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Part 14 - The Conclusion
The next morning John Gage began his career as a Los Angeles County Fireman. He walked into the Station, finding his new Captain. “Fireman John Gage reporting for duty sir,” he said snapping to attention.
The Captain grinned and held out his hand, “I’m Captain Dennis Webster son... Cap will do.”
“Let me introduce you to your new Crew mates,” he said leading John out to the engine bay. He pointed to the other four men already standing loosely at attention.
“Engineer specialist William Terry... “John nodded in his direction.
“Lineman Jim Wright…”
“Jim,” John acknowledged.
“And our two Rescue men…Jerry Randall and Paul McFarland.” John’s interest was piqued immediately even as he greeted the two men.
“Rescue Men…?” He questioned.
“They’re called out when there’s someone trapped or injured as well as during a Fire.”
“This is Lineman John Gage. This is his first assignment…. Jim, stay with him. Keep him outta trouble okay?”
“You got it Cap… C’mon boot,” Jim said pointing to the spot next to him with a grin.
The others exchanged a grin...A new boot was always fair game for some laughs around the station.
John was slightly indignant but he threw him a shy, crooked smile and moved over next to the older man as Cap began roll call. As the Rookie, John was assigned latrine duty for the first time in his career… It unfortunately wouldn’t be his last.
He found himself harassed and teased unmercifully throughout the course of the morning. Though he tended to have a short fuse, he’d already been warned that this was standard procedure for the ‘new guy’ until he proved himself and did his best to take it all without exploding. The Station control unit began to sound just before lunch time.
Station 8 Structure Fire...” 2718 Highcross… 2-7-1-8 Highcross, cross street 27th… Time out 11:42”.
Cap responded, “Station 8, KMG-358.”
“C’mon Kid...” Jim hollered, running for the engine. John followed shrugging into his turnout. His adrenaline began to rush as he ran for the engine for the first time as an actual Fireman.
They arrived on the scene and Bill stopped long enough for Jerry to jump from the squad and grab a line to hook up to the hydrant before moving on. They pulled up in front of a two story home. The fire had already spread upward to the second floor and John could only pray that the family who lived here had already gotten out.
John stepped down from his seat and ran around to the back as Webster began yelling directions. Jim met him at the hose bay and hesitated, waiting to see if the kid followed his Captains directive.
John stepped up onto the bumper and grabbed the inch and a half as he’d been instructed. Once assured that the boot had it right, Jim grabbed hold and began to help him haul the heavy hoses from the back.
“Stay with him Jim…Keep an eye on him,” Cap yelled as the two began to run toward the house. The lineman nodded and they continued on.
Jim let the teenager take the lead. “You ready for this probie?” He questioned as John took a firm grip on the nozzle and braced his feet, knowing what was coming.
John nodded, he’d been ready for this since he was six but he didn’t say that. His heart was pounding with excitement and he barely noticed Jim’s left hand coming to rest on his shoulder and took a firm grip on the line with his right.
Jim gave Terry a nod. “Charge the line!” He yelled.
Bill turned on the pumps and began adjusting the water flow.
John grinned and gave the nozzle a twist to bring it to full spray as the pair moved slowly into the house.
Another crew finally arrived and soon John saw a second stream of water added to their own. John and Jim worked their way up the stairs while the crew from station 36 continued on into the home. Jim watched John carefully as the boy led the way.
John appeared confidant and well trained and Jim was impressed with the easy way he handled the hose and the situation he found himself in. He was extremely focused and there was no hesitation as he led the way up the stairs.
They approached a closed door…Smoke curled from beneath it. John looked over his shoulder at his senior partner and pointed at it questioningly and Jim nodded his agreement. They approached the door and Jim smiled his approval as John reached out to rest his hand on the wooden portal to check for heat.
He finally seemed satisfied that there was no fire in the room. He reached out to turn the knob but stopped as the smoke suddenly sucked back under the door. He’d never seen this in training but he’d read about it…”Back draft,” he yelled as he spun about and pushed Jim backward, praying he was right and wasn’t about to make his first embarrassing mistake.
Both of them hit the floor hard and rolled clear just as the door blew outward. The two lay panting for a moment before John lifted his head and looked over at his new partner. Jim smiled at him from behind the air mask. “Good call Probie,’ he yelled gratefully. John grinned back as the both staggered to their feet and grabbed the hose up once again. “Good thing you noticed that in time kid, or you’d have had a really short career,” Jim shouted.
John almost laughed as they pressed forward into the flame filled room.
Forty five minutes later the fire was out and John and Jim were rerolling and packing the lines into the hose bay. Captain Webster and the Engineer came around back to check on the pair.
Webster raised a brow as his eyes swept over the two. “Wright….What the hell happened in there?” He questioned.
“Back draft Cap…Blew the room.”
Webster glanced at John, both men appeared to be uninjured but you never knew. “Anyone hurt?”
Both men shook their heads. “Knocked us both on our asses Cap, but no serious damage thanks to Gage here,” he said patting John’s shoulder and giving him a small wink.
John smiled back even as he stepped away from the man’s touch, reaching down to grasp another armload of hose to cover the action. He grimaced and mentally kicked himself for reacting to the friendly gesture but he hadn’t been expecting it.
“What do you mean?” Bill Terry asked, his blue eyes swiveling toward the very young lineman.
“Gage here was in the lead…He saw the smoke before I did and shoved me back before it flashed,” Jim admitted with a grin.
“Did he now?” Cap said with a pleased grin. “Good job there Gage,” he complimented the teenage recruit. Jim threw him another small wink.
“Thank you sir,” John said, ducking his head a bit in embarrassment at the attention he was receiving.
“So what’s your opinion about our new boot here?” He asked Wright with a grin.
“He did pretty well Cap…Even remembered to feel the door, though it didn’t matter much,” he added drily. Webster’s brow arched in amusement. It was pretty obvious Jim liked the kid. “I think he’ll do well…He’s a keeper Cap.” John threw him a grateful smile but it faded a bit as the older man continued. “At least for now,” he finished.
John bit his lower lip and the three men laughed at the worried look that knotted the boy’s dark brows over his nose. He blew out a breath of relief and grinned as he finally realized they were teasing him.
“So if we’re keeping this stray cap….We can’t keep calling him Gage, so what do we call our boot here?” Bill asked.
They looked to John, whose face was turning a bit red under their scrutiny. “They used to call me Johnny sometimes,” he admitted hesitantly.
“Well that fits ya alright,” Jim teased, “You are still a kid after all,” he finished, gaining a laugh from the others and a scowl from the boy. “Johnny it is,” he said, slapping the boy off the back. John smiled and stepped up on the bumper to climb into the hose bay, before reaching down to take the next coil from Jim and walk it back, folding it neatly into the well.
They returned to the station just before lunch. The guys elbowed each other as they looked toward John. They always enjoyed harassing a probie with every unwanted chore…It was a tradition, especially if they liked someone and wanted to keep them around. Sure it was extra work but it was also a training exercise to some degree. The kid would learn teamwork and what it took to be one of them.
They had already decided they liked this kid and he was gonna be a good fire fighter from what they’d seen so far and from what Jim had told them.
“So what do you say Gage? You know how to cook?” Paul Randall asked their teenage lineman.
Johns eyes widened in surprise. He knew the guys had done their own cooking at the station in San Gabriel and he remembered the crew in Montana had fed him often there, but even at the worst times with his Aunts and Uncles, they’d never made him cook anything except a few fish over an open campfire.
He’d been on his own for a few months now and had been living mostly on cold sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers and takeout food.
“Uh…I um…I’ve never really…Um tried too much,” he stuttered nervously.
“Well come on over here Probie,” Bill Terry invited. “It’s time you learned.”
“Watch him Bill, I don’t wanna be poisoned,” Jerry teased.
John’s face flushed in embarrassment at their humor at his expense. He hated being the center of everyone’s attention. He’d always been on the fringes of everyone else’s life…Like a spectator watching a game and the only time he had become the center had been when he was in trouble…Well at least until Aunt Rose had taken him in, but even then, he always tried to be invisible and unnoticed…It was safer that way, nevertheless, he decided to just take whatever they dished out and stay quiet. He moved over to the stove.
Bill was pulling out pots and pans from beneath the cabinet. “Today Johnny, we are going to make beef stew…You ready?”
“Yes sir,” John replied hesitantly.
“Cap is sir…I’m Bill,” he replied, throwing John a wink.
“Yes si…Uh Bill,” Johnny corrected.
The man went to the refrigerator and returned with a package of stew beef, carrots and potatoes. He dumped it all on the counter. “You taking notes?” He questioned with a chuckle.
John gave him an uncertain look and the older man laughed. “Just kidding Probie,” he teased as he picked up a strange looking instrument. “Here ya go boot…Your first shift of KP,” he kidded as he handed the boy several potatoes and the bag of carrots.
John took the tool and turned it over in his hands curiously, his brows knotting over his nose in confusion. What the heck was this thing?
“Whatsa matter probie? Ain’t ya ever seen a potato peeler before?” Paul teased from the table.
John flushed again and shook his head. Bill grinned and took it from his hand as he tossed a glance over his shoulder at his crewmates. “This could take him longer to learn than teaching him to be a fireman,” he quipped.
John bit his lip as the others laughed, unsure if they were kidding or making fun of him but he was determined not to let them get to him. “I um…I’m sorry,” he mumbled.
The others didn’t pick up on it but the smile fell away from Jim’s lips at the look on the boys face and the quiet tone.
“Don’t let em bother ya kid…They’re all just jealous cause your better looking than they are,” he added with a chuckle.
“And faster on the hydrants,” Cap added, having been one of several Captains who’d made the trip over to the academy to watch the new recruits and one of the three that had seen John perform and had specifically requested to have the young man sent to his station. He’d been very pleased to have won the draw.
“Hey now Cap…That’s Jerry’s record,” Paul defended his partner.
“Yeah…Well I’ve seen Johnny and I think we’re gonna see a new record,” he challenged.
They all looked to John. The young man’s dark eyes shifted from one to other uncertainly. Jim rose from table to walk to the refrigerator. “Well none of us is gonna get to find out if we don’t teach the kid to use that tool in his hand there and get some chow,” he added grabbing a coke from the door.
