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Peter Walsh was 19 when he fought his first fire.
"It was a big house fire, and he was one of the first guys up the stairs," his daughter Katie recounts. "And he's walking in, and it’s just utterly black smoke. You cannot see your hand in front of your face."
Pete told Katie that he dropped to all fours and started crawling. In the lightlessnesss, Pete felt something. "And he realizes it's a woman's ankle," Katie recalls.
First fire, first rescue. Over the next 40 years, he worked three days on, three days off. Sometimes Katie and her sister Maggie visited the fire station.
"They had probably six big green recliners lined up in front of the TV which was always playing golf, but sometimes you could get them to put on a kid’s show," Katie remembers.
That was fun — so were the mornings Pete came to their Sunday school class in full uniform, with unexpected advice.
"When you see a firefighter, you can do anything to get their attention. You can throw a lamp at them, you kick 'em, you punch 'em, you get their attention," Katie recalls.
Then he would crawl around the floor while the kids pummeled him in the interest of fire safety. Safety was paramount.
“We knew how to use the fire ladder as soon as we could walk, almost,” Katie remembers.
They knew what their dad did. Occasionally, they’d see a photo of him in the local paper, covered with soot and sweat. But it wasn’t until his later years — when he no longer needed to protect them — that Katie and Maggie fully understood.
"He told me how he’d given CPR to dozens and dozens of people who never made it," Katie recalls. "And I thought, you never talked about this stuff. You never told us," remembers Maggie. "It was a whole different side of him."
At his memorial service, the ladder truck drove around the church, and the big rig, as Pete called it, sounded its siren three times, like a bell tolling.
Peter Walsh was captain emeritus of the Weston Fire Department. He died last April at the age of 70.
Did you know Peter Walsh? Share your memories in the comments section.
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