Once each spring we get a visit from the Bowie Volunteer Fire Department. To be more specific, we get a visit from Doug Smith. Doug leaves the truck, helmet, boots and axe back at the station. He arrives in an old Buick, and his gear includes a clipboard, a pen and an easygoing manner.
Doug shakes down area residents for donations. The top of his clipboard contains numerous checks - neatly fanned out so that you can see the generosity of your neighbors. The reward for a contribution is a discount coupon for Sears Portrait Studio.
We always donate, despite not completely understanding the concept of a volunteer fire department in a county with nearly one million residents. Our kids enjoy the annual December visit from Santa riding on the fire truck, and last year we attended Company 39's fire prevention day events. I figure we have reasons to hand over a check.
Doug looks the part. He wears dark blue Dickies pants and a blue t-shirt with the department logo. You can just picture him hanging out with the other firefighters at the station.
I don't know why, but while Doug fills out the paperwork for our donation, I feel compelled to "talk shop." I might say something like, "I heard about that blaze over in the 'M' section. Apparently someone forgot about their empanadas on the stove." Or, "I saw your team working the rollover on old 450. The jaws-of-life can really come in handy."
Doug always gives a generic reply like, "oh, yeah."
Last year, my wife overheard my attempts at small talk. "Don’t be naive," she said after Doug left. "He's not a real firefighter. He's a fundraiser. Didn't you notice his beard? Firefighters don't have beards."
She seemed to make sense, but I had trouble accepting the fact that I might have been duped. Doug should prepare himself for a new round of questioning during his next visit.