Jerry poured himself a glass of Iced Tea and grinned. “Whatsa matter boot…Your mama never teach you to cook?” He quipped before taking a sip.
John glanced away, the pain and sadness in his eyes was unmistakable. Jim caught it before the boy could get it under control and push the sorrow down deep. He frowned as John answered “Um no…No she didn’t,” he mumbled with a shrug.
“Hey guys…I’m hungry and I’m never gonna get fed if we keep distracting him. Why don’t we all lay off and let Bill teach him huh?” He suggested.
The others looked toward him in surprise. Jim was always a great one for jumping into their initiation of a new boot. He gave them a subtle shake of his head. They took the hint…Something was wrong and even though they didn’t know what, they backed off.
“Uh sure Jim…Good idea,” Bill agreed. “C’mon probie…Let’s get going.” He showed John how to use the peeler to scrape the skin off. It took a couple of tries before John got the hang of it but soon he had the vegetables scraped clean and chopped into bite sized pieces which Bill dumped into the large pot he’d set on the back burner while he browned the meat.
The others watched for a bit and then Jerry turned to Jim. “Something wrong?” He whispered, not wanting John to hear.
Cap and Paul leaned in to hear the quiet reply. “I dunno…Nothing specific…Just a funny feeling. Like maybe his mom ain’t around anymore ya know…It was just a look in his eyes when you asked that.”
Jerry looked contrite. “Damn,” he muttered. He hadn’t meant to upset the kid. It was only supposed to be good natured teasing. “I’ll uh…Be more careful,” he added.
The others nodded their agreement.
John and Bill finished up with their preparations and set the pot to simmering over the burner before they turned and joined the others.
Bill pulled a bottle of soda from refrigerator and both of them sat down at the table. Jim sipped a cup of coffee and Paul had Iced Tea. John’s eyes took on the several selections of beverages on the table and Jim pushed the glass toward him.
“Help yourself Johnny,” he invited the younger man, using his nickname for the first time.
“Johnny?” Jerry questioned.
“That’s what he likes to be called,” Jim explained as John picked up the milk bottle and poured himself a glass.
Jerry snickered at the selection. “You can have anything ya want Probie,” he added with a laugh.
John frowned…What was wrong with what he had?
Paul smacked his partners arm. “Leave him alone Jerry, he’s a growing boy,” he replied.
John flushed with embarrassment as he realized they were teasing him again.
Jim watched him worry his lower lip with his teeth. The kid seemed real slow on the social side…Jim had no idea of John’s inability to read other people’s moods the way most people did and that it would take more time for the kid to get to know them than it would for most other people. He idly wondered where and how the boy had been raised. Maybe some sheltered farm or something. He shrugged off his own curious thought. The kids past was none of his business.
“So how was that run this morning?” Paul asked Jim with a nod toward John.
“He did alright,” he replied. John smiled but it slipped away as Jim continued. “For a boot anyway,” he added, throwing a glance toward the young linesman.
John frowned at that, trying once again to decide if the older man was serious or only teasing with him.
“Just okay?” Bill questioned with a grin. “He saved your bacon on the first day and he’s just okay?”
“Just lucky,” Paul quipped.
Jim gave John a grin and a wink. “Seriously guys…He did great. He led the way in, checked the doors and recognized the signs of a flashover before I even saw the smoke and pushed me away from the door.”
The others gave the kid a surprised look. “We appreciate that Johnny,” Jerry said sincerely. “We’re uh…Kinda used to having this clown around.”
“Not to mention that funerals are a drag,” Paul added.
The others laughed. None of the liked to dwell on the all too real possibility and it seemed easier to jest about it than face the reality of the dangers of their job.
Jim grinned. “Well thanks guys, I appreciate that,” he kidded, reaching over to slap John off the back. The boy stiffened at his touch and Jim thought it was indignation at their joking. “I think we’ll hang on to him for a while.”
John finally grinned. “Thanks,” he replied shyly.
The others laughed and finally turned the conversation to something that didn’t concern him. John blew out a breath of relief.
Over the next few shifts, John and Jim began to form a solid working relationship on the lines. Jim allowed the teenager to take the lead in most situations, guiding him and pointing out conditions and warning signs that every young fireman needed to be watching for.
John proved his captain right during drills by beating Paul’s time on the hydrant drill, Bill’s on equipment drills and all of them on the rope drills. They began to gain a strong respect for their quiet teenage boot.
Over the weeks, John often watched Jerry and Paul as they handled car wrecks and ran into burning buildings, often ahead of him and Jim, to rescue the victim’s trapped inside.
He listened intently whenever they spoke about rescues. Jim noted the excitement that lit the kid’s eyes when they talked. He had no idea about John’s past, since the kid went mute whenever the subject of family came up and so they didn’t know that the boy’s father had been killed in a fire because they hadn’t been able to get to him in time. He had no idea of the determination in the stubborn young fire fighter to see that he never had to deliver that kind of news to anyone else if he could stop it.
The tones called them out early in the morning on their next shift. The Engine and rescue squad arrived twenty minutes later to find a three story apartment building blazing merrily in the predawn light. Two other stations arrived just seconds behind.
Roy DeSoto pulled the squad up behind station 41’s engine. He and Will climbed out and began shrugging into their SCBA’s.
John and Jim were already pulling hoses from the back of their engine. Jerry and Paul were already running for the building and Johnny gave them a wistful look, wishing he could follow and help with rescuing the victims trapped inside, but he had his own job to do.
He and Jim hauled the lines in behind them and began to tackle the flames as the two rescue crews headed up the stairs. It didn’t take the two teams long to realize that they were gonna need more help. The fire was spreading too fast and there were too many apartments with potential victims still trapped on the upper floors.
Roy raised the Handy Talkie to his mouth. “Engine 41, HT 41…We have almost a dozen apartments on the second floor alone and probably the same on the third…We’re gonna need more help up here.”
“10-4 HT 41,” Roy's Captain, Don Randall replied. Roy heard his call to dispatch and the tones sounded a moment later.
“Station 36, Battalion 10, Squad 45, respond to Station 41’s incident. 1186 Palm Street. 1-1-8-6 Palm Way…Cross Street Sycamore…time out…5:32.”
He heard the acknowledging reply and his heart sank a bit. “Station 8, Station 41…Be advised…Nearest ETA is fifteen minutes.”
Roy lifted the HT to his mouth. “Cap…We don’t have fifteen minutes,” he barked in frustration.
Captain Webster knew he was right as his blue eyes swept the spreading flames along the upper story. He looked to Randall, “I’ll pull Gage and Wright off the lines and send them up to help.”
Randall nodded.”Hang on DeSoto…We got some help on the way. Station 8 is sending their linesmen up to help. Just tell them where you need them.”
“10-4, we’ll take any help we can get,” Roy assured him.
Webster raised the HT to his lips. “Engine 8 to HT 8,” he yelled.
Jim’s voice came back muffled and barley understandable through the mask. “HT 8…Go ahead engine 8.”
“Drop those lines and assist rescue 41 in evacuating the second floor. Station 36 will take over your position as soon as they arrive.”
“10-4 Cap,” he called before sliding the instrument back into the pocket of his turnout coat. He slapped Johnny on the shoulder. The teenager turned to look at him questioningly.
“Drop the hose Probie, They need our help up there,” he yelled pointing up the stairs. John didn’t hesitate, he shut down the line and followed his partner up the steps.
Roy’s partner Will was waiting for them on the landing. “Take that corridor,” he yelled, pointing to the left. “We got this one,” he added, nodding off toward the right where John could barely make out the figure of another fireman banging on a door through the heavy gray haze.
The two headed up the hallway. The two men began to pound on doors as the smoke grew thicker and filled the passageway. Tongues of fire licked up the walls, spreading across ceilings and eating its way along the carpets. John pointed at the narrow flames. “Angel’s fingers,” Jim shouted in response.
John nodded, He’d heard the expression before but hadn’t ever seen them until now. He knew they could be a sign of an imminent flashover but he continued on up the corridor.
Both men were crouched low as they moved, staying below the worst of the smoke. Most of the apartments appeared to be empty, the doors gaping open as their occupants had fled their homes in a panic. Though they had seen several people being directed down the stairs behind them from Station 41’s rescue team and so they kept going just in case.
A loud crash reverberated from behind the door a short distance further up the hall. Both men heard a muffled cry for help. “Let’s go Gage,” Jim shouted, as he ran for the door. John heard an explosion from behind them and glanced back where they had been earlier, realizing the expected flashover had occurred. It was getting more and more dangerous to be inside this building but he didn’t care...There was someone who needed them behind this door.
He turned his attention back to Jim and the situation at hand. Jim tried the door but it was locked. He pounded on the heavy wood. “Hello…Anyone in there?” He yelled. Here was no response.
John decided it was a little too dangerous to hang out here too long…He gave Jim a light shove out of the way. He took a small step back and gave the door a powerful kick. It crashed open and the two men moved cautiously inside.
Flames licked along the walls and ceiling beams and it was obvious that the floor above them had collapsed into the room below.
“HELLO?” John called.
“Help,” came the muffled reply.
Jim pointed at the heap of debris in the middle of the floor. “Dear God…Someone’s under all of that,” he muttered, barely audible over the crackle of the flames.
Another man ran into the room behind them. Johnny barely acknowledged his presence…His dark eyes fixed on the pile of wreckage and the trapped soul buried beneath it, possibly injured, maybe dying.
Jim lifted the HT. “Engine 8…I have at someone trapped under a ceiling collapse. We’re gonna need some help up here fast.”
“I’ll get someone up there with the K12 and the porta power.”
The three men were silently assessing the situation. Tongues of fire were spreading rapidly and began chewing its way across the carpeted floor. They all knew this room would soon be inaccessible.
“We need a line up here,” Jim yelled.
“It’ll be a couple of minutes,” Cap replied. “There’s been a collapse on the stairs.”
“We don’t HAVE a few minutes,” Jim yelled back.
Wright’s attention had been focused on the fire and his conversation with his Captain and he never noticed his teenage boot moving until it was too late. The other fire fighter was close behind.
