BACH AND BILL: the first sounds I hear every weekday morning as the radio station comes on. Bill decides to skip the news this morning -- he says it's too depressing -- and plays some Mozart as more fitting for a beautiful morning. Daughter Kate and the two dogs are reluctant to get up.
Monday mornings at the office there are three incident sheets to check for possible newsworthy activity. Since the Emergency Operations Center (EOC, the dispatch center for fire, rescue and police in the county) did not contact me over the weekend, I don't expect any news.
The incident sheets bear me out so I make my morning tape-recorded message to the press, reporting as I do about 50 percent of the time that there is nothing large enough to make the news.
I have resolved this week to try to catch up on some of the paperwork so I start to work on the in-box, the day punctuated by phone calls. The Post wants to know what's happening. Nothing. Calls from citizens: Can I still buy auto registration stickers at the fire stations? No. Can you get the birds out of my vent? No. Would you like a free Dalmatian? No. A very negative start to the week.
I have a more positive answer for a phone call from a woman who wants to buy a smoke detector. She has heard reports of possible radioactivity from certain brands. I assure her the danger from fire far outweighs the minimal radioactivity. She is still worried, however, so I remind her of the fire in McLean in which seven people died whose lives might have been saved by a smoke detector. She promises to get one tommorrow.
During lunch I turn in my final paper in my final course at George Mason University. It's a feminist interpretation of "Othello." Four years of work on the master's degree, taking courses one at a time, will culminate in two weeks at graduation.
After a day spent at a desk, it is a pleasure to work in the yard until the light fades. Kate and I eat outside, cooking our hamburgers on the grill, and take the dog for a walk. Tuesday
Good morning, Bill. Good morning, J. S.
This morning there is a notation on the incident sheet of a $40,000 house fire. The office of the fire marshal reports it is another case of careless smoking in a chair, a distressingly common scenario that often ends in tragedy. This occupant's smoke detector had never been taken out of the box but she awoke coughing from the smoke.
I put the details of this fire on the tape but I don't expect much coverage of such an incident. A few local radio stations may use it, or it may get a paragraph in the paper.
The phone calls continue.
A national fire publication wants a story and photographs on the McLean fire. A local reporter wants statistics on the costs of false alarms.
Today's major goal is drawing up guidelines for notification by EOC. Since I am on call 24 hours a day, EOC needs to be able to discriminate in notifying me about incidents. The major criterion is newsworthiness, a nebulous definition to anyone who isn't in the press.
On the way home I stop to buy myself a graduation present, the complete piano music of Scott Joplin and Volume II of Beethoven's sonatas. A little amitious perhaps. Kate disappears outside with her bicycle and I sit down at the piano to tackle 600 pages of music, one page at a time. Wednesday
Wednesdays are often reserved for meeting some of the nearly 800 men (and one woman) in the field. I ride with a battalion chief to visit the five fire stations in Battalion 6, the county's far eastern part.
One common theme runs through the discussions: Firefighters want the public to know that fire and rescue service has come a long way. They want the public to know that they have had intensive training, training which continues throughout their careers.
They also are concerned about what they see as an emphasis on disaster in press coverage about the fire department. Fire prevention is also a major goal of any fire department, they point out, yet prevention gets little coverage unless it follows on the heels of a disaster.
Tonight is a rush as Kate and I must eat dinner and get her to her Brownie troop meeting by 6:30. I have promised to play the piano in rehearsal for an upcoming event.
Back home a neighbor drops by to say she had a fire in her refrigerator. I suggest that she might want to have the local fire department check her house for possible fire hazards. She is surprised to hear that such a service, free, is available. I emphasize that the home inspection program is intended merely as a service, that there are no penalties for having a fire hazard. Thursday
First priority is getting the smoke detector survey news release in the mail. The survey shows that only one in three homes in a subdivision of over 500 homes has a smoke detector. Even fewer have fire extinguishers. It is hard to understand the public's attitude toward something so inexpensive that could save their lives.
Several phone calls come in concerning a reported oil spill. EOC has no report on it so I've got to track it down. The State Water Control Board gets involved but it turns out that the spill is not oil but biodegradable chemicals, already checked out by EPA. Now to backtrack and dispel the rumors with calls to the press and a tape message.
I leave the office early this afternoon to go to settlement on my house, or the other half of my house. It is a brief and businesslike encounter and I walk out of the attorney's office owing a lot of money for a good part of the rest of my life. As Kate and I drive up to our house, I have to resist an impulse to hug one of the columns.
But there is not much time to celebrate as I take Kate to her 5:30 ballet class. Back home I start mowing the front yard but have to stop halfway through to pick Kate up at 6:30. Returning, I put dinner in the oven, clothes in the wash and go back out to finish mowing. We eat a late dinner. Friday
The day is spent catching up on letters and reports. I work on the details of a projected monthly newsletter for county fire and rescue personnel. Costs must be estimated and some thought given to contents. r
The report on the McLean fire comes in. It is two inches thick and must be reduced to a readable summary.
The Northern Virginia Press Club meets for a luncheon featuring speaker Helen Thomas from UPI. Afterward to the fire training center to photograph agility tests which firefighter recruits must pass.
Two women are among the 11 who are being tested today. One of them passes and the other will try again. This afternoon's session culminates a selection process that has also included a written test and medical exam. Those who pass all three go on to four months of intensive training before they become members of the fire and rescue service.
Kate and I decide to celebrate our house with a pizza. Afterward she's off for the weekend and I face an unmowed back yard. It must be done; the dachshund keeps disappearing in it. Although I had planned to attend the monthly meeting of Parents Without Partners, working in my own yard seems preferable. It is a lovely evening to cultivate the garden. Saturday
A beautiful day and I spend it hiking with a congenial group in Harper's Ferry. On the way back I can't resist the temptation to stop at a nursery and splurge. It should be evident that I am creating more work for myself as I'm going to have to dig up the beds to plant these flowers in. I manage to get half of them in before dark. Sunday
Mother's Day starts at 4:15 a.m. with a call from EOC reporting a fire in a townhouse in Centreville with people possibly trapped. The fire is out by the time I get there. The officer in charge tells me there are two confirmed fatalities. g
My job is to get what information is available and pass it on to the press. Since none of the press has appeared on the scene by 6:30 a.m., I return home and start making phone calls. Sunday morning, I discover, it is very difficult to reach the press. Initially I can reach only a radio station and wire service. Once the story gets on the wires, the calls start coming in.
They all want to know one thing -- the names of the victims -- and that I don't know. After rousing a few other press people, I return to the scene, where fire marshals are beginning their investigation. They give me the names of the suspected victims but I cannot pass this information along until there is positive identification and notification of next of kin.
Next stop at 9 a.m. is the office to put a summary on the tape. Then on to track down a fire marshal and police officer who are handling the identification.
Many phone calls later and around 11:30, I leave for my parents' house for an 11 a.m. tennis game. It is a good thing it is raining. Kate is already there. I'm not much help as I spend a good part of the day on the phone while my mother cooks dinner. (I'll repay the favor, Mom.)
The fire marshal I have been seeking calls to tell me release of the names will be delayed until Monday. Back on the phone.
Back home, the phone calls continue sporadically, the last one at 9:30 as I'm ready to end this long Mother's Day. Kate has remembered, though, and decorated my room with handmade greetings and a picture of herself. Thank you, Kate.