Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fiedler the fireman

My family and I heard firsthand about another side to the longtime conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, Arthur Fiedler (1894-1979). One of our New Year's Eve dinner guests served with him as a civilian "sparky" for the fire department and would see him on calls when the fire was above 3 alarms. Fiedler had been avid about firefighting since his Boston boyhood. "I got to know the firemen. They let me feed the horses and play with the dalmatians. I spent every spare minute there," he remembered. As an adult, his car was equipped with a shortwave radio for monitoring fire calls and he drove to fires day or night to watch or assist. Even when he was on tour he responded, for instance to a 5-alarm predawn fire in San Francisco that landed him on the cover of the Boston Globe back home. "They called me. It was near my hotel. I had to go," he explained to his wife over the phone. He was given hundreds of honorary titles, helmets, and badges from fire departments, and received a 1938 pumper from his family for his 75th birthday. Our guest remembers manning a hose to help put out a blaze at Boston Pier. Fiedler remembered assisting at Boston's tragic Cocoanut Grove fire." The conductor's New York Times obituary quotes him, "I've never left a concert to go to a fire, but I have left fires to go to a concert."

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