Johnny realized at the same moment the others did that help would arrive too late. His chocolate brown eyes were searching the debris for a solution…He saw it.
Jim watched in stunned horror as Johnny shrugged out of his SCBA and tossed his helmet aside before he dropped to his knees and began to squirm his slender body inside the pile of debris.
“GAAAGE,” Jim bellowed, but it was too late.
John looked at the narrow opening and realized immediately that neither of the other two men would fit. He’d also heard the radio and he knew if they didn’t move fast, whoever was trapped inside wouldn’t make it out.
It would be tight but he thought he could make it as long as it didn’t narrow too much. He never hesitated…He simply couldn’t leave this person to die without trying his best to save him. Johnny was already moving before he finished the thought.
He yanked the straps of his air tank loose and shrugged out of it tossing it aside. The heat in the room was oppressive and he had to move fast. He took the five steps to bring him to the ragged heap of wreckage. He felt rather than saw the other fireman follow him. He tossed his helmet aside as he dropped to his knees and began to wiggle his way inside.
He heard Jim yell his name but he didn’t stop.
Roy DeSoto ran into the room…Flames and choking smoke already filled the kitchen area and were steadily encroaching on the living room. His blue eyes widened at the tangle of smoldering materials in the center of the room and the pleading groans that came from within.
He saw one of the linesman from Station 8 raise the Handy Talkie to his lips and begin to ask for help but he’d already seen the stairwell and knew their only way out for the moment was through the window at the end of the hall where the snorkel from 127 and ladders were working to finish the evacuation of the upper floors. Help from the linesmen would arrive too late.
Roy didn’t know either of these men but that wasn’t unusual as he wasn’t known within the department for being overly friendly and getting involved with those he worked with. Preferring to go home to spend his time with his wife and son at the end of a shift, rather than hang out with the crew.
The other man from 8’s threw one glance toward his partner and then ran toward the pile of burning beams and crushed ceiling tiles. He barely hesitated before he shrugged off his air tank and sunk to his knees. He tossed the helmet aside and Roy suddenly realized what he intended to do and ran to try and help.
He heard the older man bellow a single word from behind him. “GAAAGE!” But the guy didn’t slow down. The young fireman was already working his way inside. Roy felt a presence beside him and glanced over at the worried looking lineman. The man was yelling at his partner but to no avail. “Get your ass outta there probie,” he bellowed. When there was no sign of compliance, he shot a look toward Roy. “You wait till I get my hands on that kid…I’m gonna kick his boot ass all the way back to the station,” he snarled.
Despite their current predicament, DeSoto had to chuckle at the irritated comment, correctly surmising that their wayward fire fighter was a probie and he was in a lot of trouble if he survived this stunt, but at the same time, Roy had to admire his courage and determination to save the trapped victim inside and it was sure bet that neither he nor the young man’s partner would have fit inside this narrow opening. He and Jim began to pull away some of the loose materials of the pile and widen the hole.
Wright glared at DeSoto for a long moment before he too began to smile. He was scared that the kid would get killed and he’d be real upset about that. He liked the kid. Not to mention that he’d be in a world of trouble for letting that happen but at the same time he felt a sense of pride for his partner’s heart for this job.
John squeezed his way inside and began carefully shoving insulation and cracked tiles and smoldering wood from his path. He finally spotted his victim. A young teenage boy lay curled around what appeared to be a smaller child, protecting the tot with his own body. A muffled, keening wail came from beneath the boy.
The heat inside was intense and John reached up a gloved hand to wipe the sweat from his eyes. “Hey…Can you…,” he hesitated as a ragged cough slipped from his lips. Smoke burned his eyes and lungs. “Hear me,” he finished with a gasp.
The boys head twisted around to look toward him. The terror and pain in his eyes tore at John’s heart. “Help us please,” he moaned pleadingly. The boys face was filthy and scratched and his voice was raspy from the smoke.
“I will…My names Johnny…I’m a fireman,” he assured the boy. “I’m here to rescue you.” He felt an incredible sense of pride well up with those words.
“I was trying…t…to get my sister out but….the whole ceiling fell…on us,” he groaned plaintively.
“I see that okay….But I want you to try and stay…*cough*…Calm,” John instructed. Sweat was trickling into his eyes and he felt like a pot roast inside this mound…the heat was getting worse and John knew he had to hurry or they’d all be roasted alive in here. Another wracking cough slipped free. “Can you raise yourself enough to…Let me get the girl,” he panted.
“I’ll…try,” the boy whispered raspingly.
John knew the kid was on his last reserves but the boy raised himself up on his fore arms enough to allow the young fire fighter to grab the small girl under her arms and drag her free. She wailed in terror as she was pulled away from her brother but Johnny had no time to console her right now. Try and follow me,” he instructed the boy as he began to quickly back out the way he’d come in.
He emerged into the smoke filled room where Jim and the other fireman waited. Jim breathed a sigh of relief as his young partner re-emerged from the burning heap of roofing materials but it was short lived. John glanced up at the other two men. “Here,” he gasped, shoving the small child toward the fire fighter nearest to him. Roy took the small girl in his arms.
“C’mon John,” Wright said as the rescue man took the child from Gage.
“Wait,” Johnny panted. “Her brothers…*Cough*…Still in there.”
“We’re outta time John,” Jim bellowed back, watching the flames chew their way toward them.
“I can’t leave him in there,” John shouted back. “Don’t wait for me,” he yelled as he dove back inside.
He knew he could be in a lot of trouble for this but he couldn’t leave this kid to die…Not even to save himself.
Roy looked to Jim as he turned to leave with his small victim. “Guy’s got guts,” he complimented with a grin.
“Yeah he does,” Jim replied sincerely. “I’ll let you know when he grows a brain,” he shouted back.
Roy chuckled as he disappeared out the door. Jim continued to watch the encroaching flames and prayed that they’d get a line up here soon or he’d have to abandon his partner. “C’mon kid c’mon,” he mumbled. He breathed a sigh of relief a moment later as he saw his teenage partner’s boots emerge from the stack.
John slid himself back into the chaos of tangled wires and debris. The heat and smoke were intense and John could only hope he’d get the boy out in time as he was having trouble breathing himself. A harsh cough ripped from his lips but he refused to give up.
He reached forward…His hand encountered the unmistakable form of a body. John’s heart thudded in his chest in fear that he was too late until a soft moan whispered from the boy’s lips. The young fire fighter blew out a relieved breath and grasped the teen by the collar and hauled him back toward him. John began to slide his way out of the tangle of wreckage.
It was slow going as he had to stop to look over his shoulder to be sure he didn’t knock anything over and bring the whole mess tumbling down, not to mention the boys dead weight was an added burden to his dwindling reserves.
Sweat stung his eyes and the fine sifting of dirt and dust clogged his nose and throat. The smoke brought a harsh cough from his chest but he couldn’t stop now. He was too close to getting out and they were out of time…Help wouldn’t arrive to save either of them if he failed.
He finally gave one final heave and realized his feet were clear and he was almost there. He felt someone grab him about the waist and give him a hard pull. The pair slid free and John squinted up at his partner. Jim was shaking his head but he didn’t have time to waste on haranguing the kid right now.
He reached down and grabbed the victim as the flames suddenly seemed to find their direction and roared toward them, giving some credence to some fire fighters belief that the fire was a ‘beast’ with a mind of its own to be defeated.
“Let’s go probie,” he bellowed, as he hauled the teenage victim to his feet long enough to get his shoulder under him and lift him in a firemen’s carry.
John staggered to his feet and grabbed his helmet and air tank and followed Jim out, coughing gratingly as he wobbled along behind him.
The linesmen from station 36 had finally cleared the stairway and were moving rapidly toward them. “We got him,” Jim yelled. “Let’s get outta here,”
The two men nodded and one named Bob Belliveau noticed John’s slightly off kilter gait and reached out to grab his arm, steadying the young man as he helped him follow the others down the hall.
Smoke and flames roared out of the doorway behind them.
Roy was kneeling next to his tiny victim. There was total chaos all around as the rescue teams administered oxygen and wrapped burns. Roy was a bit frustrated that that was all they could do…Some of these people were badly hurt and burned and they were helpless to do anything more while they waited for ambulances to pick up the injured and take them to the hospital.
All the teams could do was try and guess which were the most seriously injured and tell the attendants which to take first.
His attention was drawn to the door as the two linesmen who’d been helping exited the building, carrying a teenage boy. One of the rescue team from station 36 ran alongside, helping the older fire fighter who had the victim over his shoulder.
The blue eyes swiveled back to the tall, slender man who followed behind. Bob Belliveau was holding the man’s arm, steadying him as he coughed harshly and Roy could just bet this guy’s chest felt tight and painful from all that smoke.
He’d realized inside that their daring rescue man had been a boot from his partner’s words but this guy looked very young…Not much more than a kid from the look of him, though it was hard to tell from the staining of sweat and grime that coated the man’s face.
Regardless of his age, Roy was very impressed by his courage and determination but he understood his partner’s concern as well. It had been a dangerous thing to do. Roy grinned to himself. He certainly didn’t envy the senior fire fighter…He was going to have his hands full with this kid.
His blue eyes moved over the slightly wobbly young man…He seemed familiar but he couldn’t remember from where he might have seen this kid before, but then it would be hard to recognize his next door neighbor under all that dirt on his face.
Roy’s eyes came back to the older partner as he carried his burden to where the triage area was set up. He and Bob Bellingham wrestled the unconscious teen off his shoulder and laid him on the blankets on the ground.
The linesman turned back to where the younger man was still standing with Bob Belliveau and was obviously arguing some point between coughs. “YOU,” the man finally barked, getting the others attention. “SIT YOUR ASS DOWN NOW AND LET HIM LOOK AT YOU,” he bellowed.
The younger man looked at him in shock but finally sank obediently onto the bumper of the engine and let the rescue man fit an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. He saw the anger in his partners face and it appeared to Roy that the kid almost cringed away as the older man stalked toward him, but then he seemed to recover and took on a resigned look…He knew he was in trouble but was prepared to take whatever was dished out for the brave but reckless act.
