There was no blaze to put out, nor an injured victim to treat, but Maryland firefighters responded to a forlorn woman's call to help her see, in person, her 83-year-old mother, literally giving her a lift to facilitate the emotional rescue.
Shirl Carmine said she and her mother, Shirley Taylor, have been separated since the beginning of March when precautions were put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic preventing her from visiting her mom's nursing home in Crisfield, Maryland.
"Me and my mother are extremely close. We've always been," Carmine told ABC News on Wednesday, adding that she was named after her mom. "Normally, I would go at least twice a week to do her hair, and other times I would go and just sit and we'd watch TV or we'd play cards."
While she and her mother have stayed in touch through the pandemic by texting, Carmine said it falls far short of the face-to-face contact they've missed. She said they initially tried Facetime and Zoom, "but with mom being not so savvy with electronics, she would get frustrated. I didn't want her to get frustrated because it was already a difficult time. So we just kind of put that aside."
Instead, Carmine said she has resorted to standing outside the Alice B. Tawes Nursing & Rehabilitation Center and holding signs telling her mother she loves her. Carmine said while her mother could see her, she couldn't see her mom because a screen over the second-floor widow obscured her view.
She admitted she thought of bringing a ladder tall enough to reach her mother's window.
Carmine said her daughter, Jessica, was driving her to a grocery store on Sunday when they passed a gas station and spotted ladder truck 205 from the Crisfield Volunteer Fire Department being filled up at the pump. Suddenly, Carmine got an idea.
"We got to the stop sign and I said, 'Jessica stop, turn in here.' She said, 'Why?' I said, 'I'm going to ask them to see if they'll take me up there.'"
Carmine said she tracked down Fire Assistant Chief Engineer Matt Tomlins inside the gas station mini-market.
Tomlins immediately got on his cellphone and relayed the unusual request to Fire Chief Frankie Pruitt, who called the nursing home and got permission to fulfill Carmine's request, she said.
"He [Tomlins] asked me, 'So, when do you want to do that? And I said, 'That's up to you,'" Carmine recalled. "He said, 'Well, we can do it today if you want.' I said, 'Uh, yeah. Absolutely.' I didn't want to let the chance go by."
She said she walked out of the convenience store "super excited."
"Within a half-hour, I was in the bucket being lifted up to my mom's window," Carmine said, adding that she had never been in a fire engine ladder bucket before.
In the bucket with her was Tomlins and Fire Lt. Doug Curtis Jr., who had front row seats to the reunion, Carmine said.
"I don't think we've ever put someone in a bucket to take them up to see their loved one before, but I guess that's the sign of the times," Tomlins told ABC News, adding that Firefighter Robert Hunt assisted in the special call. "I'm glad we could assist."
Carmine said the moment was indeed special.
"Just being able to look at her, you know, face to face was awesome," she said.
The mother and daughter both put their hands up to the window and pressed against the glass, Carmine said.
"I got a little upset, and she put her finger to her eye. She says, 'No crying,'" Carmine said. "After we got our 'love yous' out of the way, one of the first things she said was, 'There are so many others in here who miss their families.'"
The reunion lasted about 15 minutes, Carmine said.
"I didn't want to hold them up, but I would have stayed there forever," Carmine said.