Taking the kids to a friend's birthday party is a commonplace weekend activity in my house.  Any parent with young children knows the feeling and has probably done it dozens of times.  I took my daughter to a party earlier today.  But this birthday party ended up being anything but ordinary.

Bridget and Eileen had been invited to one of their schoolmate's 7th birthday party and they were excited to attend.  When they woke up this morning, however, Eileen was sick, and so, Bridget went to the party alone.

The theme was a "Girl's Painting Party", with each girl given an easel and some paints and encouraged to show their artistic skills.  The party  was held at the new location of Anchor Arts, an arts and crafts store which had recently moved to Essex Avenue in Margate from its Ventnor location.









The building has retail space on the first floor and apartments on the second floor.  I've passed the place a thousand times, but I'd never been inside until today.

The party was from 2-5pm, and when I took Bridget it wasn't clear to me if I would have to stay with her or if I could just drop her off.  Each kid's party is a little different.  Most of the time, it seems like you're expected to stick around and keep an eye on your kid.  This time, to my delight, that wasn't the case. The mom running the party said to just come back a little before five to pick her up and I headed home to watch a some football and take a nap, not necessarily in that order.

A little before five, I went back to pick up Bridget.  But this was when the usual parental  taxi duties took a big turn from the normal.  As I drove down Essex Avenue, still a couple of blocks from where the party was being held, I began to see police and fire engine lights.  When I was about a block from the party site,  I could see a police car was stopped in the middle of the street at Ventnor Avenue blocking traffic from driving down the block where the store is located.

That's strange, I thought, as I slowly approached the intersection to get a better look down the street.  When I reached a spot where I was able to see down the street, my heart leaped.  There was a fire ladder up against the front of Anchor Arts; the fire was in the building where Bridget was!

Without hesitation, I swung around the the police car in the street and drove down the block at full speed, stopping just short of the building and the fire trucks on the scene.  Throwing the car in to park and jumping out, I ran toward the building.  I could see that the upstairs apartment windows had been broken out and firemen were milling about outside. My thoughts began to move in slow motion as I feared the worst that could have happened inside.

As I started to run past a female Margate cop stationed outside the fire scene, she yelled, "Wait a minute, you can't go in there".  I answered, "My daughter is in that store"!

She answered, "No one is in there, they're across the street".

I turned and saw a small group of parents gathered in the parking lot across the street and made my way over to them.  Recognizing one mom, I asked where Bridget was and she showed me where the group of young party-goers had been loaded in to the back of an enclosed pick-up truck to stay warm.

When the fire had started upstairs, apparently someone had run in to the store and told the shop owner and she had quickly ushered the girls out of the store.  Because they left the store without their coats, one of the parents had put them all in the truck to keep them warm.

Bridget looked scared and relieved to see me, but she was fine. I pulled her out of the back window of the truck and gave her a big hug and held her for a few moments.

Taking my daughters to a kid's birthday party probably won't seem so commonplace the next time.