Roy heard the attendants as they approached, prepared to take the girl and her brother to the hospital. He put the incident from his mind and climbed aboard the ambulance…He wished the older linesman a silent ‘good luck,’ as he waited for them to load the last victim.
Fate has a sense of humor.
“What the Hell were you thinkin?” Jim barked at the teenage recruit as he stood coughing near the back bumper of the Engine. The watery dark eyes lifted to meet angry gray.
“I couldn’t…*cough*…Just leave him in there,” he mumbled with a mulish tilt to his chin, even though the dark eyes shifted away nervously.
“You could have been killed climbing in there like that,” he snapped.
John shrugged, unconcerned for his own safety. “Someone had…*Cough*…to, and you wouldn’t have fit,” he argued stubbornly.
Bob Belliveau returned with the oxygen but John waved him off, rousing his partner’s ire once again.
“YOU…,” He barked, pointing at the boy. “SIT YOUR ASS DOWN NOW AND LET HIM LOOK AT YOU.”
John chewed his lip nervously at his mentor’s anger but sank obediently onto the bumper. Bob grinned and promptly plopped the offending mask over the teenager’s nose and mouth.
“Here kid…Breathe some of this,” he instructed. “Good save by the way,” he added, throwing the young man a wink and patting his shoulder.
“Thanks,” John rasped.
Jim threw his hands up in exasperation. “Don’t encourage him,” he snarled at the rescue man.
Bob looked at the older man in surprise. “DeSoto told me what he did in there when he brought the little girl out. Those kids would have died in there if he hadn’t gone in after them,” he added reasonably.
Jim heaved a sigh of frustration. Theoretically he knew Belliveau was right but John was untrained in rescue and he felt that he was too inexperienced to have taken that kind of risk. “He’s a green boot,” he replied angrily. “He didn’t have a clue what he was doing or what he might have been in for in there.”
“I knew there was a risk,” Johnny argued, his words muffled from behind the mask. “I was willing…*cough*… to take it.”
“Besides…He’d have to learn sometime,” Bob added with a shrug.
Jim shot a glare at Bob…The rescue man wasn’t helping at all here. “You should have checked with me first PROBIE,” he growled.
“Yes sir,” John whispered dejectedly, knowing the older man was right but he hadn’t thought that far ahead at the moment…He’d just known he had to try something…Anything to save the boy.
Bob put his hand on the kid’s shoulder reassuringly. “Well he may have gone about it the wrong way but even if he’d consulted you first…There was really no option but to let him try,” Bob reminded the other man quietly before he turned to John. “You should think about going into rescue kid…Down the road I mean…You’d be good at it.”
John grinned, pleased by the compliment. “Thanks,” he replied
Jim rolled his eyes in irritation. The kid would be impossible now.
Bob chuckled at the look. “Keep that mask on for a bit….They have that mess contained and there just the over haul right now. They can do without you for a while,” he added as he turned and left.
John looked toward Jim before the chocolate colored eyes shifted to glance over his shoulder. His face paled as he spotted his Captain bee lining toward them. Jim saw the look and turned. He winced worriedly at the expression on the man’s face.
“What the Hell happened Wright?” He barked, seeing his new boot sitting on the bumper, wearing an oxygen mask and sounding like he was trying to cough up a lung.
John grimaced and glanced at Jim, sure he was about to get washed out of the department for what he’d done.
“We had two victims trapped Cap…They were buried under a pile of ceiling materials.” He shrugged helplessly. “We couldn’t get a line up there and we had to get them out and the boot here was the only one SCRAWNY enough,” he said, letting John know that he was still annoyed but not willing to get him in trouble. “To squeeze inside,” he finished.
John smiled his gratitude but remained silent.
“That was pretty dangerous Jim…Especially with a new boot,” he rebuked his linesman. “He’s inexperienced and could have brought the whole shebang down on his head and theirs”
John shot a glance between the two men. He didn’t want Jim to get in trouble because of his own impulsive act. “It was my fault…,” he began, ready to accept the responsibility and the penalty but Jim cut him off.
“SHUT UP PROBIE,” he warned. “It was my decision.” John bit his lip and closed his mouth as Jim returned his attention to his Captain. “Yes sir…It was risky but with that fire closing in so fast and no help available, we really had no choice.”
Webster cast the two men a suspicious glance, certain both of them weren’t telling him something, but he trusted his senior linesman enough to let him handle the boy and the situation. If the kid had done something stupid…Webster was sure Jim would be able to address it and correct the situation and if he couldn’t…He’d be sure to come to him and let him know. “Alright Jim,” he agreed quietly. “Just go slow…I want him to live through his training or at least long enough to wash out on his own.”
Johnny stared at his boots as his face turned crimson in embarrassment at the gentle censuring.
“Yes sir…I’ll be more careful about the chances he takes in the future,” he agreed contritely.
“Let me know if you need any help uh…educating him,” Cap added with an arch to his eyebrow.
“Yes sir,” Jim agreed as John’s head snapped up and his dark eyes looked to his Captain. Both men were keenly aware that Webster wasn’t buying any of it and probably suspected the truth but was willing to let Jim handle it.
“Get him checked out at Harbor,” he added as he turned away.
John frowned at that, he hated hospitals and doctors but he knew better than to argue since he’d just slipped the noose. He glanced up at Jim. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled unhappily.
Jim grinned at him now that his initial heart thumping fears had faded. “Don’t be. What I said was true. We really didn’t have a choice and I probably would have had to let you go in anyway.”
“Thanks,” Johnny replied in relief.
Jim frowned…Not wanting the kid to get the wrong idea. “But don’t do it again without my say so…Got it? From now on…My shadow and yours better be one in the same.”
“Yes sir,” Johnny agreed readily, knowing his instructor was letting him off the hook, albeit grudgingly.
“Well come on probie…Quit shining the bumper with your scrawny ass and get over to Paul and Jerry and let them take you to Harbor.”
John looked horrified. “I uh…I don’t need a hospital,” he argued, stifling another cough.
“Yeah? Well Cap says you do…And you don’t get to argue with that.”
Johnny sighed in resignation. “Okay,” he agreed, climbing wearily to his feet and followed Jim to the rescue squad.
Roy was waiting in the back of the ambulance with the small girl while they finally loaded her older brother in beside them. His blue eyes watched the young man as he walked tiredly behind his partner. He didn’t know why but the kid intrigued him.
The weeks seemed to fly by for John. He soaked up everything his crewmates would teach him, especially Paul and Jerry, and quickly earned the respect of the older men.
He became a great asset for the two rescue men as nothing seemed too high, too small, too narrow or too steep for the boy to give it a try if they needed him. He began to gain a reputation within the department as being absolutely fearless when faced with these situations and despite Jim’s concerns for the probie’s safety, he was over ruled regularly by his Captain whenever John’s slender size or agility was needed, besides…the kid really seemed to love it.
Johnny always felt a deep sense of accomplishment whenever he successfully saved someone from a fire or helped Jerry and Paul on a rescue. None of them of course, knew what drove him and Johnny himself didn’t understand the feeling of relief that swept over him whenever he saved a total stranger from death. That another family wouldn’t have to experience what he had…To be told a loved one wouldn’t be coming home…At least not this night.
Over the next several months the older Lineman tried to take the quiet, reserved teenager under his wing and the two established a good team on the lines. John seemed to be a natural when it came to fire fighting…Sensing when things were wrong and hearing the subtle warning sounds that fires make that gave to some firemen’s beliefs that fires seemed to be alive and ‘spoke’ to them. John was one that heard what they had to say.
John remained aloof from the crew when it came to personal conversations but he did begin to relax enough to share a smile at their jokes and to talk about bowling with Drew or his latest date but he clammed up or left the room if they got too personal about family or his past so the crew had learned to simply leave him alone about it.
The teasing pranks still left him uncertain. John had been the recipient of cruel jokes and harassment for most of his life and his upbringing left him taking their words and deeds seriously and very personal. Most of the time they were harmless like swapping his uniforms for Jerry’s, who was much shorter and heavier than their young boot or salt in the sugar bowl, sending Johnny racing for the sink to spit out more than one gulp of coffee…He'd soon learned to drink it black.
John tried to keep it light and not let them see that they’d upset him and eventually the jokes finally stopped as he became more established in his role at the station.
They were getting ready to head for home one morning a few weeks later. “So probie…What are you doing on your days off?” Jim asked as he slammed his locker closed.
John shrugged. "Nothin much," he replied.
“What? No bowling with that cop friend? No hot date?” Jim teased, knowing how the boy seemed to draw the attentions of young women without even trying.
The teenager grinned ruefully and shook his head. “Nope, not this week,” he added.
“Well that’s not like you boot. Red blooded eighteen year old all alone on a weekend.”
“Nineteen,” John corrected absently.
Jim turned to look at him in surprise. “When did that happen?” He asked with a frown.
John pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Um…a couple of days ago,” he replied with a shrug.
“Why didn’t you say something kid?” He asked in confusion. Most people tended to broadcast an upcoming birthday, at least when they were young. He shouldn’t really have been surprised though, the kid was positively secretive sometimes and Jim didn’t normally press. The boy’s personal life was none of his business after all but still…A birthday should be remembered.
John shrugged. “I don’t celebrate it,” he mumbled, glancing away uncomfortably.
Jim frowned again. “Well…Why the hell not?” He asked curiously. “Everyone celebrates their birthday.”
John closed his locker and turned away. He supposed he’d have to give him some kind of answer but he was afraid if Jim found out about his heritage, he might not like him…Worse he might not want to work with him. John had learned about bigotry the hard way. He sighed in resignation. He was bound to find out sometime, might as well get it over with.
“I’m half Indian,” he mumbled over his shoulder. "They don’t celebrate birthdays,” he finished, giving him the easiest excuse and not the truth that he had no name and was a half breed and so his birthday wasn’t worth celebrating as far as his family was concerned. His birth was an embarrassment, not a joyful occasion.
