The Fireman at Noreascon Three

by Kurt Siegel

Although I hardly felt like a Worldcon Virgin, Noreascon Three was my first. I knew several folks on the concom, so I figured that I'd put in a bit of time working, just to break up any "monotony."

Anyway, since I'd arrived early, I made a wild guess that helping out at registration would let me see people as they came in, and let me go directly to the head of the line when it was my turn to register. So Wednesday and Thursday found me merrily working, laminating badges, sorting signs, hanging signs, and doing exactly what I expected: Meeting my friends as they got there.

I felt like I'd tapped into some kind of hidden, secret power. You could say I'd discovered the Dark Side Of The SMOF.

However, everyone needs a break eventually, and mine came early Thursday afternoon. I'd snuck into the secret Gizmo Lab, and had hung a WATCH THIS SPACE gizmo from my REGISTRATION gizmo. Armed with a few bucks, and the sense of well-being that only a neo can draw from a Gopher ribbon, I went upstairs to visit the Hucksters' Room, and to choke down an ARA hot dog. I promised Ruth I'd be back in an hour.

The Hucksters' Room was enormous. I saw more books in that place than most public libraries had. Miles of chain mail, yards of dragons, costumes both imaginative and mostly imagination appeared before me, a blur of excess. I was in the midst of the largest gathering of fen I'd ever experienced, and I felt... at home. Alive. As if the money was going to jump out of my pocket and start spending itself. I was...

"Kurt Siegel, report to the CompuServe booth."

Huh? Was I being... paged?

"I said, Kurt Siegel, please report to the CompuServe booth."

I was being paged.

I wandered along, figuring that someone needed a break. I'd told Wilma I would take a turn at the CompuServe booth. No problem. I didn't have to be back at Reg for 45 minutes.

I smiled when I got to the CIS display. Several of my favorite people were there, after all. Wilma Meier, Rita McConville, Barb Delaplace, and Theresa Renner.

Surprise! This is really a story about TR.

Memories can be funny things, distorting truth and modifying situations from what actually happens, but as TR put her arm around my waist, I heard in the background an Angelic Chorus... a Heavenly Host... or a Solitary Voice in the Wilderness.

It was giggling.

As we walked down the ramp from the exhibition hall, I vaguely heard what TR was saying. Something about the Art Show, and minor problems, and the phrase "You can speak fireman..." are about all I remember. Not that it really mattered, since she had timed everything perfectly: we arrived at Ops before I ever had a chance to ask any questions.

"Mark, this is Kurt Siegel," I heard TR say. "He's the fireman I told you about."

I turned, and found myself staring at a ribbon that said CHAIRMAN. Awed, flabbergasted, and just starting to make sense of the situation, I think I stuttered out the word "Hello," as I had my hand shaken.

Things really started to blur about this time. I recall having a phone and chair pointed out to me, and someone saying, "Okay, let's get him a staff ribbon!" A pen and beeper were thrust into my hand, along with a sheet explaining how the beepers worked. TR, smiling and waving, disappeared out the door.

And I suddenly realized I wouldn't make it back to Registration that day.

I spent the next few hours on hold, mostly calling various manufacturers of hanging cloths that were used by the Art Show, and asking about city of Boston fire ratings. "We have Las Vegas," they said, "and New York, Chicago, and maybe LA. But not Boston. They should accept other certificates."

"Boston doesn't accept the other certificates," I replied. "They have stricter requirements than the other cities."

"Sorry," they all told me. "Maybe in a couple of months..."

But the Art Show is supposed to open today!

I called the Fire Department, attempting to reach Lt. Joyce, the Fire Marshal who had closed the show. I got his secretary at 3pm, on Thursday. However, since it was the Labor Day weekend, he'd already left town. Until Wednesday. The order to close stood.

The office was starting to get a little close by then, and people were asking very often if I'd made any progress. I was also beginning to feel a bit worried, wondering how badly I was going to let all these people down.

So I took a walk across the street. and visited the local fire station.

I'd been in this station previously, in February 1987. This is where I'd learned about the silly, oversensitive fire alarm system the Sheraton had installed, with the five to seven false alarms every day. This was the place where I figured someone could point me in the right direction for help. This was the place where I heard...

"That guy? He's a real dog! What'd he do to ya?"

TR was right. I spoke the language.

I explained the situation to the station officer, and asked if he knew someone who could help. Two minutes later, I was on the phone with the District Captain, explaining the story. Five minutes after that, Captain Cohen was at the station. Another ten minutes, and we were touring the Grand Ballroom. Within minutes, a compromise was reached: The Art Show could open to the general public, without lights, provided a Fire Rating certificate was received for the hangings. Until that time, a Boston firefighter had to stand by in the show.

Most importantly, we could hold the Artists' Reception that night.

We had, in a manner of speaking, achieved coolness.

Everything moved rapidly the next morning. Phone call after phone call, I was placed on hold, given new numbers, names so rapidly that I couldn't get them written down, and had to move on. Noon, and the official Art Show opening, was nearly upon us. At 11, we finalized plans to have a paid detail from the Boston FD stand by.

At 11:45, I hit pay dirt.

One of the myriad phone calls I placed happened to reach the Deputy Fire Chief in charge of Fire Prevention. As luck (pure, dumb luck!) would have it, the FD Chemist had just sat down in the Chief's office, and I was finally talking to the right person.

I explained the situation, and he said fire ratings tests take three weeks. And this, he reminded me, was Labor Day Weekend.

I considered begging, pleading, crying, demanding, and lying to him. Bribery entered my mind. Terrorism was another option I rejected. Finally, in desperation, I told him the truth. That the convention only ran for Labor Day Weekend.

Silence at the other end of the line. I was ready to start sweating big time. He asked "Can you bring a 12" square sample and a check for $10 to me within a half hour?"

I assured him that we could, come Hell or High Water.

He gave me directions.

I don't remember if my feet were actually touching the ground when I hung up the phone, but I somehow kept from screaming as I went to find Mark. I told him, rather excitedly I think, of what was to happen, and he called for a volunteer to bring the sample to Fire Headquarters.

It was Noon. The Art Show. albeit unlit, had opened On Time.

At 12:20, I had Test Report 24-130 in my hot little hands, and copied the sucker for each section of the show. A flurry of activity overtook the Art Show, as lighting fixtures and wiring were replaced, new extensions were everywhere, and people worked feverishly, completing the required changes.

My job was finished. However, I had to keep the beeper for the remainder of the weekend, "just in case." (Fortunately, it never went off!)

I found TR, and told her that all was copacetic.

And that I would never, ever forget: If not for her, I wouldn't have ever become involved, beyond the occasional gophering. Now, we all know who to blame.

Thanks, Theresa.

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