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A Trip to the Firehouse
Look at what I found!" cried six-year-old Benny Alden, running into the old boxcar. It was a chilly Saturday afternoon, and his sisters and brother were sitting around a card table working on a jigsaw puzzle. They looked up and smiled at Benny, who was carrying a toy fire truck and wearing a firefighter's hat on his head.
"Hey, Benny," said twelve-year-old Jessie, "where'd you get that hat?"
"I was looking around in the attic, and I found it in an old trunk," Benny said. "You wouldn't believe how heavy it is!" He pulled the leather hat off his head and handed it to her.
"Wow, it really is heavy, Benny," Jessie agreed. "I think it's a real firefighter's hat, not just a play hat."
As his sister turned the hat over in her hands, fourteen-year-old Henry spotted something. "What's that written on the inside?"
Jessie looked where he was pointing. "It says James Henry Alden!"she announced with surprise. That was their grandfather's name.
"Was Grandfather a firefighter?" ten-year-old Violet asked.
"I don't know. Let's go ask him," Henry suggested, walking quickly back to the house. The others followed close behind.
The children found James Alden sitting in his favorite chair in the living room, sipping a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. They had lived with their grandfather since shortly after their parents died. At first, before the children had met him, they'd been afraid he was mean. So they'd run away and lived in an old boxcar they found in the woods. When Mr. Alden finally found them, they learned that he was kind and loving. He took them to live in his big, comfortable house. He even had their boxcar brought to the backyard so the children could play in it.
"Grandfather! Grandfather!" Benny cried, running ahead of the others and climbing onto Mr. Alden's lap. "Were you a firefighter?"
"Now, where did that question come from?" Grandfather asked, smiling."Benny found this in the attic," Jessie explained, holding up the hat.
"Well, would you look at that," Mr. Alden said, taking the hat from his granddaughter. "I haven't seen this in a long time."
"So it is yours! You were a firefighter!" Benny said with excitement.
"Yes, many years ago I was a volunteer firefighter," Grandfather said.
"What does that mean?" Violet wanted to know.
"I had my regular job during the day, running the mill. But at night and on weekends, I helped the full-time firefighters," Grandfather explained.
"Did you really fight fires?" asked Benny.
"A few," Grandfather said. "I did whatever they needed me to do."
"Wow," said Benny. The children looked at their grandfather with proud smiles. It was amazing all the things he'd done!
Grandfather placed the hat on Benny's head. "I have an idea. How would you like to go visit the firehouse where I worked? I'm sure Mike Reynolds — the fire chief — would give us a tour if he's not too busy."
"That sounds great!" said Henry.
"Hooray!" the other three shouted.
A few minutes later, the Aldens piled out of their car in front of the Greenfield Firehouse. It was an old red-brick building, covered with ivy. A garage on the side held the fire trucks. Inside, a man with silvery gray hair greeted them. He was wearing dark pants and a starched white shirt with a dark tie and a gold badge.
"Well, if it isn't James Alden!" the man said, taking Grandfather's outstretched hand and shaking it firmly.
"Good to see you, Mike," Grandfather replied, smiling broadly. "It's been a long time."
"Too long!" Mike said. Then he saw the four children standing behind Mr. Alden. "Are these your grandchildren?"
"Yes, they are," Grandfather said, turning to introduce them. "This is Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny."
"I've heard so much about the Alden family. It's nice to finally meet you!" said Mike.
Everyone smiled and shook hands with him.
Benny looked up at Mike, his eyes wide. "Are you a real fire chief, Mr. Reynolds?" he asked.
Mike smiled. "I am. And please, call me Mike."
"Neat!" said Benny. Then he frowned. "Why aren't you wearing a big hat and coat?"
"We only wear our gear when we're out fighting fires," Mike said. Just then a white dog with black spots came running up and put its paws up on Mike's leg. "Sparky!" Mike said, bending over to rub the dog's head.
"I knew there had to be a dalmatian here!" Jessie cried, leaning over to pat him. Sparky sniffed her hand eagerly and then licked it.
Mike turned to Grandfather. "So, James, what brings you by the old firehouse?"
"I was just telling the children about my days as a volunteer here," Grandfather said. "I thought that perhaps if you weren't too busy, you could give them a little tour and tell them what it's like to be a firefighter."
"I'd love to," said Mike. "How about if we go look at the fire trucks first?"
"All right!" cried Benny.
But as they were turning to go out to the garage, a man in a wheelchair came up and said, "Chief?" The man had reddish blond curly hair and a mustache, and was wearing the navy blue pants and T-shirt of a firefighter. With him was a gray-haired woman in a business suit. She had an angry frown on her face.
"Yes, Steve?" said Mike.
"This is Janet Lerner from the Greenfield town council. She needs to speak to you about something," Steve said.
Suddenly the smile disappeared from Mike's face. "Yes, Ms. Lerner, you called this morning. We'll talk in my office." Mike turned to Steve and the Aldens. All his cheerfulness was gone and his face looked gray. "I'm sorry, but this is something very ..." he paused as if looking for the right word. "Serious," he said at last. "Steve, would you mind taking over for me?" Mike quickly introduced the Aldens.
