The Firefghter's Warning
Mysterious Ways|October/November 2020
When I arrive at the scene, the old frame house on Chicago’s South Side is burning furiously. Smoke and embers dance crazily in the windy winter night. I give the order to unroll the hoses and then dash madly inside. I pull out three people and administer CPR to two of them before the ambulance arrives, rubber screeching on asphalt. When the blaze is finally under control, someone from the department comes up to me.
Edward Cushing

“You did a great job, Captain Cushing,” he says, “but two of those three people you pulled out didn’t make it.”

“No!” I cry. “They’re all alive!”

“I’m sorry, Cushing.”

Suddenly I awoke in a drenching sweat, my heart racing. My wife, Rosemary, was awake too, staring at me. “Honey, what’s wrong?” she asked. “You were shouting.”

“Nothing,” I mumbled, focusing my eyes. The clock read 4:30 A.M. “Just a bad dream.” I fell back on my pillow. I had to get some rest. The following day was Christmas Eve, and I was scheduled for duty.

I was assigned to a single firehouse that quartered Engine 91, a hose company. In Chicago, firemen work three successive 24-hour shifts, living at the firehouse during that time. I’d have under my command three firefighters and an engineer to monitor the equipment. I was a little nervous. Because of all the holiday leaves, my company had some unseasoned men. I hoped nothing major developed.

By the time I arrived at work the next morning, I’d completely forgotten about the dream. In fact, I was happy to find out that my relief engineer had just been promoted, so he must not have been quite as unseasoned as I had feared. Still, I was apprehensive. The holidays are a busy time for firefighters. People get careless during all the excitement. God, I prayed, watch over our city on this wonderful night.

The shift passed uneventfully. Then, one minute before Christmas Day, an alarm came in. We manned the engine and roared out of the garage, our siren piercing the night. The blaze was only a half-mile from the firehouse, on North Drake Avenue. We were a block away when I spotted smoke. The fire was raging through an old frame house. I called in a second alarm for more equipment and a chief.

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