On the Saturday night before Easter Sunday, there was a fire alarm sounded very, very early in the morning. The “bank building” on the corner of South Main Street and Route 9 was on fire. It was cold and windy, and it was dark and smoky, and it was a furnace near the fire. How our Wilmington Fire Department was able, with the wind blowing hard, to save the building across South Main Street from burning (its siding was melted by the heat) and the building right behind it so close it looked attached from catching fire, too ....and all the apartment dwellers in that building safely evacuated was an amazement. But they did it, including waking a person in one of the bottom apartments who had slept through most of what was happening.
It’s a difficult job for firefighters and police to keep people who have been evacuated from a building from returning to their homes to save something. Many of those who had been brought out on that cold early morning wanted to rescue a picture, a passport, something that was of significant family value. It was difficult to say: “I’m sorry. You can’t go beyond the boundary over there.”
It must have been around 3 am, and the power company was called to shut off power to the street and surrounding area, since the fire people were in danger from melting and falling live wires. A good segment of that part of town went dark on that early Easter morning.
Ladder trucks came from Brattleboro and Bennington to spray water from above the fire. There was so much smoke we almost lost the Bennington truck at the edge of the bridge in town –he stopped from going through just in time and stayed where he was to get the tower up and the water spraying. The street filled with water quite quickly—I wonder how many of us have ever wondered about the firefighters who keep the street drains clear so that water can flow through? Or move dead wires out of the way so other firefighters won’t trip? Or help drag hoses to hydrants and attach them. There are a lot of jobs in putting down a fire that we don’t think of as “glory” jobs...but they all got done that early morning.
As the fire was being brought under control, the sun began to bring some light to the sky, and one of the firefighters said to me, “Well, chaplain, I guess we’re having our own sunrise service for Easter.”
Local businessmen brought coffee to the firefighters, and the local restaurant offered an early breakfast.
I had to hurry home, change for the church Easter worship, and then walk to church because the hoses were still pouring water on the fire, and cars couldn’t cross them. It became a traffic nightmare, still mud season, with traffic detoured up around Route 100, and Lake Raponda road, which became quite a mud hole for families trying to get to Easter gatherings, and for people trying to get to church. We had our church worship, but it was quite different from the way it usually was, with people wandering in, some pretty late, because they wanted to give thanks for God’s gracious gift of a special day. We made our own sunshine inside the building, even as the wind kept blowing and the smoke kept smoking and the firefighters kept fighting.
Buildings were saved. No lives were lost. Christ has risen. It was day of giving thanks. As hard as it had begun, it turned into a hallelujah day.
No one who doesn’t remember that fire can imagine how close we came to losing a number of buildings in downtown Wilmington, nor the effort our fire department put in to saving them. The lives that were offered that day - both police and fire - were given in saving service to our community. Now, isn’t that an Easter story?
As we gathered for worship that morning to remember the gracious gift of Jesus the Lord and the glorious resurrection we celebrate every year, we had an additional grace to celebrate: the grace of men and women dedicated to service first, skilled and willing to work to save what they could.
And willing, in that moment when the sun showed up, to rejoice in a very different and wonderful Easter sunrise service. Service on Easter Sunday sunrise. Hallelujah.
Now, isn’t that an Easter story to remember?