Saturday, December 06, 2008

Fire Meeting

The Pawlet Volunteer Fire Department meets the first Tuesday of every month; this week I joined them. Five men, including the fire chief, one woman, and a lad of 14 were present. I talked about the Art of Action and my desire to use my project to highlight the fire department and its importance to the community; I gave them a sketch (no pun intended) of my proposal. I said that, if successful, I'd like to make a giclee of one or two of the images and donate the profits to the fire department - but cautioned that that is getting way ahead of myself! The firemen were thrilled and offered any and all help I might need. I spent the rest of the meeting sketching and listening. Afterwards half the group hung around for an extra hour talking about the challenges the department faces and regaling me with stories of Pawlet Fires Past. Plus I scored a video of them actually putting out a structure fire (new jargon) at night. Heaven.

There were a couple of things that took place at the meeting that went to my heart - and the heart of this project. The first was the fire chief's recommendation that the department cut out the October fund-raising breakfast. Not enough people come and it is not worth their effort. The June Chicken Barbecue is already gone. One by one, community events are slipping away. My stomach tightens. I want to stop the erosion; I want the rhythm of community life restored.

The second was about gas money. One of the fire fighters not present at the meeting has embarked on the basic fire-training course. This course is 180 hours - a lot of time, much more than it used to be when the older guys took it. Added to that, he must drive a considerable distance for the training. The issue under discussion was whether the man should be compensated for gas money. Ultimately the decision was to do so, but this conclusion was painful to all - not because they begrudge him the money, but because this decision means the thin edge of financial compensation has penetrated the fire house walls.

The firemen hold dear the principle of volunteerism. Everyone takes deep pride in receiving no compensation whatever for their many hours of service. This fact is a crucial part of their identity, their independence, their code. I encounter the attitude a lot in Vermont, the "don't insult me by offering money" attitude, and I love it. It is as refreshing and wholesome as a drink of cold water from a mountain spring. I'm hoping my project helps protect this crucial part of Vermont's environment.


docjohn said...

I've been reading your blogs and recent ones with sketches from everyday life are intimate and sensitive!
The human gesture reminds me of some of the material in DaVinci's sketchbooks. The fireman(people?) in Pawlet? Do you know the photographic portraits of Pawlet residents by the late photographer Neil Rappaport?
You should show Susanne Rappaport some of your sketches. She is in West Pawlet and oversees Neil's extraordinary documentary archive.

Elizabeth Torak said...

Thanks docjohn! I have a nodding accquaintence with Susanne Rappaport and am familiar with Neil Rappart's beautiful work In fact I looked through the archive at The Vermont Folklife Center online when I first started working on this project and, of course, I own the book "Messages From a Small Town" - many of the people in those photos still live in Pawlet. BTW Susanne is a very good friend of George Bouret, the photographer who did such great work for me at the Game Supper. It is a good idea to show Susanne some of my work, though I have to admit I am a bit shy - she is quite an icon around here!

Eulalia (Lali) Benejam Cobb said...

You have such deep feelings for this subject that they are bound to make themselves felt in the resulting work. I can see a grant coming your way. said...

Wonderful sketch of drawing! I guess any commissioner would be glad to see such a beginning!