“Oh?” The older man replied, looking thoughtful. John thought for a moment that the older man would walk away but he didn’t. “But ain’t ya half white too?” He asked, giving Johnny a poke in the back. John nodded warily, waiting for the jokes or slurs to start. “So I’ll buy that half a beer for his birthday,” he replied, slapping the boy off the back. As usual, the kid stepped away from the contact…Jim often wondered about that but he figured the kid had his reasons and it never stopped him from doing his job.
“I uh…I don’t drink beer,” John stuttered.
“Well you have to try one sometime or they’ll all think you’re a light weight…C’mon kid…I’ll pick you up after lunch.”
John hated the smell of alcohol. Both of his Uncles drank beer but their beverage of choice had usually been whiskey and John had been the recipient of their drunken rages too many times and he associated the smell of the drink on their breath with pain and hurt. He looked at Jim…Uncertain how to get out of this without offending his partner or having Jim think he was a child. He blew out a breath. “Okay I guess,” he finally replied. It wouldn’t kill him to have one beer if it made Jim happy, as long as it wasn’t the other stuff.
Jim grinned. “Great…C’mon kid.”
John threw him a small smile. “Okay,” he replied as he followed him out.
John met Jim in the parking lot of his apartment complex a couple of hours later, not wanting the older man to have to come up to get him. Johnny seldom invited anyone into his apartment…This was his place…His refuge from the prying questions and odd looks he received whenever he felt stressed and the stutter would resurface, a place where he was in control and he didn’t like others invading his privacy. The only guests were the occasional over night female companion or his aunt. His other place was the one in the mountains that he disappeared to when he felt trapped and needed to think and regroup. He never took anyone there…It was a special place to just relax and be himself.
Jim took him to a local bar and ushered him inside. John stepped inside the dimly lit room and his nose crinkled at the overpowering smell of alcohol in the place. He almost turned and fled but Jim’s hand on his shoulder stopped him. He stepped away from the contact but at least refrained from bolting out the door. He swallowed back the bile that rose in his throat…His dark eyes sweeping over the few patrons sitting on stools sipping drinks.
They were giving him the once over as well before moving to Jim. Some of them recognized the older man and they tossed him a wave before turning back to their own drinks.
Jim directed John to a table and the waitress hurried over. “What can I get for you Jim?” She questioned, her hazel eyes sweeping over the handsome teen sitting across from him.
“It’s John’s birthday Anna,” he said with a grin. “What’ll it be Johnny?” He asked.
John shrugged. “I uh…I don’t know.”
The pretty waitress smiled at the young man. “How old are you?” She asked with a flirtatious batting of the eyes.
Jim chuckled. “Old enough if you take my meaning,” he warned the girl, not wanting to admit that John was underage and shouldn't be drinking. He was old enough to put his life on the line then he was old enough for a beer as far as Jim was concerned.
“Well good…Maybe we can celebrate your birthday together later,” she suggested.
Jim laughed as John’s face flushed with color but he smiled back. “I’d like that a lot,” he agreed.
She pulled a pad of paper from her pocket along with a pen. “Here’s my number…Call me okay?”
John nodded and took it, slipping it in his pocket.
Jim shook his head. “Two beers Anna,” he said. The girl nodded and slipped away. He looked at John. “Paul is gonna kill you kid,” he warned.
John froze for a moment before he realized that Jim meant that figuratively. “Uh…why?” He questioned worriedly.
“He’s been bugging this girl for months to go out with him and she hands you her number on the first meeting.”
John grinned… “My Aunt said I have the Gage charm,” he explained.
“Well kid…She just may be right.”
She returned a moment later and set two glasses of a golden frothy liquid in front of the two men. She leaned down close to John’s ear. “Happy birthday handsome,” she whispered, her breath ticking his ear.
The young man’s lips turned up in a crooked quirk and the woman sighed. “I’ll call you later,” he promised.
Jim picked up his glass and took a sip to hide his grin. John picked his up and sniffed the contents cautiously. To him, the odor was reminiscent of skunk piss…He could only hope it tasted better than it smelled. He took a sip and grimaced at the bitter flavor.
“It’s an acquired taste,” Jim told him with a grin.
“How do you drink enough of it to acquire it?” He asked plaintively drawing a guffaw of laughter and a hearty slap on the back from his partner.
“The second sip is better.”
John shrugged in disbelief and took another sip. Jim was right to some degree… It wasn’t as big of a surprise now that he knew what to expect but it still tasted bitter to him. He preferred milk but he guessed he couldn’t drink that forever…Especially around this group of men. At least it didn’t reek like whiskey. He took another sip…Well…He supposed he could get used to it…Eventually, but he’d really rather just go home and maybe give Anna a call for later.
“Happy Birthday probie,” Jim said, raising his glass with a grin.
John smiled back. “Thanks Jim.”
The months passed and over that time, John became adept at fire fighting but even more so about rescue. He was always the first to volunteer to assist the rescue teams and Paul and Jerry were soon asking for him whenever a tight situation was involved.
John had finally slipped the ‘probie’ and ‘boot’ designation and was finally recognized by his crew as a fully fledged fire fighter. He wasn’t sorry to see it go though his partner still called him kid…He shrugged it off…He and Jim were sipping coffee in the day room. He’d been thinking of this for some time now and he’d finally screwed up the nerve to ask.
“Hey Jim…?” Johnny began.
“What does it involve to become a rescue man?”
“About six Weeks additional training,” he replied.
“Training for what?”
“Extra work in rappelling, mountain climbing, basic first aid…stuff like that. Why… you thinkin about changing fields?”
“Well…yeah kinda,” he hedged.
“Well I’d miss ya kid, but you need to follow whatever direction you're called to. We know you’ve got the talent for rescue work, so go for it.”
“Thanks...what do I need to do to start?”
“Start by talkin to Captain Webster.”
The SCU Tones sounded... “Station 8…explosion and fire in a factory... 2318 E. Billingsley... 2-3-1-8 East Billingsley cross street Mel… time out 16:27.
“Station 8, KMG-358,” Cap replied handing Jerry and Paul the slip of paper, then ran for the Engine. Jim, John and Bill were already in their seats.
They arrived at the scene ten minutes later...the Factory was fully engulfed. Cap was bellowing orders as John and Jim began pulling hoses from the bay.
They worked together, John in front and the older man as backup. Jim braced against the younger man’s shoulder as they made their way into the smoke filled hallways.
They’d worked their way about fifty feet inside when another explosion rocked the building. Johnny and Jim were blown backwards off their feet. John’s helmet flew off landing a few feet away and the teenagers head struck the floor hard. A dazed John vaguely heard the ominous creaking of the ceiling as it buckled under the heat. His vision blurred.
He looked up only to find his vision blocked by Jim as he threw himself across the nineteen year old. John grunted as the wind was knocked out of him by Jim’s weight. He heard the sound of crashing ceiling beams. He felt a crushing weight… Johnny couldn’t catch his breath and blackness fell around him as his consciousness faded.
When John finally opened his eyes, he was laying next to the rescue squad coughing. An oxygen mask was pressed firmly over his face. His chest hurt and his body felt bruised from one end to the other.
He raised his hands in a panic batting the mask away as awareness finally came... He struggled to sit up, fighting against the hands that tried to restrain him. “J…Jim…” He stammered out, “Where’s Jim?”
Captain Webster leaned down, laying his hand against the young man’s chest and pressing him back, “John, let’s just worry about you right now okay?” He said gently.
Dark eyes rose to meet his Captain’s… He saw the sorrow in Webster’s face. John’s mouth trembled, his eyes filled with tears but he blinked them away. “No…,” He gasped before his vision faded once again and the young man passed out.
When he woke again he was at Rampart Emergency. He felt a cool wet towel being drawn over his face and neck. A pretty blonde nurse was leaning over him. She was probably in her early forties and she moved about him with no wasted effort. An oxygen mask still covered the lower half of his face.
She noticed that the young man’s eyes were cracked open… “Hi there handsome,” She said softly as she continued to gently bath John’s face…“the Doctor will be here in just a minute okay?”
“I don’t need a Doctor,” he rasped. John hated Doctor’s and he despised needles or anything else that reminded him of hospitals. He’d had enough of them over the last four years. They scared him, though he’d never admit it. He tried to sit up pushing the mask off his face.
The door opened to admit a gray haired older Doctor. He hurried to the younger man’s side, grasping his shoulders and pressing him down. “You need to lay back and rest... Dix, what’s his name?”
She picked up the chart... “John Gage, he’s a Fireman... He’s nineteen... Possible concussion…Smoke inhalation… Some bruising…ceiling fell on him.”
“Who’s Jim?” Dix shook her head…another Fireman...he didn’t make it,” she said quietly.
Joe Early nodded, “John, I want you to listen to me…you’ve got a pretty nasty bump on the head, smoke inhalation and some pretty severe bruising. Now I’m going to admit you for observation for tonight… You need to rest.”
“J...Jim,” he gasped again.
“John…I’m not going to lie to you okay…Your friend didn’t make it.”
“H…he s...saved my l…life,” He stammered in anguish.
“Alright then, he obviously felt you were worth saving…so let’s not throw away the sacrifice, okay?”
John blew out a hitched breath as he struggled not to scream out his rage. It had happened again… He’d let someone into his life and now he was gone. He silently swore to himself he’d never make that mistake again... It hurt too much.
He felt the sharp sting of a needle in the crook of his elbow, “No…” He murmured as he felt himself begin to drift away. “Oh God…his wife…” He whispered as his eyes closed.
He was released from the Hospital the next day. A dark haired, no nonsense Doctor and the pretty blonde nurse had come in first thing that morning. She was as compassionate as he was hardnosed.
“Good Morning John,” She said gently, her heart going out to the young distraught man in the bed.
He turned his face so she wouldn’t see the distress in his eyes… “Mornin Ma’am,” He mumbled.
“John this is Dr. Brackett,” She told him. “He just wants to check you out real quick before he lets you go home okay?”
He gave a quick glance at the Doctor… “Guess so, if it’ll get me outta here.”
She smiled at the tough bravado this kid was displaying but she saw right through him. She resisted the urge to brush the hair from this boy’s face… She was afraid if she did he’d crumble and destroy the illusion that he was in control.
