In a few weeks, Sundays won’t be the same for Tisbury volunteer firefighters. The fire department plans to move into the new $5.5 million emergency services facility next to the Tisbury School on April 1.
While the new, spacious facility contains state-of-the-art technology and public safety equipment, there will be a bit of sentimental sadness among the firemen moving out of the old fire station. That feeling will be felt especially for those who have enjoyed many breakfasts on Sunday at the station, even though the Sunday morning breakfasts will continue.
For 10 years, firemen have gathered on Sunday mornings to talk about the affairs of the day, over a cup of hot coffee and a breakfast roll; freshly prepared by Mike Carroll of Tisbury.
One morning a week, Mr. Carroll, 69, is the local chef. He gets help from his colleague Brian Flanders, another fireman. Between the two, and the help of a few others, they prepare a fresh cooked “diner-like” breakfast. For Mr. Carroll, a retired fire captain with Engine 2, the tradition started as a celebration. “I did it to celebrate the birth of my granddaughter, Molly Carroll,”
Sunday morning is already busy for firemen. Island-wide, nearly all of the firemen gather for “radio-check.” They assemble to check their safety equipment. They run their trucks, check the pumps, the radios and get an update on pending department matters. At 10 a.m., the county communication center begins its Island-wide check of all the public safety radios.
But at 9 a.m. — before the engines roar and the machinery is turned on — there is the smell of sizzling bacon on the griddle and all the fragrance of a morning diner.
There is a lot of information to be shared in this little 13 by 20 foot cinderblock room.
Assistant fire chief Russell Maciel is seated with fire chief John Schilling. Mr. Maciel comes from a three-generation family that has been active in Island fire departments.
Gene DeCosta, is retired and active in the affairs of town politics. He is not a fireman, but enjoys the fellowship of hanging out with firemen. He sips a cup of coffee and listens intently to the conversations. Mr. DeCosta’s son Shawn is firefighter with the department. “A lot goes on here,” Mr. DeCosta said. On occasion, selectmen will show up, he said.
Mr. DeCosta turns around and gives high praise to Mr. Flanders. “Without him these breakfasts wouldn’t happen,” Mr. DeCosta said.
Sunday morning breakfast is a mixing of generations of firemen. “The retired guys are all here,” Mr. Schilling said. His predecessor, Richard Clark is usually always there. Retired assistant fire chief Allan Davey is there. Retired fireman Bob Tilton is a frequent visitor. “These guys are the fixtures of the department and they bring a lot. Their presence is important to the department. Having multiple generations embodies the spirit of a volunteer fire department.
Mr. Carroll and his brother Leigh share ownership of Carroll’s Trucking. Mr. Carroll has served the fire department for 47 years and still enjoys the fellowship of gathering with his colleagues.
All of the moving parts to the morning breakfast were donated and include the electric stove and refrigerator. Mr. Carroll has used his old electric griddle for 10 years and it works fine. The menu is pretty much the same: hot coffee, orange juice, and a breakfast sandwich made up of eggs, bacon and or sausage.
An empty worn Chock Full o’Nuts tin can sits on the dining table, ready for donations. The usually unspoken word is that those who enjoy the meal make a donation to cover the expenses of the preparation.
The back room of the fire station is also the meeting place of the department. A bulletin board hangs on the wall, which lists upcoming events which include a mass casualty drill in a week, a town meeting in April. Mr. Carroll said he does the meal to contribute to the enjoyment of what is usually a routine morning event. The meal has proven to improve attendance.
He points out that only a few weeks ago the room was full, decorated with a trophy case, prizes handed out to the fire department personnel through the years during regional fire musters. There were also a wall of momentos, remembrances, patches from fire departments in the region. Today, they are gone. On this Sunday, all those had been taken down in anticipation of the move up to their new home.
There are plenty of good reasons why the firemen are happy to be moving out of the old building, the grand central station of public safety in the center of town since 1959. They point out the ceiling on the southern corner of the room, which is tinted by mold. The firemen explain the moist spot stems from a leak in the roof that no one has ever been able to fix. Buckets on the floor are kept to collect rain water.
The new headquarters will be considerably better. In addition to having all the amenities needed for a modern day fire department, there will be a better kitchen and a better eating area for the firemen. Breakfasts like this one are expected to continue.
Still, Chief Schilling says, “there is something bittersweet as the Sunday morning gathering leaves this building . . . . There is closeness, intimacy here. People are coming and going out of this room all the time. There is a great feeling of fellowship,” the chief said.
“People come in to have a cup of coffee with us. It is also a place of business. Some of the debate, some of the talks about current town politics will get hot and heavy. People are able to express themselves freely.”
Sunday morning breakfast with the firemen offers something quite special that is getting more scarce in other communities, in this fast changing technological age. “It is one of those little community gathering places. People come together,” the chief said.
It is a bit sad to leave, the chief said. But he and the others are comforted by the fact that the Sunday breakfasts will continue in the shiny, spacious new home, without a leak in the roof.