The Fire Chasers

Here's a story that ran in the Arizona Republic's Sunday magazine insert on April 13th, 1969 about how my Dad chased fires. It's corny, It's goofy, but what the hey. I did fix some errors in the original article (bad spelling, wrong names for stuff, etc.).
Blow in his ear and he’ll follow you to a fire
by Ed Sovola
The little lamb Mary had, that went everywhere Mary went, is small lamb chops compared to the portable radio Bob Guildig has. It really goes everywhere. It even goes with Bob and his family to church on Sunday.

Why should a man want a radio blowing in his ear in church? Bob Guildig does because he’s completely ape over fires. If a call comes through his earplug in the middle of a sermon, it’s bye-bye preacher.

“Nobody can hear anything when I’ve got the plug in my ear,” Guildig explained. “So far we haven’t had to leave during a service. But if a call does come we don’t want to miss it, do we, honey?”Mrs. Guildig nodded. Then she glanced at 18-month-old Kathy and 2½ -year-old Robert on the floor tugging at Daddy’s red plastic hardhat emblazoned with the emblem of the 2-11 Association of Phoenix Fire Buffs, Inc. The radio emitted a dispatch to a trash fire at 1949 E. Garfield.

“After you’ve listened to calls for a long time you know by the address whether it could be something. I have the map of the city in my mind. For example, I know at that address a trash fire pretty well means that. We just sit relaxed, don’t we, honey?”

“You get so you don’t even hear the routine calls,” Mrs. Guildig said.

“Now,” Guildig continued, “if there’s a follow-up to the call or the special tone for a two-eleven, I grab my two camera bags, the two kids, Marjorie grabs the diaper bag and her purse and we dash for the car. Did you notice it’s backed into the driveway for a quick getaway? Weekends we keep the stroller and blankets for the kids in the car. Like right now if that call had been something good, we’d be out of here in about five seconds.”

“Kathy went to her first two-eleven fire when she was only eleven days old,” Mrs. Guildig said proudly.

“Remember when Woody’s El Nido on McDowell burned?” Guildig asked. “That was Robert’s first two-eleven. Never even woke up.”

It was a Saturday afternoon at the Guildig home. The radio chattered again and everyone sat loose.

“You get used to it,” Guildig said. “During the night we never hear any of the routine calls. You look surprised. The radio is on twenty-four hours a day. It goes with us shopping, or to a movie.

“I even took it to a Tupperware party once,” Mrs. Guildig said. “When Robert’s at work I listen and tell him if something good came in when he gets home.”

Guildig is a draftsman at Sperry Flight Systems, 15 miles from the heart of Phoenix. Since he’s built like a Dallas Cowboy fullback and is only 27, what’s he doing avoiding the Phoenix Fire Department?

Guildig would join the department in a minute if they’d allow him to take colored pictures of fires. Taking pictures is the Guildigs’ thing. To date they have more than 5,000 of fires such as Phoenix Union High School, Phoenix Indian School, Cudahy, Arizona Ranch House, Camelback Lanes to mention only a few in the seven years of chasing fires.

Legally and technically, a member of the 2-11 Association of Fire Buffs is different from the casual citizen at a fire only in that a Fire Buff is personally known by almost all the city firemen, is allowed to cross the fire lines (not too far across) and the department sanctions his organization. The red hardhats and surplus firemen’s raincoats are for show rather than utility. A Fire Buff simply is a privileged spectator.

Mrs. Guildig excused herself to put the Saturday night roast in the oven. What happens to the roast and potatoes should a 2-11 alarm occur just as they sit down to eat?

“It’d stay right in the middle of the table until we got back,” Guildig said. “We’ve left in the middle of a meal several times. I mean, you can eat anytime. A real good fire is hard to come by.”

A fire buff’s goal is to arrive on the scene as soon as possible, maybe even before the apparatus. To be able to turn in an alarm on a big fire is the ultimate. Guildig had the supreme thrill one Sunday morning while poking around Park and Swap at Greyhound Park.

The portable was on. A suspicious plume of smoke curled into the sky around 33rd Street and Washington. A fire buff knows the color of smoke which has potential flame behind it. The portable remained silent. Bob had a feeling he should investigate. He drove over and saw coming from the interior of the warehouse all the signs he needed to sound the alarm. His series of slides show the blaze from start to holocaust to embers.He admits to a great fascination in watching fires. He also quickly stresses the fact that this fascination is pretty universal with people. To a real buff there are other factors. One, Guildig feels he is putting a history of fires on film and someday his efforts will have historical value in the city. Recently a writer on the Coast requested several of Guildig’s pictures for use in a book dealing with fires and fire prevention.

Guildig and the 17 other Fire Buffs believe they are a citizen’s booster club for the fire department and many times perform little services that make life a pinch more pleasant.

“Late at night, for instance,” Guildig explained, “when the Fire Belles (Firemen’s wives) can’t come out, we see the men have coffee and donuts. Or a fireman asks us to run to the station and make sure the stove has been turned off. I’ve even gone to a fire house and put the coffee pot on so it’s ready when the crew pulls in. We’ll do anything to be of service to the men of the department.”

“We also do as much as we can to promote fire safety during Fire Prevention Week with posters and talking to the public and handing out literature. We feel we’re doing more than just watching fires.”

Mrs. Guildig recalls that when she first started dating her future husband, his discussions about being a fire buff made her wonder if she didn’t have a ding-a-ling on her hands.

“I listened and decided he had something interesting going and right today I’ll beat him out the door sometimes when we get one (fire),” she said.

It is a written bylaw of the fire buffs that all speed limits be observed on the way to a fire. Anyone receiving a ticket for speeding is liable to suspension which could lead to expulsion.

In their seven years of marriage and fire-chasing, which Phoenix fire impressed them most? The Phoenix Indian School fire was the choice and they have drawers of color slides and half an album of pictures to prove it.

“1 know people, friends even, who think this is a nutty hobby,” Guildig said. “I know guys who drink beer and chase women. Now I think that’s a nutty hobby and yet a lot of guys do it.”

“I’m all for Bob being a fire buff,” Mrs. Guildig said.

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