From baby deliveries to unexpected deaths, Mike Bowes, a 911 dispatcher from Quincy, Massachusetts, has handled a wide range of emergency calls.
But Monday night, the 44-year-old received an unexpected call from his neighbor: His own house was on fire. The 911 call came in about 10:45 p.m. Monday, a little more than an hour before Mike Bowes’ shift ended. My neighbor’s house just blew up, the caller said. “What’s the address” Mike Bowes asked patiently, just as he did with every emergency call for the past 11 years with the Quincy Police Department. The caller frantically relayed the address, Bowes’ home address for 20 years. “It was shocking,” Mike Bowes said. “I thought she was kidding. It’s a long shot. I mean, what’s the chances it will be your house” Out of 90,000 people who reside in Quincy, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, Mike Bowes’ was the home in flames, and he had answered the emergency call. Thoughts raced through his mind: Are my parents OK Are the neighbors safe What about my stuff Following procedure, Mike Bowes transferred the call to the fire department. Soon, dozens of calls about the fire from other neighbors began to pour into the control room. Watch Mike Bowes talk about the fire One of the callers was his mother, Elizabeth Bowes, 68. She and her husband, Donald Bowes, 72, had escaped unharmed. About 10:45 p.m., Elizabeth Bowes was reading a novel in the kitchen when she heard the explosion and saw flames shoot through the kitchen window. She ran to wake her husband in a first-floor bedroom. There was also a landlord living in upstairs. Firefighters arrived within minutes and helped her to safety. Within five minutes of receiving the call, police escorted Mike Bowes to his home. He could see the fire light up the dark sky from afar. Anxious neighbors gathered in the park nearby. He was relieved to find his parents together on the sidewalk. “My parents are alive; my neighbors are alive,” he said. “It’s an inconvenience, but we’ll get through it.” In another coincidence, one of the first firefighters to arrive on scene was Mike Bowes’ cousin, Tom Bowes. Tom Bowes, a firefighter for the past eight years, scrambled into the house to salvage old albums with wedding and baby photos amid the flames. But everything else — the clothes, electronics and furniture — were destroyed. No one was injured in the fire, and firefighters have yet to determine what caused the blaze. They say it started in the garage, about 15 feet from the home.
Mike Bowes says his job prepared him to deal with the challenging circumstances. Bowes and his family are living in a hotel, and local police officers and firefighters have donated clothes and money. “A lot of people think dispatchers are strange because I’ve been joking about what happened,” he said. “I say, ‘If I’m not laughing, I’ll start crying.’ This is what I have to do.”