My home town was a dying mining town in Northwestern Ontario called Geraldton two hundred miles from the nearest traffic light.-And more importantly as a growing boy-about-town, a McDonald’s.
I admired all the firemen growing up. Our neighbour Mr. Shields was a fireman and worked at Ball Motors, saving the paint shop where he was employed and Uncle Ted Tarkka the Fire Chief, who lived next door to Mr. Shields and who also worked at the paint shop at Ball Motors. They were everyday people the townsfolk relied on to watch over their families. Or people you needed if you wanted a custom paint job on your new rod.
I lived directly across the street from them at 911 First Street West. The significance of my home address didn’t ring true as an indicator of my future calling as a firefighter because the number to call for a fire back in the day was something like, 1 800 MY SHIT’S BURNING.
In Geraldton in the 60’s the dispatch system for firefighters was somehow lacking in its sophistication. The firemen, and they were all men back then, each had a special fire phone in their home in addition to the ordinary black rotary phones us mere mortals possessed. (The special fire phone was still a black rotary phone, but it had a cool sticker on it with the emergency phone number.) In Geraldton in the days before cell phones or even pagers, firefighters caught away from home when a fire broke out were dispatched by an antiquated air raid siren bolted to the top of town hall. One wail alerted firefighters to a fire north of the tracks, two wails for in the town, and three wails for a fire south of the bridge. It was up to each volunteer fireman to spot the tell tale signs of incomplete combustion and race to the blaze before it burned itself out. The whole system was complicated by a noon siren, to synchronize your watch I guess, and a ten o’clock curfew siren for us kids. God help you if you lived north of the tracks and your place was on fire at lunch time.