Word came to Erik that the station had shut down. With funding gone, and a new tri-city station, the need for a small town fire department became obsolete. Erik read in detail about the memoriam and that the bell was saved and had been placed in the public park, but everything else had been auctioned off or had been sold for scrap. Scrap. He knew in his heart that Big Mike was going to meet his doom and this explained why he was headed west on highway 30 at breakneck speed.
On the outskirts of Rainier, there was an old homestead and had long been abandoned. It became the perfect place for kids to hang out and explore. Parents and local authorities always frowned upon this and every parent always sounded warning as their child left to go out with friends, “And stay away from the old Johnson place!” Well, that fateful night a carelessly tossed cigarette landed on a pile of rags that had been slowly rotting in a corner of the old barn. Whumph—the old pile of cotton instantly ignited and the flames spread across the bone dry walls. It would not of have been so bad, but the loft had five teens sitting in the hay gazing out at the stars and having a good time with each other’s company. Mr. Anders, a neighbor to the old Johnson place saw the flickering and soft orange glow as the flames spread hungrily. “Maw, git on the horn, the johnson place is on far!”
The call came in and Erik and his men got suited up and rushed to Big Mike the station’s 1947 Ford Fire Engine. Hal dropped into the driver’s seat, hit the starter button and quick as a whip, the flathead V8 fired off. Sirens and lights combined to awaken the sleepy town. The 5 minute ride felt like a lifetime. The young Fire Chief road in the passenger’s seat took a glance at his men in the back of the engine. He nodded and gave them a look of confidence. But, inside Erik’s guts were boiling. His hands were dripping with sweat. Under his watch he held the lives of his men and those they were racing into the unknown to save. Even before they had arrived, they could see the overcast cast sky reflecting the glow of the deadly flames that waited. Big Mike rounded one last corner and before the fire men, the valley was alight and they could see the kids in the open door of the loft holding each other and awash in fear. With the howl of Big Mike’s siren the kids began to jump in glee. They would be saved!
Hal brought Big Mike to a halt and like a fine tuned Timex the men exited and began to perform their duties. Erik shouted orders, the hose was unreeled from the back and he realized that his team had but a splinter of time to save those kids. Erik shouted to his men to grab the safety net and prepare to save the five in the loft. They looked at him in astonishment as Erik wrestled the hose from back of Big Mike hit the nozzle and with a mask on his face walked into the flames. One by one the kids leapt the 20 feet and landed to safety. Erik extinguished flames to give the barn just a few minutes more. Then it happened. A beam slammed down close enough that Erik stepped back in surprise and dropped the hose. Entangled around his ankle he tried to wrench free but in the process his mask was pulled free and the room a bright glow began to dim as the smoke filled air filled his lungs.
The Firemen had just saved the last of the teens when they saw that within the barn their chief had not returned. Then it happened. Those who were there to this day still wonder if it was a miracle, cause and effect or just plain luck. There was an audible —snap!— and the kids and fire fighters watched as the engine began to roll backward. “Hal!” shouted one of the fire fighters. Didja set the brake?!” Hal watched and nodded. His mouth was agape as he along with everyone there watched. The flames hungrily engulfed the loft and a shower of sparks and embers rose into the night. Big Mike continued to roll backwards and from the opening of the barn entangled in the fire hose emerged Erik, their chief.
The big Ford backed into a post and the large brass bell rocked back and was struck.
Everyone turned to see that the Fire Engine had backed into a long cut down stump and pulled from the flames was their chief. The loud sudden clasp of Big Mike’s bell shook Erik awake. He opened his eyes. The star riddled sky bore down on him and the sound of cheers did as well. He slowly sat up and watched as the Johnson barn collapsed in a shower of embers. Erik looked down and saw his legs entangled in the hose. Behind him was Big Mike. As Erik drew in more breaths of fresh air it all became clear. His men were safe. The kids were safe. He had survived, because for some strange coincidence, his legs were entangled in the fire hose and the park brake cable snapped in Big Mike, causing the engine to roll backwards. Two out of three made sense. Erik stood up, bent down and untangled the hose from his feet. He then turned and looked at the engine. The emergency lights were still alight. The V8 hummed. But, there was something that Erik felt. Big Mike was a part of the team. Nearly 3 tons of machinery, but.
As the years rolled by and Erik continued to be the Fire Chief, many engines came and went. Yet, Big Mike always was there. Parades or as an engine used for training purposes, the old ’47 was a staple at the station. When Erik retired in 2000 he requested that Big Mike be taken care of. That was 18 years ago.
Erik made his journey in record time. Even as he pulled up to his old home town he was taken back at the growth that had swept through. Old buildings that were landmarks had been absolved into metro friendly condos and all of that made Rainier such a quaint old town had become gentrified. Sterile. A tattered sign pointed where the final sale of the Fire Station was to be. As before, a faded memories journey of desperation, Erik wound the roads racing to save a memory from his past. A final curve and he dropped onto a plain where a makeshift scrapper had set up a car crusher. Idling was a Cat and resting on the forks was Big Mike. Years had not been kind to the old engine. The once proud grille had tears. His glass was shattered and tires were all flat. The bright red paint had faded into a chalky resemblance of the splendor of what was once there. The lift driver began to inch forward with the cast off memory resting on the forks. Erik slid the rental to a halt. He opened the door and walked out. Mike was dressed in his dress uniform with his Fire Chief badge shining brightly upon his chest. He walked with purpose to the forklift driver and in one swift movement pulled a photo from his pocket.
Creased. Aged. Stained from the years, there it was. A photograph of the once proud and strong, a life saver Big Mike and Erik beside the old ’47. The forklift driver paused and keyed his mic.
Life is a miracle.
Be it a flower or some inanimate object that saves a life.
Sometimes belief is all you need.
Erik purchased Big Mike. The ’47 Ford is now in his humble garage of old cars and this day serves his tenure in parades or car shows.
Erik still sits in Big Mike and wonders. What if?