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Note From the Fire Marshal’s Wife

When someone says, “Be present,” the present moment tends to run into the next present moment and into the next until becoming a blur of moments turning into a day, a week, a month…years. Then we wake up one day and ask, “Where did it all go?” 

Well, thank the Lord for the still-frame of the camera. That photograph you stumble upon of the moments years later to remind you. You were present at that moment! The memories around that still-frame moment start to form and suddenly you are time-warped to an event that was formed by many more moments. You had forgotten you were present in at that time.

In the year 2019 I went through tons of old photos. I mean tubs of old photos. I wasn’t swiping the phone to see pictures, I was not looking at the computer downloads, but real hold-in-your-hands photos. I can remember, as I am sure any of you born in the fifties like me can, the camera. Pictures were captured in this handheld box and when the film was all used up, it was pulled out in a neat little roll and taken to a shop that specialized in developing all your precious moments. You did not have the luxury of immediately looking at the film to make sure you got the shot you wanted. You had to wait. Sometimes you had to wait days to see your masterpieces or mess-ups. There was no recreating those moments with digital magic. Either the “Kodak moment” was preserved or lost, and your control ended with the click of the camera.

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Firemen and Women Also Known As Firefighters

A few weeks ago, Tim and I attended a recognition of service ceremony. One speaker addressed the crowd as “Firemen” then quickly corrected himself and added “Firewomen.” A female voice, from the back of the room, corrected him with a loud, “Firefighters.” This got me to pondering… Firefighting has historically been a male profession throughout the world, so who was the first American firewoman? 

Molly Williams

The first known female firefighter in the United States was Molly Williams. An African American, she was held as a slave belonging to a New York City merchant by the name of Benjamin Aymar. In most cases, the men that volunteered in the early days were those who had the most to lose. Merchants like Aymar could be wiped out by one spark of the “red devil” if it flamed out of control among the warehouses along lower Manhattan. Whatever Aymar’s motivations were, he didn’t give up his lifestyle when he worked his volunteer shifts at Oceanus Engine Company #11. To make sure he was properly tended to he brought along his slave, Molly. Molly cooked and cleaned for the firemen. She also helped maintain the heavy, hand-pulled water pumper. According to lore, Molly was in the fire house with Aymar, doing her chores as well as taking care of the men who had been stricken with a severe flu. 

The alarm bell sounded. There was a fire, and Molly was one of the few well enough to go. She had been around the fire house enough to know how the pumper worked, so it was during the blizzard of 1818, Molly Williams took her place on the dragropes and hauled out the pumper with as much strength and speed as any man. Answering the call of duty, she helped pull the pumper to the fire through the deep snow. 

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