This past Friday, my husband and I took B on a walk on the trail in the middle of our neighborhood. Our family loves this trail. It makes for a nice walk and there are a few little nooks with benches where someone could sit and read for a while. A few weeks ago I even had a senior session down there because the sunset when it hits the tall grass is just gorgeous. I mean…
Anyway, as the three of us entered the trail from one end we saw a few teenagers riding in from the other end on their skateboards. They ended up splitting up and, thinking nothing of it, we kept walking. Within five minutes we heard a loud “BOOM!” and turned just in time to see the remnants of a firework exploding. For a brief second it was like time stopped…and then we heard some snickering as the boys took off running. A quick walk around the corner confirmed our worst fears and our hearts sank as we saw flames flickering in the middle of the tall, dry grass.
You never know how you are going to react to an emergency situation until it actually happens.
My husband’s first reaction was to run after the boys and start shouting at them to come back, or at least call 911. They did neither. When he realized they weren’t going to do anything, he doubled back and started running towards the nearest homes. We found out later that his initial yelling is what grabbed the attention of a few neighbors. We’re fortunate that that some people came out of their houses and called 911 immediately after hearing him shout. But then, what to do? Fire doesn’t just hang out in one place, not after the summer we have had out here. No, it spreads. And spreads quickly.
We’re lucky that there is a stream that runs parallel to our little trail. So Reece asked for the first thing he thought of: a bucket. And then he ran off.
While this all happened I was frozen. Not really out of fear, but because I was a total loss of what to do. There I was, 35 weeks pregnant with a toddler snuggled up on my shoulder. Not really in the best shape to run after him. By this time, more people were starting to come out of their houses to see what all the commotion was about. I could smell the smoke, so I decided to start walking home. As I walked back, I tried to tell anyone who seemed remotely interested what had happened and asked that they grab a bucket. There was a few seconds of hesitation with some, but when I mentioned that Reece was already down there trying to get the fire out they ran down immediately to help him.
By the time the firetruck arrived, our team of 8-10 neighbors had successfully extinguished the fire. When B and I came back and found Reece, he said that the fire had tripled in size before they were able to stop it.
Within twenty minutes or so of arriving, the firefighters were already packing up their gear and the crowd by the fire site had dispersed. A lot of handshakes and hugs were exchanged between neighbors as we headed back to our respective homes. The three of us decided we had had enough excitement for one night and made our way back home as well. In between our quiet pauses of disbelief, a flood of thoughts came rushing out:
Thank goodness we live in a neighborhood where our neighbors care about what is going on. The firefighters told us one of the reasons they were slightly delayed in getting to the scene was they had received 911 calls from five separate houses located on completely different streets, so they couldn’t figure out where the fire actually was. Since the trail is literally surrounded by houses, it makes sense to me that they didn’t know where to go at first.
Thank goodness that those kids decided to blow up a firework in the middle of a patch of grass (never mind the fact that the grass was DEAD and this was completely STUPID), because the fire never reached the surrounding trees. It could have been so, so much worse.
Thank goodness that we had decided to go on a walk when we did. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. No one else was out and about while we were walking. It is scary to think how much the fire may have spread had no one seen it when it first started.
But honestly, the thought that kept coming back to our minds was just how much of a difference a few people can make.
Reece told me after all this was said and done that even though he asked for a bucket and started running towards the water, he was thinking to himself “what good is a bucket going to do?” But after throwing the first bucket of water over the fire he realized that it actually was going to make a dent in preventing the flames from spreading. Similarly, I saw the looks of “what is a bucket going to do?” flash over a few people’s faces when I told them what was going on, but when they realized someone was already doing it they jumped in and helped right away.
When you are a kid, you’re always being reminded that you should do the right thing. There are morals to the stories that you read and you are taught to discern right from wrong and the importance of taking the high road. As we grow older, I feel like this sentiment goes away. Growing into adulthood you are no longer reminded on a daily basis on what is the right thing, because often times that “right thing” is in a gray area. We hesitate to speak up because we don’t want to come across as politically incorrect or accidentally step on people’s toes.
Similarly, while the lesson that one person can make a difference is celebrated in our youth, it can be muted in adulthood. Somewhere down the line we become jaded and assume that it is better to leave the situation to the professionals, or at least to someone who knows what they are doing. In the case of our neighborhood trail, though, if we had waited until the firemen had shown up before doing anything, there is a very real possibility that the fire would have spread to the trees and it would have been a lot harder to get under control.
Of course, everything within reason, right? I’m not suggesting that you should jump in and try to set a broken arm if you come across someone who’s fallen off a bike…but I do think it is worth pointing out that in situations where, reasonably, you might be able to make a difference and are faced with the decision of acting or doing nothing, chances are acting will help the result. Whether it is speaking up at work or school, or standing up for someone being bullied either to their face (or behind their backs), even just the smallest of gesture can start a chain reaction towards a positive result. Maybe next time you find yourself in the throes of “What good can one person do?” you’ll remember this story about the fire in our neighborhood.
Have you ever been in a situation where you had to choose between acting or staying put? What did you end up doing? We’d love to hear your stories. Feel free to share below or send us a message.