*This story first appeared in The Budget’s April 4, 2018, Local Edition.
By Pat Edgar
In the first book of a new series, author Amy Clipston brings us “A Place at Our Table” (Zondervan, 2017). The novel takes place in and around Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, and is dedicated to firefighters and emergency medical technicians. Characters in these jobs—both professional and voluntary — play an important part in this fast-paced story of tragedy and hope, disappointment and fulfillment.
As the story begins, 25-year-old Jamie Riehl is called to respond to a barn fire at 816 Irishtown Road in Ronks, Pennsylvania.
Jamie is one of several Amish men who volunteer at Fire Station #5. As he jumps from his bunk at the firehouse, Jamie can’t help thinking how devastating a fire such as this can be. It is likely that there are animals in the barn, and where there is a barn, there is usually a nearby home. He and others would have to prevent leaping flames from traveling from the wooden structure.
Jamie works hard to wake his colleague, Leon. Both have already been out on a call for an auto accident. Neither has had much sleep, but Jamie is immediately alert and ready to go. He believes that he was born to help people in this way, and is dedicated to volunteering for the fire department for at least one 24-hour period weekly. No sooner are the two outfitted in their turnout gear than their chief, Brody Morgan, appears and starts the engine of the large, red truck.
Leon and Jamie entered their training to become firefighters when they were 16. They have been friends ever since, even though initially they were assigned to different fire companies. They came together recently when Jamie was reassigned to Station #5. Also expected to help with the probable disaster is Noah, Jamie’s best friend since first grade. Although Noah is Amish and married, his bishop allows him to shave his beard because of the custom-fit facemasks every firefighter is required to wear.
As they arrive at the farm, Jamie jumps from the truck and runs to an Amish man who is standing on the porch holding a lantern. Two women in robes stand on either side of him. Assessing the situation, Jamie asks if there are any animals in the barn. The man responds that there were still two horses unaccounted for just as his wife is asking where her son Nathan is.
Apparently, Nathan went to the phone shanty to call 911 and hasn’t returned. Jamie runs to the area of the barn the family directs him to and finds a young woman near the door calling Nathan’s name. They collide, and Kayla shouts desperately that her 14-year-old brother has gone into the barn to rescue the horses.
Carrying respirators and wearing protective gear, Jamie and Noah rush into the fire-stricken barn. Within seconds, they find Nathan, who is pinned under a fallen beam. Freeing him, Jamie carries the alert but coughing boy from the barn, hands him off to paramedics and then rushes back into the barn to save the horses.
While leading one of the horses to safety, Jamie trips and becomes disoriented. Luckily, Noah is close to the door when Jamie radios for help, and he manages to get both man and horse out safely.
When they get to the ambulance, they find Kayla and her mother overseeing the paramedics as they tend to Nathan. Kayla is also berating the boy for going into the barn alone before the firefighters arrived. Jamie agrees with her message but thinks her reaction is very dramatic for the slight injuries the boy experienced. He compliments and thanks Noah for his quick thinking in calling in the emergency team. Kayla demands that Jamie reinforce her censure of Nathan’s behavior, but Jamie takes a different route by suggesting that the young boy enter their teen training program. This idea is met with more resistance from Kayla than Jamie predicted. It is only later that he learns a tragic firefighting accident has already claimed one member of their family.
In the weeks to follow, neither Jamie nor Kayla can forget the attraction they felt that night, but differing opinions and family concerns keep them apart. Not long after the complete loss of the Dienner barn, Jamie’s own family experiences a devastating loss, but the two can be of little comfort to one another.
In addition to their difference about Nathan, Kayla can’t stop thinking about her last relationship and how it ended. For his part, Jamie feels that he has a great deal to make up for with his own family and has no time to spend courting. The summer brings surprises, disappointment and joy to both of them, even while their families grow closer.
Award-winning author Amy Clipston is known for her Amish fiction. The Amish Heirloom and Kauffman Amish Bakery series have attracted a large following of loyal readers. To date, she has sold more than a million books. In addition to her fiction, Clipston also wrote a memoir, “A Gift of Love,” in 2014 describing the experience of donating a kidney to her husband.
Clipston is one of the organizers of Girlfriend Getaway 2018 to be held in Sugarcreek from June 15-17. There is still time to make reservations for the luncheon at Dutch Valley on June 16 where 10 writers of Amish fiction will appear. For more information, call 1-800-965-9324 or contact the author via her website, amyclipston.com/girlfriend.