Veteran Massachusetts 911 operator Mike Bowes is rarely rattled when he takes calls about a wide array of life-threatening emergencies. But one call he took about a blazing house fire in Quincy on a busy Friday night last week hit way too close to home. That’s because it was his home.
“It’s surreal,” the 11-year-veteran told Amy Robach on TODAY Thursday. “First you don’t believe it. You hear it, but it’s not registering. Then you see it on the screen and you realize … ‘It’s MY house!’ ”
Neighbors say the two-family house, where Bowes has lived on the first floor with his parents for more than 20 years, looked like it had been in an explosion.
‘Your mother’s on the phone’
The 911 switchboard lit up with calls about the inferno after the blaze ignited at about 10:45 p.m.— right in the middle of Bowes’ shift. One of those calls came from his own mother.
“I didn’t take that call,” Bowes told Robach. “There were five of us working. Another dispatcher turned around and said: Your mother’s on the phone … it IS your house.”
Naturally, Bowes’ first concern was for his parents’ safety, but he also was committed to doing his job.
“You can’t just run out,” he said. “You can’t leave everybody else and leave the city shorthanded and without help.”
Putting things into their proper perspective, Mike’s sergeant immediately stepped in and told him to go the scene and see to his family’s safety. The dispatcher who had spent his career helping people in distress suddenly needed help himself. “Within seconds, my sergeant said, ‘Go! We’ll take care of everything here.’ ”
A second coincidence
Battling his own worst fears, Bowes was rushed to the blaze in a police car, arriving in just 3 minutes.
“You could actually see the orange glow coming from a distance,” he said of the short but nerve-wracking trip. “My main concern was my parents. As I came around the corner I saw my father standing out on the street and my mother was right behind him.”
In fact, everyone in the house had escaped unharmed. Relieved at finding his mother and father safe, Bowes was met with yet another incredible coincidence when he arrived at the scene.
“My cousin Tom Bowes is a Quincy firefighter,” the still stunned dispatcher explained. “He was the first firefighter on the scene. He could see the fire as he left the station. As he came down the hill … he knew it was our house.”
Still, he says that his training and familiarity with similar disasters have helped him cope with the loss. “It’s embarrassing, because I didn’t have time to run and get anything to wear,” he said. “But everyone got out. We can rebuild. As long as I know everyone is safe … that’s my main concern.”
Early reports from the State Fire Marshall’s office said the fire may have been caused by an unattended outdoor fireplace that belonged to one of Bowes' neighbors. “We don’t know what started the fire, but the arson investigation is going on,” Bowes said. “They’re investigating several different leads.”
Despite the devastating experience, Bowes — who’s staying in a hotel — says he’s itching to return to his post as soon as possible. “I'll probably go back to work on Sunday,” he said.
To contribute to a fund to assist the family of Mike Bowes, make checks payable to “Bowes Family Fund” and mail to:
Eastern Bank c/o Bowes Family Fund
731 Hancock Street
Quincy , MA. 02170