. . . IN A BLIZZARD
Nearly midnight. A blizzard. A teenage angel. And the fire chief said "thank you, Coffee Angel, whoever you are."
Later the fire chief recalled many times the "angel" was the BEST thing that happened that night.
The New England storm hit suddenly. Drops of rain, a little hail, tiny snowflakes and finally big, biting wind-driven snowflakes.
The wind swept into the old, abandoned, rundown four -story hotel a block away from the fire station, howling through stairways and halls to the fourth floor, where suddenly a wisp of smoke curled from a window ledge.
The few nightime passersby saw the smoke but paid no attention to what appeaared to be just swirling snow, until a flame showed in one still intact window.
Glass shattered and cascaded forty feet to the street below, narrowly missing the head of a policeman on his rounds. Looking up he froze in mid-step before running to the fire station to sound the alarm.
Firefighters racing to the scene at first entertained the notion to let the hotel burn since it was to be the next victim of an ongoing urban renewal demolition derby.
There's no electricity or gas in the building to start a fire. There must be someone in there - a tramp- trying to keep warm with a campfire.
There was - and he died.
With the knowledge someone must be in the building, the firefighters came to the BEST and only decision - they had to douse those flames. It was not easy.
Urged by the high wind the nearly century old tinderdry wood burned quickly. The speed of the fire in the highly flammable hotel outmatched firemen as the water they tried their BEST to spray stood still at the nozzles of the hoses.
Zero temperatures froze fireffighters' gloved hands to slippery wooden ladders as they attempted to climb while the heat of the conflagration melted their rubber boots.
Flames tore the building apart, even burning one ladder, sending a fireman flying to a snowdrift below.
A teenage girl was ending her shift at the nearby all night Dunkin' Donuts
shop. As she had watched the fire she saw struggling firemen, some laying in the snow to rest, others pressing their hands to the warm engines of their trucks to thaw gloves and skin.
She emptied her pockets of hard-earned tips and counted enough coins to buy two dozen cups of coffee. She began filling the cups. Her boss realized her intent. He scooped up her tips and returned them to the girl's pockets and began filling cups himself.
The teenager plodded through deep wet snow to the nearest fire truck and found three firemen who gratefully took her coffee. She moved to wherever firemen were resting and then returned to the shop for another tray of steaming liquid.
She returned to the fire line but a policeman stopped her with a gruff "get out of here." As she backed away, a short squatty fire chief approached, took her by the arm and escorted her to other freezing men who swiftly claimed her warm paper cups.
About five in the morning, while she was still at her BEST, delivering hot coffee, this time with freshly-made doughnuts, the teen paused to take her first sip of hot liquid before carrying on with her job.
Later in the afternoon there was a brief note at the end of one of the fire stories in the city's newspaper - the fire chief says "thanks Coffee Angel, whoever you are."
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