“There’s a fire!” Not more than twenty feet away, flames were spewing out the window of the apartment building next door, shattering glass with heat.
I know people who say a simple prayer every time they hear a siren. It’s a spiritual practice, to keep alert for needs beyond knowing. Well, on Saturday night, my prayers came before the sirens.
Two a.m. I was awakened by the sound of breaking glass and Carol exclaiming, “There’s a fire.” Not more than twenty feet away, flames were spewing out the window of the apartment building next door, shattering glass with heat. “Call 9-1-1,” I said, peering at the alarming sight. The only prayer in my head was for a miracle, “Please let everybody get out.”
“Fire!” someone yelled from across the street. “Get out of the building!”
“There’s a fire!” Carol said into the phone, and gave the address. “Next door.” Another window shattered.
In minutes sirens could be heard, two engines, an ambulance and an EMT crew. With lightning speed, firemen attached the hose, water spilling into the street, and rescuers searched from a hydraulic lift for anyone to evacuate. Flashlights scanned through darkened windows. A crowd gathered on the sidewalk in slippers and overcoats, red and white lights sweeping across their stunned faces. The only comfort I found was seeing that the empty stretchers stayed empty.
We could hear more windows break, the firemen at work, and then the flames turned into billowing smoke and died. I can’t tell you how fast it all happened, the fire quickly contained, the stretchers empty, the EMTs waiting. The hoses ran but what had seemed a certain disaster, a spreading conflagration, was under control.
In an hour and a half the engines were gone and the street empty. The only sound was a carpenter boarding up the windows and someone sweeping up glass. Darkness had returned, but I confess that I didn’t sleep much at all, the fear very much with me. What would have happened if those flames had flown with the wind? What if the firemen hadn’t been so quick, so professional? What if the building hadn’t been built to codes that were meant to contain such fires?
That morning in church we were singing hymns that kept referring to God’s love as fire (“O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn to dust and ashes…”) and then I thought of all those people who pray for sirens. If God’s love was a fire then it was important to think of its kindling care. That would be the only match for any of my fears and those of others.
Now when I hear sirens I know what I’m praying for: thankfulness for firemen and ambulances and EMTs, thankfulness for alert neighbors, prayers for rescue and help for anyone suffering from fear.