As a volunteer fire fighter in New Auburn, Wisconsin, Michael Perry fights fires in houses, barns, cars, and fields. Being in a rural area with the nearest ambulance at least twenty minutes away, he is often first on the scene of car accidents, farm accidents, heart attacks, strokes, and suicides. It is a hell of a way to get to know the neighbors.
Perry grew up on a farm outside the town but left for ten years. After working as a cowboy out west (he was not very good at it) and going east to become a nurse and work for an ambulance service, he felt the need to return to New Auburn. In the chapter “My People,” he says the place called him back and land welcomed him, but he found it hard to feel accepted in the community. So he joined his mother and two brothers in the local volunteer fire department, where he met new people, including One-Eyed Beagle, a veteran volunteer whose ex-wives both worked at the Gas-N-Go.
In Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time, Perry often hears his pager in the middle of the night. He runs out of his house half clad and down the block to the firehouse, where he checks the county maps for the fastest roads to the emergency. He and the other volunteers throw their gear into the trucks and rush to the scene, where they may enter a burning building or prepare an accident victim for the arrival of the ambulance or helicopter. When the job is done, the volunteers have coffee and share the latest gossip.
The value of Perry’s stories comes from the wealth of detail and the author’s frank observations about how people deal with tragedy. The bonus is the humor. Perry balances the serious and comic aspects of his life well.
Perry’s newest book Off Main Street has just been published. Readers may also want to visit Perry’s website http://www.sneezingcow.com/ to learn more about the author and an archive of writings for Salon and Road King trucking magazine.
Perry, Michael. Population: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. ISBN 0060198524.
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