Twice I’ve run afoul of the Fire Department. Objectively speaking, the first time they probably under-reacted to a spectacular (and spectacularly ill-conceived) fire. The second time they overreacted to an infinitesimal and professionally engineered spark. They ruined a good party, too.
Every year for the bulk of two decades, my family would gather in the summer at my brother’s house to burn diverse materials in a celebratory fashion. Most people would call it barbecuing and launching fireworks, but I like to focus on the heart of the matter: everything we did involved fire. (Also, for the sentimental out there, we celebrated together. That’s important too I suppose, but I like to include fire in my celebrations whenever possible anyway.)
One of the benefits of living in a cruelly torturous swamp is that pyrotechnic displays involve practically no risk of brush fires. (Water pollution and mosquito-borne illnesses yes, but brush fires no.) Thus, the tropical wasteland where my brother lived had negligible firework restrictions. Essentially, as long as we didn’t point any military grade explosives at passing civilian aircraft, we could do whatever we wanted.
That’s a lot of freedom. We used our freedom well.
Every year our celebration grew slightly. (We improved through practice and a willful disregard of common sense.) Every year the civilian aircraft detoured a little bit more so that they could stay slightly farther from our launch path. (They improved through necessity and trepidation.)
Then my brother’s employer transferred him thousands of miles to a place where people don’t believe in joy. (Here I employ the technical definition of joy: “recreational use by amateurs of fire and explosives.”) We only had one last summer before his move, so we knew we needed to give our tradition a proper and fitting end. We just didn’t realize how fitting it was going to be.
If we had, we probably would have been more reckless. Instead we decided to ease into our festivities, displaying an uncharacteristic restraint which may very well haunt us. We launched a few rockets and caused a handful of explosions of course, but that’s restraint for us. Mostly we focused on fountains though.
For those unfamiliar with fireworks in general, a fountain is a sort of firework that neither launches nor explodes. Instead it emits a pleasant and gentle cascade of colorful sparks, rather like decorative water fountains but with light instead of water. They’re the infant toys in the firework toy store, the wading area of the firework swimming pool, the over-the-counter antacid of the firework gastroenterological medical practice. (Ok, that metaphor went to a strange place.)
In short they’re roughly as great a fire danger as a newborn kitten is. (Sadly, they’re less dangerous than locking me in a room naked.) Nevertheless, we were peacefully lighting a fountain, anticipating the glory yet to come, when we started hearing sirens in the distance. I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be ironic if those sirens were for us?”
As it turned out, irony abounded.
Fire trucks arrived from four different fire stations. They drove in from every direction until they had us surrounded. (I’m actually not exaggerating. My life is a beautifully comic thing.) I think the fire chief was even there. We certainly had a quorum of grumpy looking men in heavy fire gear.
Thus ended our celebration and my brother’s time in the swamp. Fire fighters welcomed him to town and very nearly escorted him out of it. I would say that that was also the end of my interactions with the Fire Department, but I know myself. It’s probably too soon to tell.