by Milt Gordon
October 1991, I was a volunteer fireman in California when my fire pager went off summoning me to a call. I was to be part of a strike team being dispatched to the Oakland Hills fire – a fire that subsequently became the largest urban-area fire to ever occur in the United States. Enroute to the fire, my radio advised that a total of 150 structures were involved, a figure that over the next three days would grow to include 4,400 homes and apartments – a fire so intense that three-story brick structures were completely consumed.
My team was detailed to a residential area to “structure protect” – our mission was to control homes on fire and prevent the spread of the fire to other homes. The next morning as I patrolled the street checking for rekindled fires, I observed a man and a woman standing in the street in front of a home that was fifty-percent destroyed. As I approached I was concerned about looting, which had started to occur, only to learn this husband and wife were standing in front of what was left of their home.
I commiserated, expressing the wish we could have saved more of their home and proceeded to help them rescue a few precious mementos and invited them to join me on our fire engine where we had been supplied coffee and donuts by a Red Cross unit.
After reviewing the disaster further, they took their leave to salvage what was left of their lives.
The following day we returned to our station house, cleaned up our equipment, and went on with our lives. Three weeks later, I was in the fire house doing maintenance work when the post man delivered a package to the station, which turned out to be a ten-pound box of home-baked cookies. I was on my fourth cookie when I discovered the note in the box which expressed their gratitude and appreciation for our efforts, and taking particular note for the shared coffee and donuts.
I had started my fifth cookie when I took note of the fact that the thank you note was a mimeographed note of appreciation. I remember thinking how tacky that they could not have taken the time to personalize their note of gratitude – well, at least the cookies were delicious so I ate about five more before leaving the rest of the ten-pound box to be shared with my fellow firefighters.
Three weeks later, our team was invited to a joint meeting of all firefighters and districts in Calaveras County, California, where we shared our experiences and reviewed what could be learned from this disaster. The meeting was wrapping up when a firefighter from another district raised the question: “Did anyone know anything about the ten-pound box of cookies that had been delivered to their fire station?”
It did not take long to put the pieces together once we learned that all thirty-three fire stations had received this gift of appreciation. The answer: our fire engines identification on the door specified only “Calaveras County Fire District.”
Thirty-three ten-pound boxes of home baked cookies sent to all 33 fire stations in the county, as an expression of gratitude and then it became my time to be grateful because I was afforded a remarkable opportunity to learn a lesson in judgment. So every time I find myself tending to be judgmental I try to ask myself the question ………….attitude or gratitude……………don’t be so quick to judge or you may wind up with cookies all over your face.
© 2012 Milt Gordon
Editor’s Note: Milt Gordon is an old friend from Yelm, and this is his first time gracing the pages of the Mountain News.