"My pleasure," Steve said, as Mike led Ms. Lerner into his office and shut the door.
Jessie whispered to Henry, "That was certainly mysterious."
Henry nodded. He, too, had noticed that Janet Lerner looked angry, and that Mike had seemed upset to see her. What was going on?
But before Henry could say anything, Benny called out, "Come on! Let's go see the fire trucks!"CHAPTER 2
Just Like Real Firefighters
Steve, are you a firefighter, too?" Violet asked as they followed him.
"Yes," he said, wheeling himself through a side door. "I used to be on active duty, until I was injured in an accident. Since then I haven't been able to walk. So now I work in the office, keeping the records, handling the schedules, taking care of the payroll — that sort of thing."
The side door led into the garage. "Look at that!" said Benny, staring up at the huge red truck in front of him.
"This is the ladder truck." Steve pointed to the long ladders on top. "We use it to get up to the tops of buildings to fight fires and help people who might be trapped inside."
"Is that the pumper?" Henry asked, pointing to a smaller truck.
"Yes," said Steve. "It's got a five-hundred-gallon tank of water in it."
"You use that to fight the fire, right?" Benny asked.
"That's right, Benny. Believe it or not, those five hundred gallons only last a few minutes," Steve explained. "We use that to 'knock down' the fire when we first arrive on the scene — to put out a small fire or try to get a bigger fire under control. But often we need more water."
"Is that what fire hydrants are for?" asked Jessie.
"Yes," Steve said. "When we first arrive at a fire, some of the firefighters go find a hydrant or another source of water. Using long hoses, the water from the hydrant is pumped through this pumper onto the fire. The pumper provides the pressure to make the water go far and fast."
The Aldens noticed that the door of the pumper was open and a heavy firefighters' coat hung on it. On the floor below it was a pair of heavy boots already tucked into a pair of heavy pants. It looked as if someone had just stepped out of the clothes and left them there.
Violet was about to ask why when suddenly a loud bell filled the air, and then there was a voice speaking over a loudspeaker. "Smoke reported in the basement of the office building on the corner of Third and Elm."
Steve quickly guided Grandfather and the children off to the side of the garage. There they were out of the way, but could see what was happening. Several firefighters ran quickly in from the firehouse. In no time they had put on their heavy pants and coats. They grabbed their hats and oxygen masks and climbed onto the ladder truck.
One firefighter ran to the driver's side of the pumper and took off her sneakers. Now the Aldens realized why the clothes had been left on the floor that way. In one easy step, she stepped into her boots and then pulled up the pants. Next she took the jacket that was hanging on the open door and put it on. She jumped into the truck and put on her hat and oxygen mask, which were already inside on the seat. Another firefighter got in on the other side.
The ladder truck and the pumper pulled out of the garage, their sirens wailing.
"They were so fast!" cried Jessie.
"They have to be," Steve said. "Speed is very important when you're going to fight a fire."
"What were those masks for?" asked Benny.
"You mean this?" Steve asked, taking a strange-looking mask out of one of the lockers.
"This attaches to a tank of oxygen that's worn on your back," Steve explained.
"You know, Benny, smoke can be even more dangerous than fire," Grandfather explained. "It keeps you from getting the oxygen you need to breathe. That's why firefighters wear those masks."
Steve put a mask on to show the children.
"You look scary in that," said Violet. "Like a giant bug!"
"Or a creature from outer space," added Benny.
Steve removed the mask. "Sometimes at a fire, kids are afraid when they see us in all this gear. Then they run away when we're trying to help them."
"That's too bad," said Jessie.
Steve looked around at the children. "Would you all like to try on some real firefighters' gear?"
"Sure!" they said in unison.
Steve found four sets of jackets and pants and boots. With help from Grandfather, the children put them on.
"I can barely move, this stuff is so heavy," said Benny.
"It's made of special fireproof materials," Steve said. "Imagine wearing all that and running up stairs carrying heavy hoses!" He laughed.
Then Steve handed each of them a hat. "Do you know why the hats are shaped like that?" The children shook their heads.
"It protects your head, and also allows the water from the hoses to run down the back, instead of into your eyes," Steve explained.
Wearing the gear, the children ran around the garage, pretending to fight a fire.
"I've got the fire hose," cried Benny, holding an imaginary length of hose.
"I'm going up to the top floor," called Violet, pretending to climb a ladder.
A few minutes later they saw the fire trucks returning. Everyone moved back against the side of the garage, out of the way.
Grandfather looked at his watch. "They weren't gone very long," he commented.
When the firefighter driving the pumper had gotten out and replaced her gear, Steve motioned to her to come over. "What happened, Christine?" he asked.
"Another false alarm," she responded. Then she looked at the children, still dressed in their big pants, coats, and hats. "But if it had been a real fire, we would have called you all to help!" She grinned.
"What's a false alarm?" asked Benny.
"It's when someone calls and says there's a fire, but there really isn't one," Christine explained. "It's dangerous, because chasing after a false alarm might keep us from helping people who really need us."
