Saturday night deadlines

At 10:30 p.m. I’m struggling to stay awake. Deadline for Sunday’s obituaries and police columns was an hour ago; and stories don’t start going online until 11:30 or midnight.

I’ll be in the office until 1:30 a.m. or so, on a good night. For the first half of the Saturday night shift I’m the reporter; for the second half I’m responsible for the website. But between 9:30 and 11 p.m., I’m just waiting.

Drinking coffee. Eating anything I can find.

Trying to stay awake.

But at 10:30 p.m. the scanner starts squawking.

Structure fire. Possible entrapment.

They’re mobilizing every surrounding volunteer fire department and I hear the call go out again and again as various companies respond. Fire fighters, ambulances.

We’re an hour past deadline but if there’s someone in that house, if someone dies or if there’s a dramatic rescue as a life is snatched from the flames — we’ll hold the pages.

It’s a 40-minute drive from here to there. And in this rural county there are no public-information officers. If I want details, I’ll have to talk to the fire chief. He won’t be answering his phone for hours; I’ll be lucky to get two minutes of his attention at the scene, stepping over hoses and taking notes in the eery glow of dancing flames.

So by the time I get there, by the time someone has a second to spare, it will be pushing the limits of what we can do.

We stand under the scanner, the page-1 editor and I, listening. It’s only worth holding pages for if there’s a life at stake. But every minute passing is one we need.

We’re both wide awake now.

“I can leave now,” I suggest. “You can call me if they downgrade it.”

But she says wait and I’m antsy. Someone will get there soon, determine whether someone is trapped in there or not. If the answer is yes, I’ll go.

If the answer is yes, I’ll have wished I got started when I heard the first call go out. But if the answer is no…

And finally — though it hasn’t been that long — someone arrives on scene.

“Negative entrapment,” we hear a woman’s voice call to the backdrop of sirens, and we both exhale.

It can wait until Monday, then.

I microwave a second cup of coffee. I’ve got hours to go, still.


1 Comment

Filed under Notebook sketches

One response to “Saturday night deadlines

  1. Whew. Oh boy. Do I remember those scanner moments. I used to live with a handheld glued to my hip.

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