Dr. Brackett gave him a quick examination. “You don’t appear to have any lasting effects from yesterday young man... I don’t see any reason to keep you here. I’m not releasing you for duty however for another couple of days. You come back then and see either me or Dr. Early and we’ll talk about it then alright?”
“Yes sir,” John said quietly.
The Doctor nodded curtly, he turned to leave... “Dix, you wanna get a nurse to get the hose jockeys’ release papers?” He said as he left the room.
“Sure Kel,” She agreed.Dixie opened the small closet door and pulled out his uniform. It reeked of smoke, but it was all he had to wear. “Is there someone I can call for you? Someone who can pick you up…?”
His first thought was Jim…he lowered his eyes in despair, “No ma’am…there’s no one...,” He murmured softly.
Don’t get involved her mind said but her heart was aching for this young man who sat there so forlornly… He looked so alone.
“Can I give you a ride?” She asked.
“Oh no m…ma’am,” He said quickly. “I…I’ll get a c...cab…” He stuttered in embarrassment.
“Okay John, I’ll call one for you alright?”
He nodded, “Kay.”
The next few days were awful…was concussed and sick to his stomach and to make it worse, Jim’s wife blamed him for her husband’s death.
John approached her at the funeral home and her face darkened with rage as she spotted the youngster.
“What are you doing here?” She snarled angrily.
John glanced to his Captain in shock. “I uh…I just wanted to offer my…cond….condolences,” he stuttered nervously.
“Condolences…?” She sneered. “That’s really nice of you since you’re the reason he’s dead,” she snapped as tears welled and began to roll down her cheeks.
John’s face paled at her words but it was Captain Webster that stepped in. “Pat…You know that’s not fair,” he said softly. “Jim was a great fireman…He was doing his job…”
She pushed Webster out of her way and pointed her finger accusingly at Johnny. “If he hadn’t been trying to protect you, he’d still be alive,” She’d screamed at him hysterically.
John heart flipped at the words and he barely held it together. “I…I’m s...so s...sorry,” He whispered.
“Sorry…” she snarled, “I’m sure that’ll keep me warm for the rest of my life…,” She snarled as she stormed away.
Cap and the guys moved in around him to try and help. “It wasn’t your fault Johnny,” Webster said softly, seeing the distraught look in the boy’s eyes.
“She’s right,” he whispered. “If he hadn’t been trying to protect me...,” he stopped, vowing silently to never let anyone else get close to him again. Not Drew…His Aunt…His next partner. Then he wouldn’t have to worry that they’d sacrifice their life for his… He looked at his crew mates and saw the sympathy in their eyes. They didn’t blame him for Jim’s death, but John blamed himself. He’d been stewing about it for days.
He sat silently in the back during the service and then joined the many other fire fighters walking behind the Engine in full dress uniform. He fought back the tears he hadn’t shed since his Mother had died.
He approached Captain Webster the next day about Rescue training. “Cap,” he began quietly. “Can I talk to you a minute?”
Webster waved him into the room, thinking that maybe John wanted to talk about the accident. They’d all been trying to get the boy to talk to them but he’d clammed up since Jim’s death, barely speaking at all unless he had to and staying to himself.
“What is it Johnny?” He asked gently. The answer surprised him but only for a moment.
“Um…Cap,” John hesitated and then let the words tumble out. “I was wondering if you could help me…I wanna get into rescue and I…I know I’ve only been a fire fighter for eighteen months and HQ might give ya some trouble but…It’s something I’d really like to try and don’t know where to start and…and now that Jim’s gone…I…”
Cap held up a hand to stop the rush…Sure the boy would pass out for lack of breathing. Webster understood his request and his need to do this. In the last eighteen months John had displayed a passion for rescue work, assisting Jerry and Paul at every opportunity. He seemed driven to save every person trapped in a fire. Captain Webster had had to order him out of more than one situation where it was a hopeless case. Jim had literally dragged him from a couple as well. Now with Jim gone, there was nothing to hold the younger man here.
“I think it’s a wise decision on your part John…You’re quite good at it but are you sure you aren’t rushing it...That you’re trying to run from what happened?”
John shook his head. “No sir…I talked about this to Jim the day,” John stopped as his voice cracked. He drew a deep breath and continued on. “The day he was killed,” he finished. “He told me I should follow my heart.” John looked away, unsure he still had one of those capable of feeling anything. “I just think…This is something I have to do,” he admitted.
Webster nodded. “Alright John…I’ll get you into the next class,” he said standing up and extending his hand. “You’re a good man Gage…We’ll miss you around here.”
John grinned back. “Thank you sir.”
Cap made the arrangements and five weeks later John began training to be a Rescue man. He worked his tail off for the next six weeks and came home as exhausted as he’d been when he’d been training to be a fire fighter.
Chief Conrad heard through the grapevine that John Gage was attending rescue training. While some showed skepticism that a young man like Gage was going for rescue already, he’d grinned in delight at the news. He worked mainly as a Battalion Chief out of Station 10 and it just so happened that one of his rescue men was moving up to Engineer. Conrad pulled a few strings at headquarters and when John Gage graduated he was permanently assigned to Station 10.
He reported for duty the first morning with a sense of Déjà vu as he snapped to attention in front of his new Captain... “Fireman John Gage reporting for duty,” he said crisply.
“At ease Gage… Let me show you around and introduce you to the guys,” he said shaking Johnny’s hand. “I’m Captain Jeffrey Hayes.” John nodded in greeting. Hayes led him around the Station. It was much larger than 8’s had been.
“This is the Rescue Squad,” he said, patting the gleaming red Dodge... John nodded. Captain Hayes led him into the rec room. “Let me introduce you to the crew.” There were at least two dozen men gathered in the large room, including Chief Conrad. John looked a bit surprised to see him, but quickly got his expression under control. The older man grinned as Hayes made the introductions. John knew it would take awhile to learn the rest but saluted his Chief.
“Good to see you again sir,” he said politely.
“Good to see you too Gage…I’m glad to see you’ve moved up already. I like it when I’m right about something,” he said with a grin. John frowned a bit at that but Conrad didn’t say anything more and Cap went on… He waved over a young blonde man...slightly older than Johnny but about the same height and a stockier build.
“John Gage this is your new Partner…Tony Freeman.”
“Gage...” Tony greeted, shaking John’s hand in greeting.
“John,” He corrected.
“John it is,” Tony said with a smile… “Want some coffee?”
“Sure…” Tony led the younger man to the coffee pot.
“So where you from John…?”
“Around … most recently from right here,” he said evasively..
“How long you been a Fireman?”
“Almost two years,” he said hedging a bit.
“So where was your first assignment?”
“Station 8,” John said shortly…“Hey can you show me the squad?” He asked changing the subject.
Tony took the hint…John didn’t want t talk. “Yeah…uh…sure John…let’s go.”
Over the next several months John and Tony established a good working rapport just as he had with Jim, but this time, Johnny took great pains to be sure it never went beyond a working relationship. He’d made the mistake of getting close to Jim and he’d gotten burned, he’d never open himself up to that kind of pain again.
He’d forgotten for a short time with Jim, that he was a loner and why he preferred it that way. Most of his family was dead or treated him as if he was…the few friends he had made as a child had been lost when they moved away. He rarely even saw Drew and Pam anymore since Jim had been killed. His Aunt hadn’t seen him for months…Even when she called and asked him to come home for Holidays, John found a reason to stay away, often volunteering to work overtime so others could have a holiday shift off.
He shut himself off from everyone and reverted back to his childhood patterns…staying to himself, talking little. When he was willing to join a conversation, he’d discuss anything except himself, his life, his past, letting no one inside the carefully erected walls he’d put around himself so he wouldn’t be hurt again. Over the next year and a half, he managed to stay safely out of other people’s lives and keep them out of his but he never let it affect his work, he still continued to display the same tenacity during rescues as he had before.
John was building a reputation for being an excellent fire fighter despite his youth and they’d noted that Conrad had no hesitation in sending the young rescue man into any situation. Despite John’s standoffish ways, the crew liked the solitary young man and tried hard to bring him within their circle but he quickly made it clear that he preferred to keep their relationships professional and be left alone and they soon gave up trying. Allowing him his privacy but also welcoming him into their conversations when he chose to add a comment.
Conrad kept an eye on the teenager. He and Hayes understood that John had lost his first partner and that could affect even seasoned veterans and John had had to face that loss and its aftermath very young. He’d handled it well, considering he’d also lost his grandparents not that long ago. The Chief understood his fears and recognized the boys attempt to stay aloof so he wouldn’t be hurt and wished he could find a way to help him through this. He’d attempted to talk to him but the youngster had quickly assured him that he was fine. Conrad hoped he’d find his own way through the darkness or find someone he could talk to that could guide him along.
They had no idea how many losses the young man had already faced and that he’d learned to bury the pain where no one could see it or that he’d been in that darkness for a very long time.
Despite all of that, both Conrad and Hayes recognized the young man’s potential to be one of the best rescue men they’d have.
Due to their location, most of their victims were transported to Harbor General. He did on rare occasions take a victim to Rampart, but he usually just dropped them at the treatment room door, refusing to allow himself to get involved. It was easier that way. He only saw the pretty nurse and the crusty Doctor on rare occasions.
Roy DeSoto pushed the door open to headquarters. He stepped inside and glanced around the lobby. The receptionist behind the desk threw him a smile. “Can I help you?” She asked curiously.
“Um yes ma’am…I have an appointment with Chief Sorenson,” he explained nervously, wondering why he’d been called down here.
She looked at her clipboard and nodded. “Just a moment,” she replied, pressing a button on the phone on her desk. A staticky voice replied. “Yes Helen”
“Roy DeSoto is here,” she informed him.
“Send him in.”
“Third door on the left,” she instructed the strawberry blonde fire fighter.
“Thanks,” he said as he left the desk and walked down the hall. His stomach turned a small flip, wondering again what he’d done that had brought the Chief down on him.
He drew a deep breath and knocked. “Come in,” a voice replied. Roy pushed the door open and stepped inside.
His blue eyes widened in surprise. Sorenson wasn’t alone. Chief Houts and another man sat around his desk. Roy snapped to attention. “Fireman Roy DeSoto sir,” he said crisply.
