I grew up with firehouse lingo…still and box alarm, 211’s, 5-11 and 4 specials. The rig. Inspection days. 24 on 48 off. Smoke eaters. On rare occasions my sister and brother and I visited the firehouse; a big building with echo’s of fireman’s conversation’s bouncing off the walls. The firemen had worn out and throw-away recliners; green leathery things with holes in the upholstery to offer comfort in between calls or “runs.”
Firehouse coffee was as strong as espresso, I don’t think they cleaned the old coffee maker, just added more coffee. Hot mud 24/7. When the alarm went off (was this preceded by a ticker?) the bell was deafening. Yes, if they were upstairs in the bunk room they slid down the pole, one after another. Grabbing up gear and jumping into those big boots that had loops on top to pull them up they headed for the “rig.” Out the door with sirens and horns blaring, we watched as they left, not really understanding the danger they faced.
Sometimes we would hear of big fires on the television news, and would ask my mother “is dad at that fire?” The answer depended on where the fire was but my mother always reassured us that all would be well. She must have been beside herself with worry when she knew he was out of the “barn” but we never knew.
Back at the firehouse, (Truck 51 on Chicago’s south side) Muggs the huge German Shepherd dog prevented would- be intruders from taking the fireman’s dinner until they returned. No one messed with Muggs. I think they buried him near the firehouse with his own little headstone. One of the firemen wrote a little book about that firehouse and Muggs. My father drove the battalion chief for years at that very busy house.
At the end of his career at the CFD, he was stationed at Engine 92 on the south side. The hat is from that time period. The one from Truck 51 is battered and burned and probably still smells like smoke, as is the one from Engine 84 also on Chicago's south side, his first duty station.
This painting is inspired by a picture of my grandson that my dad took during our recent visit to Chicago to see my parents. He was delighted to be wearing this authentic hat, and I think my dad had a few stories for him.
Loud sirens, big red engines, hook and ladders that seemed to reach the sky, going into smoke filled buildings, yes- that’s a big hat to fill.