Amish Fire Department


It’s Friday, late in the fall of 2002. Gorgeous out: blue skies, white clouds—my favorite kind of day. Lots of leaves on the ground, a gentle breeze, bare trees that let you see all the secrets inside the woods.

I’m raking up the yard debris behind my little cabin, soaking in the warmth of the day, awaiting delivery of a dog kennel I ordered weeks ago from Nelson Agri-Center. Both dogs are playing, but I imagine they won’t be happy about the kennel when it arrives.

I have a good fire going in the pit. Riley, my faithful yellow Lab who came with me to Vernon County about six months ago, is trying to nap by the warmth of the fire, and Moses, the new puppy I bought for five bucks from the Second Time Around store, is pestering him mercilessly.

In other words, it’s a quiet, happy scene.
So peaceful.

I hear the truck coming up the road, set down my rake, and go to meet it, both dogs following. We unload the panels of the kennel easily and lean them up against the front of the cabin until I can decide where I want to put it. I wave good-bye and head back to work. Fire!

The fire has jumped out of the fire pit and is burning into the woods only a few feet away from the back of my little rented cabin. Ack! I grab a shovel and start beating it out, or so I think. But I soon realize that my panicked efforts are actually spreading it!  I run into the cabin and grab the cat litter box and am madly shaking litter and cat poop over the fire, thinking, Oh my god, as I have not a drop of running water . . . Oh yes, my gallon jugs!

I dash back into the cabin, grab both jugs of water, race to the fire, which is rapidly heading toward the cabin, and start emptying them awkwardly onto the flames. It’s a total disaster—my aim is off, and the water dribbles out of each jug’s mouth and onto the ground, completely ineffective.
I jump into my car and race down the road, honking my horn like the crazed woman I am, both dogs running behind.

I fly into my neighbor Melvin’s driveway, screaming, and his wife Sarah meets me outside the door. Before I know it, eight Amish women and girls and I are all in their
dairy barn, grabbing sparkling clean pails and scooping up water from the tanks that keep their fresh milk cold until it gets picked up.

This is all happening so quickly, I’m just numbly following along, copying their motions.
I find myself, like everyone else, with two pails, one in each hand, and somehow we’re in two rows, running down Pa’s Road to my cabin, the smoke rising in front of us. I am tailing behind. Even in that moment it occurs to me this is insane.

Each person dumps her water onto the fire, and four of them run back up the road for more.
Now we’re getting somewhere. The shovel and rake are being used, and the fire is smoldering, spitting, and smoking as the next load of water arrives.
And then . . . it’s out!

Now I notice that every single person there, except me, is barefoot and wearing a dress and bonnet.
As I thank the Hershberger family, I am shaking like a leaf. They are calm, and it’s obvious they find me amusing.

I have my very own Amish fire department, and I’m very thankful that they are my neighbors.

JANE A. SCHMIDT is a columnist and the owner of two businesses, Fitness Choices and Turtle Adventures. When not teaching her fitness classes or encouraging women to get outside, she spends her time backpacking in places like the Grand Canyon, Superior Hiking Trail, and Isle Royale National Park; biking across Wisconsin; hiking and kayaking in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve; or just hanging out with her animal family in rural Viola, Wisconsin. Check out her collected short stories in her new book, Not A Perfect Fit: Stories from Jane’s World and visit her at


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