At the church building next door, red lights flash and bulky men rush around with hoses. The urgency of their steps intensifies at the sound of children's voices pleading for help in the darkness. One little body after another is carried tenderly out under the stars, and the search goes on.
It's an exercise of the New Albin Fire and Rescue service, and my children and a bunch of the neighborhood kids are playing the victims of an explosion and fire scenario. Even though I know exactly what's going on and who's involved, even though I know that a bunch of little girls are down there in the church basement probably giggling over the firemen's efforts to find them, even though they can get up and walk away at any time, I still find my guts tied up in knots at their voices.
And I'm not even a fireman.
This exercise was to give our fire and rescue people practice in triage, in learning not to let their emotions take over, not to forget their training and move toward the child who seems in the most distress, but to look at the situation calmly and make good choices about who really is in the greatest need of help. Most of the people on our rescue service are parents. Besides, we are hardwired to respond to the cries of children.
This has got to be quite a test of their skills and judgment.