by Barbara Sherf
“Sounds like Flourtown is burning down,” my husband remarked as we listened to sirens going up and down Bethlehem Pike for well over an hour this past Sunday night.
I was exhausted, having spent the day on preparations for a gathering of 20 or so people at our home. A majority of the time was spent with a final leaf cleanup and bathing our Golden Retriever, Tucker, who has a lot of fur. I brushed, washed and brushed him again, and my husband groomed him in the garage.
Settling into an early outdoor hot tub, I heard sirens going off on Bethlehem Pike. They did not stop. We also smelled fire. As much as I wanted to fight it, my journalistic instincts kicked in, and after a half hour of sirens I broke down and called Springfield Police. However, the person I spoke to was a dispatcher in Eagleville, who told me there were no emergencies in that area.
I told her there must be something wrong since the sirens had been going off for more than a half hour. “Nope, nothing on the board,” said Dispatcher 653.
“Are you sure,” I responded. “I hear sirens constantly, and my husband does, too. They sound like they are going from Flourtown to Wyndmoor.”
“Nothing going on,” came the reply. I hung up.
Another 15 minutes went by, and I called again. This time it was dispatcher 703.
“Hello; I’m a township resident and a freelancer for the Chestnut Hill Local. What’s burning down?” I asked.
“Nothing. Let me check. No; we have nothing out on the street.” she responded. “Well, I hear sirens and smell smoke,” I said, “and so does my husband.” She took my name and number and said that Corporal Hart, who was on duty at the time, would call me back.
In the meantime, I called the tip line at Channel 6 Action News, where I used to work. Pete McKenzie answered. Said he had nothing, but he’ll check. I hung up. The sirens continued.
Finally I went to the Flourtown Fire Company Facebook page and posted a question to ask if I was nuts. About five minutes later, I got a reply, that Santa Claus had been out parading through Flourtown. The smoke must have been someone using their fire pit.
When Corporal Hart called back I sheepishly told him it was Santa’s visit throughout the neighborhoods of Springfield. I chuckled and looked over at the photo sitting on my desk that I’ve been meaning to scan for my memoir. The smile faded.
I could almost smell the smoke that clung to my hair and trench coat that day.
It was somewhere around 1986, give or take a year. I had my WAEB AM Radio microphone pointed at a fire officials face, and there was a ladder tuck and host of fire companies and hoses zig-zagging across the street. Tilghman Street or near it.
It was the first time I ever saw people being brought out of a house in body bags, but they weren’t any old body bags. They were child-sized. Two young children had died in a fire in Allentown. The official cause was the use of space heaters to keep warm. I still have the audio tape.
It was right before Christmas.
Those children didn’t see Santa that year.
May they rest in peace.
Barbara Sherf is a frequent contributor and can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com.