The Day the Firefighters Saved St. John’s

I was tidying up our tiny chapel when the fire alarm went off. It sounds nothing like a house alarm, but more like the warning alarm you hear in the disaster movies when the nuclear reactor is in meltdown. Strobe lights flash in the hallways and the blaring horn is deafening.

Suppressing a desire to jump out a window, I jog through the rabbit warren of hallways that is St. John’s-Tower Grove and make my way to the office. I find Deb, our parish administrator, furiously stabbing away at the alarm keyboard with an index finger, trying to turn it off, while The Rev. Teresa paces back and forth, her cell phone pressed to one side of her head and her other hand pressed over the other ear, trying to block out the “HONK!…HONK!…” of the alarm.

“False alarm!” Teresa+ shouts into her phone. “…I said ‘FALSE ALARM!’…Yeah!…Somebody tripped the alarm when they slammed the back door!…Don’t call the fire department…What?…Whattaya mean, it’s too late?…I just called you, like, 20 seconds ago!…”

She looks at me and we both step outside to hear the wail of a fire truck heading our way. Teresa+ sighs deeply and says, “Kevin, could you flag these guys down and tell them it’s a false alarm, please? I’ll handle the alarm company.”

They arrive in seconds and I can see why she wants me to intercept them. A hook and ladder roars up to the curb and firefighters in full battle gear pour out of it like a Delta assault force. Helmets, fire suits, air tanks, axes, pikes – these guys looked ready to pull down the entire building with their bare hands.

I stand at the steps and slowly wave to them, letting them know it’s a false alarm. None of them seem upset with the news, but one of the fire fighters says, “No fire is good! We still have to check the building, though. Where’s the alarm, please?”

They clump into our narrow hallway to speak with Teresa+, who is still on the phone with the alarm company, and I realize that these three fire fighters are a trio of moose. With all their gear on, they look about seven feet tall; any one of them could throw me over their shoulder like a sack and run through the building with me.

They follow Teresa+ down the hallways to the back door. By now the alarm is off and the lead fire fighter opens the alarm box to check it out. Screws and nuts pop out and scatter across the floor. The fire fighter says dryly, “I think this might be the problem here.”

He radio’s in a test to central command, and sets the alarm off when he tries to shut the box, which sends Deb sprinting back to the control keyboard to shut it off again. The alarm is reset, we tape up the box with masking tape until the repairman can arrive, the fire fighters make a report, and they clump out the front door to the truck outside.

Teresa+ schedules an 8:00 AM next day repair for the alarm and, as I am in the office tomorrow, she won’t have to rearrange her schedule to be there.

“Okay,” she says, “that killed about a solid hour’s worth of time. Let’s get back to the worship bulletin. We…”

HONK!…HONK!…HONK!…as strobe lights flash across the hallway. Teresa+ spins on the alarm keypad as if it just stabbed her in the back as she shouts, “No. No! NO!”

Such is the life of a rector in a 107 year old building. Teresa’s+ favorite hash-tag is “@thingstheydon’tteachyouinseminary”.


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