Sorenson smiled and waved him toward the empty chair. “Come in DeSoto…Have a seat,” he directed.
“Thank you sir,” Roy said as he sank stiffly into the chair.
Sorenson smiled. “Relax Roy…this isn’t the inquisition,” he teased the young man. Roy blew out a nervous breath but he slowly relaxed back into the cushioned seat.
“Yes sir.” “Roy…You know Chief Houts?”
“By sight sir…We’ve never met.”
Houts held out his hand. “DeSoto,” he greeted. Roy shook it.
Sorenson looked to the heavy set man in the other chair. “Roy…This is Assemblyman Mike Wolski.” Roy frowned as he held out his hand to the stranger.
“Mr. Wolski,” he greeted, still not sure why he was here.
“I see you’re a bit confused DeSoto, so let’s get right to the point.” Roy nodded nervously. “When we first thought of sending out rescue men in our squads, you were one of the first to sign up.”
“Yes sir,” Roy agreed. “We were working on something more for those squads even then but we didn’t have the backing we needed.” Roy nodded again. Chief Klinger had mentioned that to him just before he retired and Houts had replaced him.
“Yes sir…I’d been told there were some future plans for the squads but Chief Klinger didn’t say what sir.”
“Paramedics,” Mike Wolski said softly.
“Uh…Para what sir?” Roy questioned. Houts stood up.
“Paramedics DeSoto…Chief Sorenson and I have been working on this for a couple of years now along with the Assemblyman.”
Roy looked baffled. “What is a paramedic sir?” He asked.
“We will have a select group of men…Men like you DeSoto and other rescue men…You will be trained in emergency medicine.”
Roy sat up in shock. “I…I’m no doctor sir,” he demurred.
“No DeSoto…None of you are and that’s part of the opposition we’ve been getting. A lot of doctor’s are opposing this because they don’t like the idea of fireman running around administering emergency aid…Their nurses are fighting us because they think we’re trying to take over their territory and a lot of our fire department personnel don’t like the idea of fire fighters running around with stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs hanging out of their pockets,” Sorenson answered. “But that’s not it at all.”
Roy frowned again. “Well what is it we ARE supposed to do?” He questioned curiously, Houts took over again.
“Paramedics will be trained to be the eyes and ears of the doctors while you are still in the field.” Roy’s eyes widened at that but he was becoming intrigued. They’d lost patients in the last two years even with the rescue teams…Men, women and children who could have been saved if someone had simply known what to do. His attention snapped back as Houts continued. “The Paramedics will be taught to set up IV’s, take blood pressure and other vital signs. To administer medications and in bandaging and splinting injuries…Even CPR.”
Roy nodded…Becoming more and more interested all the time. “Is that legal?” He finally asked.
Mike Wolski rose from his seat. “That’s what I’m working on Roy,” he said. “We have a bill in the house right now. PM11307…If this bill passes it will allow you guys to be trained for this.”
“That’s a lot of responsibility…How long would it take to train for that?”
“It is Roy…But you would be in constant contact by radio with a doctor who will tell you what to do…We figure the training time for what you will be required to do would be about three months.”
Well that made it a little easier…A doctor would be directing them. Roy nodded again. “Sounds like a great idea but what am I here for?” He asked, looking around at the three men.
“Roy…You are without a doubt, one of the best rescue men we’ve ever trained,” Sorenson said.
“Thank you sir,” Roy said, looking surprised. Soerenson nodded…He knew a few others…One in particular that needed to be pushed in the right direction as well but that would come a bit later…The boy was just barely twenty one but according to Conrad...This kid would be an excellent candidate.
“We would like you to spearhead this campaign,” Houts explained.
“Me? But why sir?”
“Because you’re highly regarded by your peers DeSoto.” Roy looked a bit surprised by that. He wasn’t known around the department as a social butterfly…Just the opposite. He preferred going home to his family than hanging out with the guys…He liked to put his work behind him at the end of a shift and not dwelling on the hurt and pain and suffering he saw each day.
“I uh…I didn’t know that sir,” he replied quietly.
Sorenson chuckled. “Look DeSoto…I know you can be a bit cool sometimes but the men respect that,” he assured the baffled looking younger man. “That’s exactly why you’d be good at this. You’re calm and clear headed and able to keep perspective. You aren’t ruled by emotion. Your determined and you’d be able to keep calm out there and do your job without getting personally involved with the victims.”
“But you’re still deeply concerned for the lives of individuals which means, you can offer them compassion when it’s needed.” Houts finished.
Roy sat back, deep in thought. Could he do this? What if someone died because of him? “What if I lose someone?” He asked softly, his blue eyes full of concern.
“How many have you lost that might have lived Roy…If you’d known what to do?” Sorenson countered.
Roy studied his folded hands for a long moment. They were right…This would be a good thing for everyone. He looked up at the three expectant faces. “Alright…I’ll do it,” he agreed.
Sorenson smiled and Houts patted him on the back. “Good…Now we’re going to put it out there that we need our rescue men to step up out there and do this…We want you to stay here when you’re on duty to explain the program and sign the men up,” Sorenson said, handing him a stack of books. “These will help you to understand exactly what will be expected of you in the field and you will be one of the first to take the course and we hope we can get at least five others to jump in here and then…You’ll be working to push the program along with Mike here.”
Roy nodded. “Yes sir.” “The classes will begin in three weeks at Harbor General,” Sorenson told him. Roy blew out a breath. Three weeks to convince five more men to join him in what could likely be more training and then be unable to use it. He’d have to think of a way to give them incentive.
“Is there a promotion involved here?” He questioned.
The others looked worried. “No Roy and no extra money either…Will that keep you from taking the responsibility?” Houts asked.
“No…But it might keep some others from it,” he replied drily.
They nodded and Sorenson slapped him off the back. “I’ll put my money on you to find a way to convince them.” Roy sighed… “I’ll give it my best sir.
“That’s why we picked you DeSoto,” Houts said quietly.
Three weeks later their faith in his abilities was justified. Roy reported to Harbor General with Bob Belliveau, Jay Cameron, Bob Bellingham, Tom Wheeler and Kurt Anderson for the first class of paramedic training. It wasn’t the only thing that would soon change Roy DeSoto’s life forever.
Three months later and five months after John Gage’s twenty first birthday, Chief Conrad approached him, “Gage, can I see you a minute?”
Johnny’s mind did a brief guilty gallop over everything he could possibly have done wrong in the last twenty four hours, but couldn’t come up with a thing.
“Ah…sure Chief,” He said uncertainly as he followed the older man into his office.
“Have a seat John…” The younger man sat down hesitantly as Conrad picked up a piece of paper off his desk. “Headquarters has sent out a request…they want us to tell our people about a new program they're working on.”
“Oh…? What’s that?”
“It’s called the Paramedics…you’d be getting a crash course in Medical Procedures. You’d be trained to stabilize a victim at the scene before transporting them to the Hospital. It’s not a promotion or anything…you’d stay the same rank but it does sound pretty interesting. Frankly Gage, I think it’s something right up your alley.”
John stood, “thank you sir and I will think about it…,” He said as he left the office. He shook his head as his partner approached him.
“Everything ok…?” Tony asked.
“Yeah...the Chief was just telling me about a new program the county’s starting.”
“Oh yeah…he mentioned it to me too.”
“You gonna go for it?” John asked.
“I don’t know... I said I’d think about it, but it sounds like a lot of extra work for nothing. Not even more money.”
“You gonna try it?”
“Sounds like an ambulance attendant. That’s not what I wanna be, ya know?”
The SCU tones sounded and they ran for the squad.
John had put the conversation with the Chief from his mind as soon as his shift ended. He spent his two days off camping in the San Gabriel Mountains. John liked the solitude and the peace and he escaped there often. When he returned for his next shift he’d pretty well decided against the Para…whatever’s.
John and Tony had a fairly quiet shift. The most excitement came from an early morning warehouse fire. They had only one minor casualty that they treated for smoke inhalation at the scene and transported to Harbor General.
Twenty one exhausted Fireman returned to the station just as dawn was breaking. They went to change from their turnout gear to regular uniforms before their shift ended at 8:00.
John had one foot propped on the bumper of the Engine tying his shoe as Chief Conrad approached him.
“Remember that special training we were talking about a couple of days ago?”
“Yes sir…the Para…something or other.”
“Paramedics... The first class just finished last week.”
“I’m supposed to encourage all our young rescue personnel to volunteer for the next class.
“I know its work… No raise in pay, but it just might be worthwhile.”
“Yes Sir it might be if I wanted to be an ambulance attendant, but I don’t. Chief…I’m a rescue man, I trained to be a rescue man and I like being a rescue man…why should I die from improvements?”
“I give up, why should you?” The Chief asked. John grinned at him.
The Station Control Unit sounded... John and the Chief both looked up, listening intently... “Squad 10, Truck 127, possible high voltage electrocution. 13270 flower. 1-3-2-7-0 Flower... Cross Street 3rd... Time Out 07:51”
John looked slightly frustrated, knowing there’d be no rest before he headed for home. He glanced at the Chief with tired eyes.
The Chief looked back at the exhausted young Fireman... “You like being a rescue man,” the Chief reminded him. John shot him a wry grin as he ran for the squad.
Tony and John arrived at the accident scene. A man lay draped over the top of the telephone pole. The lines were still live... John looked back at his Partner, “Call for an Ambulance …tell em to push it.”
John ran for the snorkel truck as 127 set up for the rescue. John climbed in and it began to lift. He waited for them to signal that the power was cut, giving them a wave in return. He and the crew of 127 pulled the man from the lines.
Once they had him on the ground he and Tony began to administer oxygen. John checked for a pulse... It was weak but definitely there. They waited for the ambulance and John rode in with the victim. Due to their location they headed for Rampart.
John delivered the victim to the treatment room door and then turned and walked away, heading out to the emergency room door to wait for Tony. The squad turned into the parking lot…Tony climbed out.
“You ready John?”
“Yeah in a minute, I want to check on that guy we brought in.”
“I’ll be right behind you… I just wanna lock up the squad.”
