A few years ago, shortly after moving into my newly constructed home, fire trucks went around and had to evacuate some of the homes in our neighborhood due to a gas leak. We heard and saw them driving up and down streets and really didn’t have a clue as to what was happening. Our home was one of the first completed in our phase and for a number of months our closest neighbor was 2 blocks away. When the trucks finally reached our house they informed us we had to leave until the leak was under control.
One day, several months later, we were enjoying a beautiful Saturday with the boys and had the windows open. I began noticing a strong odor tainting the steady breeze we had blowing into the house. After an hour or so, it became so bad that my eyes began to water, and once I noticed the boys were suffering the same smelly symptom, I shut the windows. I began to worry there was some freak chemical leak and the kids were going to suffer permanent damage from breathing in toxic fumes.
However, after an hour or so with the windows shut the smell seemed to dissipate. My husband had also given me another talk on my tendency to overreact, and I finally began to relax a bit. That is, until I heard the sirens.
At first, the sound of multiple firetrucks began off in the distance miles away. Slowly, over the next several hours, the sound slowly got closer and closer. I kept alternating between the window and my computer scanning for news on a chemical leak. My husband’s theory was maybe it was a wedding or something for someone in the fire department. Ridiculous! I knew he’d be singing a different tune once we were evacuated and being treated for toxic fumes at a local Red Cross Shelter.
The sun had now begun to set on what I feared was the last day of our lives. Just after dark I saw the lights coming. Three trucks began driving through the development with lights and sirens. “Get the kids!! Joe, get the kids!! We’re leaving!!” I shouted. I wasn’t about to wait for them to go to the other 150 homes first and risk further damage to my kid’s lungs. We were clearly at the other end of the development and I remembered how long it took for them to inform all the other residents of the gas leak the winter before.
Have I mentioned before I might not be the best person to have around in a true emergency? I grabbed a clothes basket, threw in several outfits for each of us, several empty clean bottles, formula, granola bars and diapers. I then grabbed a case of bottled water in the event we needed uncontaminated water for baby bottles. If I had gas masks I would have grabbed them too.
“Susan, shouldn’t we wait and see what’s happening” my husband boldly questioned on the front lawn. “Do you want to risk the health of your children?! Cause I don’t! I call from the car…Let’s.Go.Now.” I frantically pleaded. My husband, God Bless him, in times like this probably just assumes it’s better to go along for the ride (literally in this case). So off we went. I remember turning around and looking back at our house, who knows when we’d be back. I said I silent prayer for those brave fighters who were risking their own health to evacuate the whole town, I supposed.
I called my parents first, my mother was obviously confused as to why we were coming to her house, and I quickly hung up the phone and called the fire station. “Hello, I’m calling about the fire trucks driving through our neighborhood. We’ve already left and I wanted to know where the leak was…” I said. “Ma’am, I’m sorry did you say leak? What leak?” the male dispatcher questioned. “You know the leak. We smelled it earlier; it was so bad our eyes were watering. We closed the window, and we heard your trucks for hours. I didn’t want to wait until they got to our house like the last time there was a leak. I have young children; we left the house. Are you saying there’s no leak?” I questioned.
At this point, I do not look over at my husband who I can feel looking at me. “Uh, Ma’am…our guys participated in a national tournament and won something pretty big today. They’ve been celebrating by driving through the town, parade style, even in and out of the developments. We got first place and the guys are showing off…” he said seriously but with an obvious effort not to laugh at me. “Now, what’s your address, we’ll send someone over to check out the leak.”
As we headed back home, my husband took the boys and said “when the trucks get here, this is all you!” So I sat on the front stoop, waiting for the breeze, no praying for a breeze, so that the firemen could smell the toxic fumes on the wind. As the trucked pulled up to the house, and I saw it was full of firemen in their gear, I contemplate just throwing myself under the shiny red truck. The panic of my children being in danger was wearing off, and the realization that I’m a total spaz was setting in…after the ten or so volunteer fire fighters unloaded off the truck, one identified himself as being in charge. I began to tell him about the gas leak in the winter, the smell in the morning, our eyes watering, and finally the trucks coming in the neighborhood. The entire squad (or whatever a gaggle of firemen is called) began to laugh. In his best effort to remain professional, one began by asking me a question. “How long have you lived here?” Knowing for sure I was an idiot at this point, I replied less than a year. He asked if I ever smelled anything similar before and I told him I had not and this was my first self-determined evacuation. “Well, you see, Ma’am, there’s a Hanover Food’s Plant on the other side of town…and on days like today, when the wind is really whippin’ you can smell it all the way over here at your house. I smelled the very same thing this morning. They must be processing onions.” Cue a roar of laughter. “So the strong odor (which to this day I swear was not like any onion I’ve ever had) which made your eyes tear was just them adding onions.”
The good news about this day was that I realized you cannot die of embarrassment. The bad news is that I have to chaperon my son’s class to the fire station (the same one where these heroes are from) on Friday. Did I mention this was a small town? I’m thinking of dying my hair, wearing a mustache and dark glasses. Did I also mention that this was only one of a couple super embarrassing events in the last couple years with said fire station? I’ll save the others for another day, but keep me in your thoughts and prayers for Friday. I feel another “moment” coming on…
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