No “Smokey the Bear” en Español…

(Photo: Some rights reserved by Judy_and_ed)

Mexico. Mid 1950’s. No fire-sprinklers inside commercial buildings; no fire-extinguishers; no emergency lighting/signs; no fire drills; no “Smokey the Bear” en Español… No regulations saying that you can’t use diesel as a cleaning agent because of its tendency to catch on fire; especially not in a factory environment where there are many sources of ignition available.

In the end, no one ever learned what that source of ignition was, but the general consensus was that the friction from an overheated pulley started the fire that day. If only someone had noticed the fire earlier they might have been able to put it out right then and there, but they didn’t.

“They were so focused on their job,” Grandpa Next Door said sarcastically. “That no one noticed the fire until the whole 2nd story was up in flames.”

All the would-a, should-a, could-a’s aside, there was now a raging fire on the second floor of the mill and no way for Nabor and his co-workers to stop it. All they could do at this point was watch and try to get out of the way until… at last, the sounds of a fire engine were heard just outside the factory.

When Nabor made it outside, he saw the fire engine just sitting there with no one attempting to connect its hoses to any sources of water. There were a few problems that Nabor eventually came to realize. First of all, the term fire-engine typically conjures up visions of a red or yellow behemoth with sirens, hoses that shoot out water, ladders, and a crew that has some idea of how to fight a fire. The rickety old truck that Nabor was now looking at had hoses with connections that were too big for any water source at the factory, no ladders to speak of, and a volunteer, father-son crew who didn’t seem that eager to do any actual fire-fighting that day.

“Hey!” Nabor yelled at the patriarch of the fire-fighting duo. “In the back there is a well full of water. Stick the hose in there and run the pump!”

Immediately, the volunteer fire-fighter extraordinaire turned the truck around and moved it to the well that Nabor told him about. It worked! They were able to throw the hose down the well, run the pump, and get enough pressure to fight the fire. There was only one hurdle left to clear now. How to get on the roof without ladders.

Fortunately, Nabor knew how to get onto the roof of the mill because he was young and reckless and would frequently climb onto the ice factory side’s roof and jump to the mill-side. So he King-Konged it up to the roof and yelled at Mexico’s volunteer heroes to throw him the hose. The older one quickly tied a rope to the end of the hose and threw the rope to Nabor who pulled it up just as the flames reached the ceiling. Nabor turned the water on and pointed the hose at the fire as best as he could. He had no idea what he was doing because Backdraft was still some thirty years away from hitting the theatres.

Someone up there must really like my grandpa because it worked despite his lack of fire-fighting experience. The flames began to die down almost immediately. Encouraged by this, Nabor pushed deeper and deeper into the mill. Next thing he knew, Nabor was not alone on the roof anymore. It wasn’t the Papa Fireman or Junior that joined him, however, but workers from neighboring buildings armed with axes. They began to chop away at everything in sight, but mostly valuable items that were in absolutely no danger of catching on fire.

“What are you doing?!!!” Nabor said.

“They’re going to catch on fire,” one loco said referring to some wooden boxes that he had just needlessly turned into kindling.

“Leave them alone or you are going to get soaked!” Nabor said. The locos just stared. “I’m going to spray water. Stand back!”

“Get off of there!” Nabor heard a commanding voice yelling. This time the locos responded and started their way back down from the roof. When they had cleared out, Nabor realized that it was Camel, the factory owner’s son who was kicking the locos off the roof. I don’t mean that Camel was physically punting them off of the roof or anything, but he did cross a vast desert to get to the factory that day on a surprisingly small amount of water.

“What are you doing here?” Camel asked Nabor.

“I’m spraying water.”

“Where’s the fireman?”

“Where do you think?” Nabor said in his best Napoleon Dynamite impersonation. “Down there. He couldn’t get up here.”

Camel looked at the fire that was beginning to die down and decided to let him continue. Nabor kept pushing his way deeper into the mill until the fire was completely out. The factory was out of danger.

Smoke now filled the entire second floor of the mill instead of fire. Nabor watched the smoke while taking a much deserved break from being a hero.

Grandpa taking a nap with my Tio Navi in 1967.
Grandpa taking a nap with my Tio Navi in 1967.

As he gazed at the smoldering second floor he began to have a bad premonition. He decided to have a look around one more time. It was difficult to see anything, but after a while Nabor noticed that one section of the charred, smoky building was actually a person. After running over to him, Nabor saw that it was the young, no-nonsense, mill’s assistant lying on the floor. This serious young man was one of the few people  in the factory that Nabor actually found to be competent. Unfortunately, the mill’s assistant had severe burns from the fire. His clothes were completely blackened and his face bright red from the intense heat. Nabor tried speaking to him, but the Serious Man didn’t respond. Nabor decided to run downstairs to find something to carry him out on.

As Nabor grabbed an empty flour sack, Camel stopped him once again.

“What are you doing?” Camel said.

“There’s a young man up there, badly burnt.”

Camel and a few others ran up with Nabor to help. They laid the flour sack next to the Serious Man and used it as a gurney. When Nabor put his hands underneath the man’s back and began lifting him, the man’s skin completely peeled off. Nabor knew that this must have caused the Serious Man extreme pain, but he did not respond. As they were moving him the Serious Man unsuccessfully attempted to open his eyes, but they had been cooked almost completely shut. Nabor could see through the tiny slits in the Serious Man’s eyelids that there was no pigmentation in his eyeballs. They had become completely white. The group put the once capable and competent young man into a car and drove him to the hospital. He died shortly after getting there.

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