John turned and went back inside, heading for treatment room 3. John pushed the door open and walked into the room. The pretty blonde Nurse…uh…Dixie, he thought that was her name and the stern Doctor were both there along with another young black Doctor.
“Doc…how…?” He stopped in mid sentence realizing he was too late...The victim hadn’t made it. A look of shock crossed his features.
“I’m sorry,” Kel said shortly. John got the feeling he’d interrupted something, but he glanced at them in dismay.
“But…I was sure we got him here alive.”
“Oh and what caused you to think that?" Brackett asked snidely… "Spontaneous respirations, pupil’s reaction to light… How much alive…?”
“I just felt…,” John began hesitantly.
“Amateurs Dix,” Brackett turned and walked out in a huff.
John watched him go, wondering what he’d said that upset the older man…he turned back to the nurse. “He was alive.”
“Maybe so but the best Doctor I know just walked of out of here and he couldn’t keep your man alive...," She said gently, looking at the frustrated young man with sympathy.
“Yeah…," He said sadly. “I thought Doctor’s weren’t supposed to take these things so hard.”
“Doctor Brackett is a sore loser,” Dixie said.
John nodded and left the room. He hesitated briefly as he spotted the Lineman’s wife and daughter weeping in the hall. He turned and headed for the door where Tony was waiting a few feet away. The blonde man nodded back at the two crying women.
“The lineman’s wife and Daughter… He didn’t make it.”
John nodded curtly and stalked toward the exit… Tony followed. ‘Well the high and mighty Dr. Brackett might be a sore loser but dammit so was he.’ John stormed out the Emergency room door... His hand slapped the hood of the red squad bringing Tony to an abrupt stop as he looked at his angry Partner.
John glanced down at the emblem written there. The Words ‘Rescue Squad’ suddenly seemed to mock him. “Rescue hell…all we did was rescue a corpse,” He growled out.
Man there had to be a better way. Maybe there was something to this Para…medic whatever. He decided to check into it in the morning.
Kelly Brackett was angry. He and Dixie had been arguing for weeks and he was afraid it was going to ruin a beautiful friendship as well as their long standing romance.
This Paramedic training program was coming between them. Kel was dead set against sending Firemen, even trained ones out to perform medical procedures on the unsuspecting public. Dixie was all for those Hose Jockeys providing roadside medical assistance. It was like turning Emergency medicine into the auto club.
She’d been on him again yesterday when they’d lost that electrocution victim. Worse she’d brought the argument to their dinner date…and she’d volunteered him as well as Rampart to train the next Paramedic class knowing full well how he felt.
On top of their other duties he and Dixie as well as another part time emergency room doctor…Joe Early, would be spending hours of their day with these men for the next twelve weeks. Six men with their hearts in the right place but still just firemen.
The next morning John sat sipping his coffee in his small kitchen wondering where this new direction in his career might lead him.
He went out and climbed into his old VW camper and headed down to headquarters. As he entered the front doors he spotted a sign on a door to his left. 'Paramedic Questions answered here Last Day R. Desoto F/M.' John pushed the door open and went inside.
A stocky blue eyed, blonde man maybe a few years older than John sat at the table. He looked up as John entered and then stood up to his full six foot one inch height… standing eye to eye with the younger man.
John held out his hand… “John Gage,” he said shortly. Roy knew who he was…He remembered him from a rescue almost two years ago…He’d matured some since then but they’d never met in person.
“Roy…Roy Desoto,” the other man responded softly… “Have a seat.”
“Thanks,” John sat. He handed the older man his application.
Roy looked it over... “This application isn’t signed.”
John gave a slight nod, “I wanted to talk to you first.”
“Sure…whatta ya wanna know.”
“You went through that first class of special medical training right?”
“If you rolled on a rescue call now…today,” He said tapping the table top…"could you use that training to treat a victim on the scene?”
“Then why should I or anybody else spend twelve weeks or twelve minutes learning to do what we can’t do?”
“Because you said today… There’s a bill before the State Legislature right now…assembly bill PM11307 which will permit qualified Fire Department personnel to administer medical assistance in the field.”
“If it’s passed...”
“You asked a few questions before you came in here...,” Roy said, impressed by this young man.
“I want to find out if it’s a job or just a title.”
“Oh it’s a job alright…it’s gonna be the most important advance in emergency medicine in the last fifty years.”
“Going to be…? Well maybe you just better hang on to that application until it is.”
“That’ll be too late…we’re already late. Gage, there are over six and a half million people in Los Angeles County right now and not nearly enough Doctors to handle them even under normal conditions.
When you get into emergency situations…freeway accidents, drownings, heart attacks, a thousand others, People are dying at the scene. People who could stay alive if there was somebody on the spot who knew what to do.”
“But they won’t let you function,” John argued.
“They will…they’ll have too. Look if that bill passes legislature today, do you know how many people we’d have ready for the job?”
John shook his head… Roy stood and returned to his seat, “Just me and five other guys who took the course. Six men for six and a half million people… No… we can’t wait for the go ahead and then train our people. If there’s one chance in a million that bill will pass, we have to be ready.”
Roy was convincing. There was something about his passion for this job… It was a mirror of John’s. They both felt the same way about saving lives…the younger man was convinced.
“Use your pen?” He asked seriously.
Roy grinned as he'd watched the thoughts play across his features while he considered the older man’s words. He was bright, intense just as he remembered... Roy liked him…but there was something else too…vulnerability in the eyes. A loneliness that tugged at his heart… Roy felt drawn to him as he had even back when he’d first seen this kid and he didn't know why.
“Hey, you wanna get a cup of coffee?” Roy asked putting John’s application into a folder.
“Ah…what about..?” He trailed off gesturing toward the door.
Roy pulled out a piece of white paper. He wrote ‘Back in Fifteen minutes’. “That’ll do it… It’s just up the hall,” He added taping the sign to the door.
John held back for just a moment, “Okay…yeah…sure.”
They headed out to the coffee room. Roy only gave a brief thought to John’s obvious hesitancy...maybe the kid already had plans or something. He put it from his mind.
“So how long have you been a fireman Gage?”
“Three years,” he replied.
Roy looked him over, “Right outta High school...?” He guessed accurately.
“Yeah pretty much…”
“So you’re about…?” He let the question hang.
“Twenty one…and a half,” he said quietly, adding the half in the hopes that it made him at least sound a little bit older.
John shook his head.
“No...,” He replied, sounding uncomfortable.
Roy sensed the younger man’s hesitancy to talk about himself. He turned the conversation toward his own life. “I am...married I mean. Her name’s Joanne... I’ve got a four year old son and another due in a couple of months.”
John nodded. Roy glanced at the quiet young man walking next to him… John avoided looking back at him. They stopped at the break room and Roy grabbed a couple of Styrofoam cups and poured.
“How do you take it?”
“Black is good, thanks.”
What station you out of?" He asked.
"10," he replied. Roy frowned. That's not what he remembered.
Your whole career?"
"No," he responded.
Roy was really working hard to get this kid to communicate.
“I saw you out in the field a while back...You were outta Station ahhh...?” Roy snapped his fingers, trying to remember.
“Yeah...That's right...apartment fire. You were pretty gutsy going in there like that." John shrugged and Roy continued. “They’re both good stations, good crews... good place to learn the trade.” John nodded but didn’t say anything. “You always talk so much?” Roy quipped watching the younger man.
John blushed... “Sorry,” he mumbled.
“Don’t be Junior, I was just teasing.”
John glanced at him with a frown at the appellation ‘Junior,’ but Roy didn’t notice. Roy cast a sidelong look at the young man standing next to him. The kid’s communication skills were definitely lacking. He didn’t seem to be able tell what was serious and what was good natured teasing.
“Oh…,” He replied nodding and then he finally asked a question of his own. “Where’d you come from?” he questioned hesitantly.
“I’ll be in on the training class with you.”
“How come…?” John asked, at least trying to keep up his end of the conversation.
“Harbor General did a good job and I graduated at the top of my class there but…I want to be sure I know what I’m doin…ya know? I mean it can’t hurt to hear it again and from a different set of Teachers right? He may not be the most personable but Kelly Brackett’s the best ER man out there. I’d like to learn from the best.”
John nodded, not at all sure he agreed with this man’s opinion of Dr. Kelly Brackett being the best. Roy looked at his watch.
“Well break over,” he said with a sigh. They headed back…as they approached the room they saw two men hovering uncertainly at the door... Roy gave John a friendly slap on the shoulder.
“See you at Rampart in three days… C’mon in guys… I’m Roy Desoto,” He said waving them inside.
Roy watched the young man walk away. Something tugged at him…there was something about this kid. Roy didn’t know for sure what, but he sensed he was special. The older man was suddenly very interested in working with him during training. He smiled to himself as he turned and followed the other two men into the room.
John turned and walked away...He glanced back as Roy disappeared inside the room...There was something about his man that John seemed drawn to but he didn't know why. He shook off the feeling...He wouldn't allow himself to get close to anyone...He couldn't...
John didn’t realize it yet but he’d just met the man Little Fox had promised him would come… The one he and his Aunt had both prayed would one day be there for him…The one special friend who would save him and change his life and his destiny forever…The one who’d stay at his side through whatever trials awaited him down the road both now and all the days of his life.
THE END – But just the Beginning
Posted to site 03/25/14
If you suspect child abuse please call the national child abuse hotline. 1-800-4 A CHILD.
A paraphrase from Joyce Sequichie Hifler from her book A Cherokee Feast of Days
**Cheyenne Legend Sun Teaches Veeho a lesson.
This is dedicated to every child who has felt the blow from a hand that should have smoothed the hair from a face with tenderness or who have heard hateful words that should have edified their hearts and minds… Who has endured the mental and emotional anguish of being unwanted or unloved…This story was really hard to write because I have known far too many of these children and adults with stories like Johnny’s and each one has touched my heart and I’ve loved each and every one of them. This is a conglomeration of their stories and like Partners…my hope is that if it makes one person aware of the long standing mental, physical and psychological damage of child abuse then it was worth the three years of writing.
The words in italics are from The Wedsworth Townsend Act. Written by Preston Wood.
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order. The characters of Emergency belong to Universal and Mark VII but this story itself however, is the property of the author.
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