"Who would call in and say there was a fire if there wasn't?" asked Violet.
"It's a mystery to me," Steve answered, his face grim. "I hope we find out before they cause a real problem."
"We can help you find them," said Benny. "We're good at solving mysteries!"
"In the meantime, how about getting up into the fire engine?" suggested Christine.
The children's faces glowed with delight as Christine helped them climb up into the front seat of the pumper.
"This is great!" said Jessie, holding the steering wheel and looking around.
"Yeah!" said Henry.
"I feel like I'm really going to a fire," Violet said.
Benny was so excited, he didn't even say a word.
"Sound the siren, Benny," Christine said, showing him the button to press. Everyone heard a loud wail.
"You look just like real firefighters sitting up there," said Grandfather.
"Come inside and we'll show you the rest of the station," Steve said.
The children climbed down from the truck and took off their gear. Then they followed Steve and Christine inside.
"This is our living room," Steve said as they passed through a room with large comfortable chairs grouped around a television. A firefighter was sitting watching a basketball game. In the back was a kitchen area with a large dining table, where a couple of firefighters were having lunch. "We're here around the clock, so when we're not out at a fire or taking care of the trucks, we cook our meals and watch TV just as you do at home," Steve explained.
"Looks like nothing's changed since I was here years ago," Grandfather said. The children noticed that he was probably right — it looked as if they hadn't even repainted the walls in a long time. Everything seemed run-down and shabby.
"What are those?" Henry asked, pointing at some tarnished silver cups on a dusty bookcase in the corner.
"Those are trophies the fire department has won over the years. Some of them are over a hundred fifty years old," Steve explained. Then he picked up a cone-shaped metal object. "Do you know what this is?"
The children shook their heads.
"It's a very old nozzle for a hose — probably a hundred years old. It's made of copper," said Steve. "And these are called speaking trumpets." He took a long silver horn from the shelf and dusted it off. "When we're fighting a fire, things can get pretty noisy. Nowadays when the chief needs to tell the firefighters what to do, we use hand radios. But a long time ago, fire chiefs used these." Steve demonstrated, talking through one end of the long silver horn. "Hello!" Steve's voice echoed loudly through the tube.
"Look at all the beautiful designs engraved on the silver," Violet said.
"Yes, these are real works of art," Steve said, replacing the speaking trumpet on the shelf.
"We've seen your living room and your kitchen, but where do you sleep?" Benny piped up.
"Upstairs," Christine said. "Come on up."
The Aldens followed her up a narrow staircase. It creaked as they walked. At the top were two tiny rooms lined with beds. They looked very crowded. "On the night shift the men sleep in this room and the women in the other," she explained. "And when the alarm rings, here's how we get downstairs in a flash." She led the Aldens to the end of the hallway, where a brass pole attached to the ceiling went down through the floor. A brass railing circled the pole. Christine lifted up the trapdoor around the pole, and the children peered down into the garage below.
"Want to slide down?" Christine asked.
The children nodded eagerly.
Christine showed them how to hold on to the pole with their hands and then wrap their legs around it. Then she, Jessie, and Violet slid down and waited at the bottom.
"I want to go next," said Benny. Henry helped him onto the pole. "Wheeee! This is fun!" Benny cried as he slid down.
Finally, it was Henry's turn. "Here I come!" he said.
"I'll take the stairs!" Grandfather called down.
The pole led the children directly back to the garage.
Benny was just about to ask if they could climb up into the truck again when Mike Reynolds and Janet Lerner appeared.
"I'm sorry, but the only answer is to close this firehouse," Ms. Lerner said angrily. She turned and walked briskly out.CHAPTER 3
Save the Firehouse!
The Aldens looked at each other in surprise when they heard what Ms. Lerner had said.
"What was that all about, Chief?" asked Christine.
Mike looked grim. "Ms. Lerner just told me that the town council is thinking of tearing down this building. They think it's too old and outdated."
"What do you mean, Mike?" asked Henry.
"Well, did you go upstairs?" Mike asked. Henry nodded.
"Then you saw how crowded it is," Mike said. "A long time ago, not as many people lived in Greenfield, so there weren't as many firefighters. But since the town has grown, we need more, and we just don't have room to house them."
"Is that the only problem?" asked Jessie.
"There's also this old garage," Mike went on. "It was the right size back when they used a horse-drawn pumper."
"A horse-drawn pumper!" cried Benny.
"Yes," Mike explained. "Before gas-powered engines were invented, the pumps were pulled by horses."
"Prince and Duke," said Steve, who had just joined them. "The horses' names are painted on the wall over there. The pumper was on this side of the garage, and the horses were kept in a stable on that side. See the trapdoor in the ceiling?"
The Aldens looked up and nodded.
"The horses' hay was kept up there," Steve explained. "When the fire alarm rang, the firefighters backed the horses up to the pumpers. Then the harnesses were lowered from the ceiling. You can still see where the harnesses were kept up above."
"The problem now is that these garages aren't big enough for the huge modern fire trucks," Mike said. "We have to have trucks specially designed to fit, and that's expensive.
Excerpted from The Firehouse Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1997 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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