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“Veterans Day, 2011“

The response had been well-nigh instantaneous. Sirens blared in the distance immediately after I ended the call. By the time I made it down the four flights of stairs of our fourth floor walk-up in Manhattan, there were fire engines, an ambulance, and utility trucks outside.

It was mid-afternoon and because of the holiday, mostly everyone was at home. I had contacted the utility company, ConEd, because of a faulty gas stove burner. It was a simple question of what to do. They said someone would be by within the hour. End of story. Except, the dispatcher had put me on hold one last time and then I got duped. She logged the call as an emergency: “hissing pipe, gas leak, possible smoke inhalation," which is not at all what I reported (but what the responders later told us when they showed up).

As soon as I made it outside the building, I took one look at the fire trucks and walked skittishly past them. “Where are you going!” my wife said, trailing behind me.

“I gotta get out of here!” I said. But after a few more steps, I suddenly came to my senses—about abandoning my wife and the scene and what a cowardly act that would be.

The firemen formed a line in the lobby of our co-op, about 10 strong, their sturdy black boots hitting the stairs, one flight after another, two of them yielding axes. We were the last in tow, silently praying that no one would take notice. But how could anyone not have heard the commotion? The neighbors soon started peeping their heads out of their apartments. Closed doors were then knocked on. An announcement was made for everyone to evacuate the building.

Bob Henderson, Cherri, Greg, Sandra, and the others all waited outside in the cold. We remained inside our apartment with the responders. An uncomfortable wreck from the ordeal, an EMT took notice and sat me down on the couch. He checked my vitals. Firemen, EMTs, and utility workers swarmed our apartment. I overheard my wife explaining the situation about the stupid stove burner. “No, there was no smoke or anything,” she was saying.

Eventually, everyone outside schlepped it back to their apartment. But the oldest resident of our building just stood there on the first floor staircase holding the railing, his mouth twisted. I glanced over at him from the lobby down below. “You mean to tell me this was over nothing!” he shouted, his fist raised. Scratching the back of my head, I looked down at the floor. I wanted to crawl into a tiny hole and live there for the rest of my life.

In the end, it was simply the right front stove burner that needed a replacement part. Some dimwit had put the wrong size cap on there. Speaking of which, it was probably our landlord (he lived out-of-state), who I received an email from the next day with the subject line “I Shoulda Been A Fireman.” Funny guy.


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