October 1991, I was a volunteer fireman in California when my fire pager went off summoning a response to a fire 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 Oakland – Berkeley fire, the radio advised that a total of 150 structures were involved, a figure that over the next three days would grow to include 4400 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 patroled the street checking for rekindled fires I observered a man and a woman standing in the street in front of a home 50 percent destroyed. I approached them, 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 momentos 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 life.
The following day we returned home, 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. It turned out to be a ten pound box of home baked cookies and I was on my fourth cookie when I discovered the note in the box which expressed their gratitude and appreciation for our efforts and making particular note of 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 fire fighters.
Three weeks later our team was invited to a joint meeting of all fire fighters 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 fire fighter from another district raised the question – did anyone else 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 “caliveras 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. Then it became my time to be grateful because I was afforded a remarkable opportunity to learn a lesson in judgement. So everytime I find myself tending to be judgemental 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.
- Category: General