To the point week of 5/24/07

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TUESDAY WAS A BAD DAY in Switzerland County, with three fires happening in three different locations around the county – two at the same time.

I was sitting in the Vevay Newspapers office when the lights flickered, went off, came back on, flickered again, and then shut down.

Electricity is something that you don’t want to be without on a Tuesday afternoon in the newspaper business.

Although no electricity meant no computers, it also means no telephones in many homes today because of the prevalence of cordless phones. At our office, we still have two “corded” phones, so as long as we answered those, we could get and give information.

One of those phone calls told us that Thornton’s Garage on York Street on the east end of Vevay was on fire, and a downed power line that used to run to the former Randall-Textron plant was the reason that the town was without power.

Jumping in the car, I drove down to York Street and parked next to the bowling alley. Looking north, it looked as if a bomb had gone off, as a huge plume of thick, black smoke was billowing up into the sky. Fire trucks were lined along York Street, and several onlookers were pointing to various areas where fire was raging.

Tuesday was a hot, humid day, and as I walked down York Street I saw some stunning examples of why I am proud to live in this community.

Volunteer firefighters from all over the county were responding to the scene. Firefighters from Patriot, having battled a house fire earlier on Tuesday, still came to the scene to offer their assistance.

Vevay firefighters valiantly battled the raging fire and black smoke as long as they could, and then retreated back across the street, collapsing on a thin strip of grass.

That’s when average, everyday citizens jumped in and grabbed hoses and did their best to help battle the fire. Some were given “on the run” instructions by exhausted firefighters, while others simply saw a neighbor in need and tried their best to help.

The fire spread across the alley and ignited a garage; while the vinyl siding on other homes melted in the heat like cake icing.

Fresh firefighters replaced their tired comrades; but no sooner did the firemen get their helmets off and a drink of water, they were suiting back up and heading back into the fray.

Truthfully, there was nothing anyone could do to save the business or the garage, but they still worked on, trying to make sure that other homes were not further damaged.

That’s what small town folks do, after all. They may not know the proper technique in fighting a fire, but as one man said to no one in particular, “I’ve squirted a garden hose before.”

The more people worked, the more hopeless things seemed to get. The fire was intense, as was the heat that it generated. The temperature was also in the mid 80s at the time, and there were very few places to find relief from the sun.

That’s when I saw one of the most memorable things of my life. It happened so matter-of-factly that I didn’t think to catch the moment on my camera – but truthfully the emotion that I felt may have also played a role in not getting the photo.

Someone mentioned that the men could use some ice to help cool off, but with all of the power out, someone wondered if a store would be open to get bags of ice.

That’s when I looked up and saw a line of women, walking down Seminary Street. They were carrying the containers that catch ice in their freezers.

The women had overheard the comment about the ice, and walked home and pulled out their ice containers and walked them back up the street.

Some came with large pitchers filled with ice, others put it in a bag.

But it kept coming.

Folks, that’s why we live in such a wonderful place. People, neighbors, friends, not knowing exactly what to do, but when they found some small matter that they could help with - they jumped in and did what was needed.

For some, it was fighting the fire as they were trained. For others, it was picking up a hose and doing their best. For still more, it was simply carrying a bucket full of ice down the street for the benefit of some exhausted and overheated firemen.

In many ways Tuesday was tragic.

In other ways, it reinforced my belief that we live in the most wonderful place on the planet.