A series of tones sounded at the Gloucester Central Fire Station around dinnertime Thursday, and two firefighters rushed out toward an ambulance to assist with a medical call.
Rushing down the stairs right behind them was a small figure clad in denim shorts, flip flops and an American flag T-shirt: Matthew Weinberg, age 13.
He wasn’t going to jump on board to go to the call; he’s too young, and not allowed for liability reasons. But normally, he’d be rushing to the front of the station where the garage doors were open, to shoot video of the departing vehicles.
This time, he simply watched closely as the vehicle pulled out with lights flashing and made its way to the call. Then he ran back inside the building and up to the hall where dinner was being served — his choice this evening, freshly grilled cheeseburgers and fresh corn on the cob — and rubbed elbows with Group 4, the crew on duty, laughing as they good-naturedly teased one another.
Weinberg, who has Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, doesn’t even live in Gloucester; he lives in Henderson, Nev. He has no family members who are firefighters. But he’s been getting to know the firefighters in the Gloucester department pretty well, not only in person for the last three weeks — he’s been visiting family nearby on Prospect Street — but via Facebook, too.
He greatly enjoys the firefighting culture, and the people who do this work.
“It’s not so much a hobby as a habit,” he said. He especially likes the Gloucester fire department because, unlike other departments where he’s spent time, including in a previous town in Kentucky, he noticed that dispatching takes place from within the fire station, not from a central location, and he’s intrigued by that. He has been spending quality time in the watch room, where dispatching takes place, and has learned how to sound tones and make announcements.