to high school. And as far back in history as this occurred there are still remnants of the school itself. Archeologists needn’t dig for this one (yet).
There was a particularly interesting young lady in my class, and her father was the Fire Chief. As social acquaintances developed between teenage members of the opposite sex in those days it was very common for fathers of young women to demonstrate a diligent interest in the young men whose name had been mentioned by a daughter more than once. And so it followed that the Fire Chief developed an interest in me.
Before the days of job shadowing and various other forms of career development became popular it was not usual to get a day out of school to spend with adults from the community. But the Fire Chief, politically connected as he was, could arrange a ‘Day with the Chief’ for certain students. Lucky me.
A regular duty that fell to the Chief, when there was no smoke to be dealt with, was the inspection of public facilities for their overall fire safety. It was arranged that I would be dismissed from one morning’s worth of school so that I might accompany the Chief on an inspection of a local grade school. The Chief was also intent on inspecting me, and as we drove from the high school to the grade school it quickly became obvious that my opportunity for this ride along was not due to chance alone. He was a nice guy. It was an interesting conversation. Any wayward intentions I may have harbored where his daughter was concerned were dispatched, unequivocally, Amen.
And then we arrived at the school. We had a brief conversation with the principal – the two had been classmates and also had a distant family relationship of some sort, there was some catching up. Next there was the fire drill. The Chief and I walked outside to time and observe. It was orderly and well done.
Next up was a facility walk through to inspect fire extinguishers, alarm equipment, and building infrastructure that might either cause a fire or serve as needed in the event of a fire. For this part of the tour we were introduced to the building maintenance engineer… a guy I thought might be the janitor. This janitor was that special type of person who could keep everything running, despite age or abuse. And he was a smoker. He had a pack of cigarettes rolled into his right shirt sleeve, and a lone cigarette perched over his left ear ready to be lit at a moment’s notice. This latter display was duly noticed by the Chief. The sudden squeal of a loose belt on something or other called the janitor to duty and when he returned to us minutes later the lone cigarette over his ear was missing and he smelled of fresh smoke. We continued to the kitchen.
I learned quite a bit about fire safety in the kitchen. Frying equipment is serious stuff to a career fireman. We looked at all sorts of connections, oil storage, temperature measurement and regulation devices, fume hoods, cleaning supplies, and safety postings on the walls. The Chief spoke to the kitchen staff, and then we headed for the walk in cooler. Accompanied by our smoke scented janitorial guide we walked into the cooler to inspect wiring and the condenser. The door closed behind us with a scratchy click and the janitor smacked his forehead and let loose a short rant about the door. The Chief and I went ahead with our inspection of the cooling equipment while our guide went to work on the door. The wiring and condenser were all in order, and I even got to see where some service work had been done which the Chief pointed out was to code and nicely accomplished. Turning to the door we found the janitor absorbed in his wiggling this and jiggling that in order to gain our release. Without tools and with a Fire Chief looking over his shoulder his spirits were fraying and some foreign words spilled forth in a rapid fire expression of discontent. An open handed pounding on the door brought no assistance from the outside. And then it happened, a remark I will never forget:
“There must be some kind of way out of here”, said the smoker to the Chief.