The Fire Chief’s Wife’s Story

“I heard them calling 28 R-1 and 28 R-1 wasn’t answering.”

By Chris Harris

When the call came in that the Trinitarian Congregational Church was on fire, Christine Dunnell, wife of Fire Chief Floyd “Skip” Dunnell, swung into action and started baking: quick breads, coffeecake, and the like to bring down later to the men. “That keeps my mind occupied while I’m listening to the scanner,” Chris says.

“So I’m listening to the scanner and I hear all the different towns coming in,” Chris recalls, “and then I hear everybody calling 28 R-1 and 28 R-1 is not answering.”

In scanner talk, 28 is Northfield’s call number, “R” refers to the fire department, and “1” is the fire chief. So “28 R-1” is like saying “Skip Dunnell.”

“They called again for instructions, calling 28 R-1 and 28 R-1 is not answering,” says Chris. “Then 28 R-2 answers.”

28 R-2 is the second-in-command, which at that time was Deputy Fire Chief David Quinn, Sr.

“You have an idea that something is wrong when you don’t hear your husband on the radio as usual and they call for an ambulance,” Chris continues. “That goes over the scanner too. They said they were transporting and you listen and you hear the age of the person, which you know is your husband’s age: 25. So I know it’s him. That was the worst moment.

“Apparently, from what I was told later, there were four or five Northfield firemen that were together in a group trying to decide which one was going to come up to the house and tell me what happened to my husband, and none of them wanted to do it. They were all afraid to tell me that Skip got hurt.

“I got all my stuff together that I had baked and I brought it down to the fire station, taking the back roads because I knew Main Street would be shut off. I got to the fire station, I come walking in, and I already had tears in my eyes. The town that was covering was Millers Falls and that’s the town I grew up in, so I knew the guy behind the desk. He said, ‘Chris, can you come back here for a minute?’

I said, ‘It was him, wasn’t it?’

He said, ‘Well, why don’t you just come back here and we’ll talk.’

And I said, ‘How bad is he? Just tell me.’

‘They brought him to the hospital. He wrenched his back, but he’s going to be returning. They were just wanting to be sure he was all right.’

“I was just glad that he was still alive; that was the main thing. He went back to fighting the fire, of course!”