December 14, 2013
‘It’s a fire family’
McGraw women have nurtured firefighters last 50 years
McGRAW — Carol Treacy’s laugh booms across the fire hall with frequency and gusto. Her colleague of sorts, Helen Sherwood, is similarly mirthful, though her laugh is more akin to a patter of raindrops than the rolling thunder of Treacy’s.
Sherwood, 71, and Treacy, 67, both joined the McGraw Fire Department’s Women’s Auxiliary in 1963, back when a gallon of gas ran you 30 cents.
They’ve been at it ever since.
“You wonder, how the hell did I get this old,” Treacy said, before letting out a hearty gale of laughter. “It goes fast. The older you get, the faster it goes.”
“You don’t think about the time,” added Sherwood. “Fifty years. Where has it gone?”
Both women have strong ties to the fire department. Treacy’s father, brothers and husbands were all firefighters. Sherwood’s father, son, husband and son-in-law were members as well.
“It’s a fire family,” Sherwood said.
Indeed it was the family connection that played a primary role in pushing both of them to joining, Treacy while still in high school and Sherwood as a new mother.
“I didn’t think I could because I was so young, you know all that crap,” Treacy said.
Sherwood, meanwhile, had just bought a house in the village with her husband, Dave, who joined the fire department soon after.
“Dave said just last night, ‘You know your whole life’s been around that fire department,’” Treacy said. “You don’t think about it. That’s just the way life is.”
An auxiliary member’s job is a relatively straightforward one: keep the firefighters going. They are always there to offer a hot meal, a kind word, before their charges are forced back into the fray.
While simple in theory, the role of nurturer often encompasses a wider range of duties, some of which can’t readily be solved with a stove, spoon or endearment.
Sherwood recalled a fire on Maybury Road some time in the late 1960s to which her husband responded. A mother and her three children were lost in the blaze.
“They carry it home with them,” she said of those who responded. “When they get home they kind of just mope around. You know they’re thinking about what happened.”
“They think what they could have done different to save them,” Treacy added. “Those are the bad days.”
For occasions such as this, Sherwood said, there is not much to say other than: “there’s nothing more you could have done.”
“My best answer is that the good Lord must have needed some angels,” she said. “Those are the kind you don’t really want to think about, but those are always the ones that stick out in your mind.”
Borne of the circumstance of seeing them at their most vulnerable, the relationships that often develop between firefighters and their auxiliary members often resemble relationships of a different sort.
“You’ve been with them for so long, they’re like family,” Sherwood said.
Both women are filled with the utmost respect for what their firefighters do.
“I admire them,” Treacy said. “They’re going out of their way to help people they don’t necessarily know. They take time out of their lives to help somebody else.”
“It’s just a great thing for a person to do,” Sherwood added. “You just pray to God that they get home safe.”
The feeling is mutual.
“They’re always there for us,” said McGraw Fire Chief Tom Heller, who’s been with department for 30 years. “It could be 3 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon. Sometimes I don’t know what we’d do without them.”
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