Ah, the spectacle of green, the sound of sloshing beer, the smell of corned beef and cabbage in the air...
To most, St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah is an honored tradition of shared indulgence and harmless debauchery (or as the Irish say, real craic—an idiom meaning “good times, usually involving alcohol and music.”)
To me, it all looks like one giant fire hazard.
All those schnockered people wielding lit cigarettes near heads lacquered with green hairspray? Those same smoldering butts thrown near parade floats festooned with tissue paper streamers?
The ever–possible spontaneous combustion of food coloring, flat Yuengling and horsepuckey?
Fine, I admit I’m treading into paranoiac territory with that last one. But if one of those giant hat vendors sold shamrock–emblazoned, personal–sized fire extinguishers, I’d buy one.
I haven’t always been sensitive to fire safety. In my youth, I had a habit of arranging rows of matchbooks like dominos, sparking up the first one and watching the ensuing sizzling chain reaction. I was enticed to smoke my first cigarette because I got to flick a Zippo lighter. Anytime someone lit a grill, I’d run around cackling “Fire fire fire!” (Settle down, Beavis.)
I also enjoyed setting “campfires” in the alley behind my childhood suburban home, earning me a nice long chat with members of the local fire station who showed me horrific photos of what happens when playing with fire goes wrong.
Fortunately, I grew out of this pyromaniacal phase without causing any major damage, singed eyebrows notwithstanding. I no longer take the flammability of life for granted.
I’m a fiend for updating the batteries in the smoke alarm (did you remember to change yours with the spring forward time change?)
Those of you familiar with Jung’s theory of transference will not be surprised that I also developed a thing for firefighters. Not in an ogling, beefcake–calendar kind of way, though I totally get the fetish (three words: Kurt Russell, Backdraft.)
It’s more deep respect and deference, the awareness that these men and women are willing to put their lives in danger to save yours. During 9/11, we saw the sacrifices that these public servants might have to make one day for their communities.
We have soldiers to defend our soil and police officers to catch the bad guys, but firefighters are the ones who are going show up when your house is burning or you accidentally fall down a manhole.
It’s basically having your own team of Navy SEALs on call at all times.
Maybe it’s the result of the rigorous 24–hour shifts or what draws them to the job in the first place, but every firefighter I’ve ever met—including the ones who sat me down all those years ago—radiates a certain calm and solidity of character, the kind of sound judgment you want around if and when all hell breaks loose.
Captain Nathan Gaskill is no exception. At 34, he’s an 11–year veteran of Savannah Fire and Emergency Services and was recently voted Fire Officer of the Year.
He’s been with the Technical Rescue Team and Georgia Search and Rescue for nine years and has taught in the Woodville–Tompkins Pathways program for three. His SFES peers and superiors recognize him as a mentor and coach.
He’s got that capable, stoic quality in spades, that vibe that says, “Everything is under control, ma’am.”
If anyone can allay my fears about Saturday’s incendiary potential, it’s him.
Like all firefighters, Capt. Gaskill lives among us with his wife, Natasha (an all–around crafting and culinary mastermind who as of late has been behind many of the tantalizing confections at Lulu’s Chocolate Bar), and their sons, Aidan and Morgan.
When Capt. Gaskill talks about his work, he talks less about fighting flames than serving the public and upholding the department’s history of professionalism. His station (No. 11, the new one out on Apache Avenue) doesn’t often tackle a towering inferno on the southside, but he says the entire department treats every call with the seriousness, even if the majority are false alarms.
“We’re there to help people,” he tells me. “Hopefully, we come in looking spectacular and professional, because we understand your taxes pay our salaries.”
He and the rest of the Rescue 2 truck stay busy performing free home inspections, removing debris from neighborhoods in regular “clean sweeps,” educating schoolkids about fire safety and offering free blood pressure checks at the station.
They also train incessantly.
“It might be weeks or months before we need to use these skills, but if there’s a real emergency, we’re sharp,” he says.
Should a fire or other disaster erupt at any time, SFES is ready to handle it, Capt. Gaskill assures.
I believe him. Wait a minute—what other disasters?!
“Firefighters are the first responders, and we’re trained for all kinds of emergencies,” he explains patiently with that wonderful authoritative stoicism. “We’ve also got the best–equipped hazmat unit for hundreds of miles.”
In other words, in the event of a structural collapse, an industrial spill, the need for underwater rescue, a cat stuck in a tree or a blazing building, Savannah’s firefighters will meet it with Seal–like savoir faire.
As far as St. Patrick’s Day, Capt. Gaskill also points out that there will be hundreds, even thousands, off-duty firefighters from New York to Dublin in town to join the revelry.
That might make Savannah the No. 1 location for emergency preparedeness in the entire world, even if its just for the day.
Can’t deny that logic. Well then, pass me a bucket of Bloody Marys.
But if you see a guy selling leprechaun-sized extinguishers, let me know.