For most people, a brush with their local fire department is a scary thing, one not to be repeated. It was certainly that way for me.
I was in junior high, and in the middle of the night my dad developed a headache that grew more and more severe. Eventually, it was bad enough for my mom to call 911.
My memory is of loud knocking at the front door. I wandered out to the top of the stairs, and down below the door opened. A man dressed in fire gear walked in and asked me if someone called 911.
I was still half asleep, and the whole thing has the surreal quality of a dream. But it happened. My dad had a brain aneurysm. He survived after a prolonged stay at the hospital, so for me, the story had a happy ending.
For the residents of the Abbotswood senior-living facility in North Raleigh, firefighters are a familiar sight. They’re neighbors with Fire Station 18, which serves the North Creedmoor Road area of Raleigh and sits across from the facility. The two have had a close relationship for the past 25 years, since Abbotswood opened.
As you might expect, residents of a senior-living facility have cause to call 911 from time to time, so the members of Fire Station 18 visit regularly – so much so that they’ve gotten to know the staff and residents of Abbotswood fairly well.
“A lot of the calls that we get are emergency calls,” said Fire Station 18 Capt. Ray Guidi. “We just always try to treat everybody as if they’re family.”
Matt Towler, executive director of Abbotswood, said the staff and residents of the facility have come to treat the members of the fire station with respect and appreciation.
“We really feel like they are heroes in our community,” he said.
Calvin Metcalf, a 90-year-old resident of Abbotswood who has lived there for two years, has first-hand knowledge of the relationship. Last spring, he had severe nosebleeds that required calls to 911. The firefighters, who act as first responders on the scene for emergencies, were there immediately to help.
“They’re very friendly and try to do anything they can,” he said.
Although, he added, they aren’t necessarily always a welcome sight. “We don’t like to see them come because we know someone’s sick.”
The two facilities have interacted for so long that in August, Abbotswood decided it needed to do something to honor the friendship.
“With the long shifts that those emergency providers work each and every day, we figured one of the great things we could do for them is provide them a wonderful home-cooked meal,” Towler said.
They made baby-back ribs for the entire staff of Fire Station 18, and the firefighters, in turn, gave residents a tour of their station.
Guidi said he has also gone to the facility to give the residents tips on how they can better help the firefighters deal with emergencies – things like having a hard copy of the medications they take, being ready to provide a medical history and making sure the staff of Abbotswood know that 911 has been called.
Guidi is relatively new to the station. He has only been there since April. But he has had experience with these kinds of relationships in other areas, and he said this one is unique because the facility has actually reached out to honor the long-standing friendship.
“It’s nice to be recognized,” he said. “It’s not something that we asked for or that we seek. But it is appreciated.”
And despite the fact that residents dread seeing first responders coming to Abbotswood, they are grateful that they’re so readily available.
“We appreciate it, because they give some quick assessments to anybody who is down or fell or taken sick,” Metcalf said.
And that’s the thing. Nobody wants to need help. Nobody wants to call 911. But when you have to, you sure are glad there are trained professionals ready.
There’s nothing worse than calling for help in the middle of the night and knowing nobody is coming. But with places like Fire Station 18 around, the residents of Abbotswood never have to worry about that.