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One woman's quest to heal the Newton fire department's many woes

Posted November 25, 2008 09:29 PM


After September 11th Jessica Locke was so mad she wanted to kill a terrorist. Instead she traveled to New York to heal fire fighters.

This is fortunate, for Locke—now the founder of the Newton-based Jessica Locke Fire Fighter’s Fund— was a lot more qualified in healing than killing. Locke is trained in the Alexander Technique, a method of body and movement reeducation that brings you in accordance with what she calls “your primary movement.” It’s a holistic method that combines aspects of massage, psychology, and physical therapy to alleviate all kinds of pain. In some ways it’s very intuitive—like how the way you walk affects how your back feels—and in other ways it seems nonsensical—like how having had braces on your teeth could affect how your back feels.

“The first time I experience the technique it was like having my spine unwound and uncoiled,” Locke said. “You spend your entire life building up small pains and aches in your body, and you can’t imagine living without them. Then someone can make it all go away with just a touch. It was like how Jesus could put his hands on people and heal them.”

When Locke realized that she could do more good by applying this technique to the weary and worn fire fighters of New York than by seeking vigilante justice, she knocked on the door of Engine 32.

“I was very nervous when I got to the station,” Locke said. “But when the first fire fighter let me in, I knew I had to prove myself. I put my hands on him, and I felt his energy and realized he didn’t want the work, but was going to sit there for my sake. I felt so bad because I was not down here to take but to give. So now it was a contest to see whether I could give more to him than he gave to me. I won.”

Locke said that with that first body session, she was able to remove the fire fighter’s shoulder pain, something he said no physical therapy had ever been able to accomplish.

“In that moment I finally felt like I had gotten back at Bin Laden,” she said. “And for everything I did for my country’s heroes, they gave it back with respect. It became a symbiotic relationship, and it was the best relationship I had had with any men for as long as I can remember.”

This experience put Locke on a completely different life path. Until this point Locke had been a struggling composer with a masters from the New England Conservatory of music and a desire to be the next John Williams. Now, she dedicates her life to serving the fire fighters who serve the public.

New York may have been the catalyst for her involvement, but it is the Newton fire fighters that Locke spends most of her time with now. After seeing an article in the Newton Tab a few years back about conditions in the local fire stations, Locke realized that work needed to be done closer to her home in Watertown.

“When I learned that the buildings were crumbling, heat was failing, windows didn’t have screens, toilets backed up, sewage leaking from ceiling, there were no smoke or carbon monoxide detectors, and that engines were 23 years old and shouldn’t be on the road, I knew I needed to do something,” she said.

Now, in addition to having her own Alexander Technique practice in West Newton Locke has become a one-woman advocate group for the Newton fire fighters. Whether giving free bodywork to 15 firemen, raising awareness about working conditions, or standing outside of City Hall at least once a week for a year to protest Mayor Cohen’s assertion that the department used too many sick days, Locke certainly devotes much of her time to the cause.

For this reason, Locke officially founded her own nonprofit—The Fire Fighter’s Fund—and wrote a book about her post-9/11 experiences in 2005. The organization is just Locke and two other volunteers in New York, but members of the fire department say her presence has been invaluable.

The firefighters know her, that's for sure. On Tuesday evening, we visited Firehouse One and talked to a group of firefighters. Their dinner conversations ranged from how hot Punky Brewster had become, the sexual deviancy of female chimps, and how great Cinnamon Toast Crunch was.

But they also talked a little about Locke.

“She’s really lit a bunch of fires under people and helped get us the equipment we needed,” Lt. Mike Murphy said without a sense of irony “There should be a statue outside that says, ‘This is the station that Jessica built.’”

And, for a bunch of hardboiled firefighters these were some true believers in the Alexander Technique. Chris Lessard is such a fan of the technique that he has even brought in his wife and young child to have it done.

“All the other treatments I had were like getting a Band Aid for a bullet wound,” Lessard said between bites of ziti and meatballs. “But [Locke] understood what was going on better than anyone else and has really helped with the pain. She’d touch my shoulder and say, ‘you feel that in your toe?’ At first I’d have no idea what she was talking about, and then… I felt a tingling in my toe.”

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