As engine #6 pulls up and parks in the street in front of the downtown fire station, Little Brother and I walk up slowly, hand in hand, to get a better look. Suddenly the driver’s door opens, and right before our eyes, a pair of boots swings out, and out steps A Real Live Firefighter. Little Brother freezes in his tracks, his grip tight around my hand, awestruck and speechless, as if seeing Superman.
Every time one of my children is three years old, we make sure to go to the Ann Arbor Fire Department’s annual open house. There is something about firefighters that simply entrances children of that age (and moms, too). My middle schoolers gorge on popcorn, doughnuts, and cider. My seven-year-old tries a few things that are still cool enough for her, like shimmying up a rope and making a fire escape plan. But mostly, three-year-old Little Brother and I walk around the station in our matching red plastic firefighter hats.
Little Brother practices “stop, drop, and roll” on a big piece of carpet, rolling back and forth until the imaginary flames on his clothes have been extinguished. He stares up the firefighters’ pole and imagines the mysterious upstairs where they live. He sprays a fire extinguisher with glee (at me). He talks to a friendly and funny firefighting robot that asks him his name and shouts “Anyong haseyo!” to a giggling young Korean couple. The robot also reminds people to change the batteries in their smoke detectors twice a year . . . every time they change their underwear. Sweet six-year-old girls swoon at the thought! A firefighter rappels down the outside wall of the building . . . like Spiderman.
We also check out all the trucks — the engines of course, but also the haz-mat truck, the technical rescue truck, the ambulance, the Red Cross relief truck. We oooh and ahhh over all the high-tech equipment while soberly reflecting on the need for such equipment. We are amazed at the demolished car that the firefighters have cut apart for display.
Mostly, however, Little Brother climbs on and around engine #6. Another Real Live Firefighter answers all his many questions, like “Why do you have two flashlights?” She explains that firefighters always have to be prepared. The white helmet is the chief’s helmet. The black helmet is hers. The boots are inside the pants so that the firefighters can quickly pull them on as they rush to a fire. The heavy jackets protect them from the fire’s heat. The oxygen tanks help them breathe in the smoke. All firefighters carry walkie-talkies so they can talk with each other. No detail escapes Little Brother’s attention, and his new friend answers each question patiently and kindly, using the correct technical terms and without talking down to him.
Finally, this Real Live Firefighter helps him way up into the driver’s seat and lets him hold the steering wheel and “drive.” Now he is a superhero firefighter, too!
The 2008 Ann Arbor Fire Department open house is at the downtown station on Sunday, October 5.