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September 2, 2017: Dumpster Fire

The late afternoon shift was uneventful. The early evening shift was eventful. I was working at the sorting table, there were more than enough cans and bottles to keep me and the two Colony High School ROTC guys busy.

I smelled smoke, looked up, over at the dumpster area. There are three roll-off dumpsters, the one facing us contains recyclable cardboard. The two, across the way, contain landfill fodder. My jaw dropped as I saw black smoke pouring out of the far corner of the right side garbage dumpster.

“Fire!” I yelled. Both teenagers spun around. “Fire!” they reiterated, in near unison.

“I’ll get the fire extinguisher. You call 911,” I yelled. I pulled off my orange rubber gloves and raced over the shack and pulled the extinguisher off the wall. There is a rise before the dumpster area, I trotted assuredly up it and stopped in front of the large green containers. Then all assurance that I had disappeared. I’d seen Pete put out a generator shack fire, so I thought that all I needed to do was hold the extinguisher out in front of me and squeeze on the handle. I was wrong. I squeezed on the handle and nothing happened. I looked at it. I needed to pull a pin so that the handle would move. And

I needed to cut the plastic loop that was holding the pin in place. Oh oh.

I hauled ass back to the shed, cut the loop with scissors and hauled ass back to the dumpster. In the thirty seconds that it had taken me to figure out the intricacies of the extinguisher, the fire had acquired a life of its own. Flames were shooting up into the sky and thick, black smoke was pouring out of the container.

I glanced back at the boys. They were standing by the sorting table.

“Did you call 911?” I yelled.

“He did,” one of the fellows said, nudging his buddy.

“Yeah, I did,” he said.

As if on cue one of the lime-green maintenance trucks pulled around the bend, up the rise, then backed down again. The driver then sped over to the nearby water truck. Two men leapt out. One hooked up the hose that was at the base of the truck and the other pulled it over to the dumpster. The one holding the hose looked over at the man standing next to the water truck. He pointed the hose nozzle at the flames and turned on the hose. The water shot out of the hose, travelled in an arc, and landed on the intended target, the first mound of garbage. There was a sizzling sound, and steam, lots of steam.

I heard a rumbling, looked to my right. The front end loader that was generally used to tamp down the garbage was trundling up the hill. I hurried over to what I thought was the safest vantage point, the cardboard dumpster, which was across the way. The big yellow machine turned perpendicular to the dumpster. As it turned it made the characteristic eep, eep, eep sound.

The man with the hose waved it back and forth. The flames died down. The front end operator first raised and then lowered the bucket into the mess. I, who was still holding the fire extinguisher suddenly felt small and ineffectual.

The bucket rose upward. It contained a mass of melted plastic and singed organic matter. I smelled the plastic, imagined it coating my lungs, and trotted back over to the sorting table.

“You see that?” I asked the two sorting table volunteers.

“Gross,” one said. The other nodded.

A firetruck appeared. A fireman got out and strode over to the water truck guy. I presumed that the water truck guy said that his crew had everything under control.

I let the volunteers know indirectly that it was time to return to work by emptying the contents of one of the white plastic bags back on the table. One put his gloves back on, and the other continued to strut around like a rooster.

“I called 911,” he said.

“You should get an award for your efforts,” I said.


“Yeah, at a high school assembly. The local mayor could present you with an award.”

“An award?” Hearing this his eyes grew wide.

“Yeah, like a key to the city or something.”

“Better yet, he could present you with a big cabbage” the other one said.

“Yeah, an 80 pounder.” I said.

“I called 911,” he said, as the fire truck left the Orange Parking Lot.

“Quitting time. It’s 8 p.m. Our shift’s over,” the second guy said.

“Hey wait. You can’t leave. We have more here to sort.”

“Have to go,” he said. “My mother is picking us up.”

The pair departed. I continued to sort to the tune of the Doobie Brothers “Taking it to the Streets.”

Next: 243. 9/3/17: The Unseen Volunteer

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