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Captain Hank Stanley sat in his office working quietly over the stack of papers and log book spread out across the desk. He gave a soft sigh, and putting his pen down, ran his hands through his hair. The room was dark except for the small desk lamp which illuminated the reminders of the day’s events. He had just completed entering all the runs in the book, and was now turning his attention to the correspondence from Headquarters about some upcoming drills.
The Captain’s drooping eyes gravitated slowly towards the clock on the wall, and then quickly retreated before reaching their destination. He knew it was late, he just wasn’t sure he wanted to know HOW late. He was tired and wanted nothing more than to crawl into his bunk and get some much needed sleep. The rest of his crew had sacked out hours ago.
Some of the paperwork he reasoned could have waited until he was back on duty. But it would have bothered the man on his days off…knowing that it was sitting here. If their next shift was anything like this, he knew the pile before him would only get a lot bigger. No he decided…it was better to be done with it.
Inside the Fire house it was quiet and peaceful. He paused for a moment closing his eyes, allowing his taxed mind to relax and his thoughts to settle down.
It was a nice break from the constant bantering of two of his charges, John Gage and Chet Kelly. He shook his head and a low chuckle escaped his lips as he thought about his junior paramedic and feisty lineman.
The only sound disrupting the silence was coming from outside.
The rain and wind pounded on Southern California that day, and had a lot to do with the increase in calls they had experienced. Thankfully, the worst of it was over. Now only a gentle wind blew and a few scattered raindrops could be heard plinking on the roof.
This did not disturb the Captain in the slightest. Actually, he found it comforting.
Hank opened his eyes and leaned back in his chair. He stretched his long legs which had become cramped under the desk from being in the same position for the last few hours. Not wanting to neglect the upper part of his anatomy, Hank reached both arms up over his head stretching his tall 6’4 frame.
His back cracked loudly in response.
The wooden chairs in the Captain’s office were god awful. Maybe it was time to put in a request for a nice soft comfortable chair like the ones they had at Headquarters. He knew the Supervisors of the other shifts would appreciate it as well.
He laughed lightly…his backside would definitely be grateful! It was the only part of him at this point that WAS getting some sleep.
His stretch complete, Hank resumed his former position as the dark brown eyes traveled once again to the wall. The face of Chief Houts, which was affixed to the clock, stared back at him.
DAMN IT, he knew he shouldn’t have looked. It was 1:09 am. Definitely time to knock off.
He wondered if his head would even make contact with the pillow before the tones went off. He quickly gathered the paperwork and neatly stowed it, along with the log book, in the desk drawer. He switched off the light and walked out of his office. He took a detour from his intended destination only to dump off his coffee cup in the kitchen sink, and then hit the latrine for a much needed pit stop.
Hank entered the dorm and was warmly greeted by the sounds of his men quieting snoring. He hoped to be in the same comatose state himself within the next few minutes.
And then, another sound and smell reached Hank that was not at all welcoming. His face contorted in disgust as he thought…CHET!!
Good God!! Lopez’s chili was delicious but for some reason it affected the stocky Irishman in a way that the rest of them paid for…dearly. Hank almost did an about-face and thought about crashing on the couch in the day room.
Henry, the Department hound, wouldn’t like it…but tough shit. His name sake could sleep with his buddy Chet.
As he pondered his options, the odor dissipated somewhat and Hank moved further into the room. He would probably miss answering the morning tones in a timely manner if he slept in the day room, so he pushed that thought from his mind.
Hopefully, Hank prayed, Chet had spent the last several hours getting THAT out of his system.
He glanced over at the bunk containing the odiferous lineman and gave him a scowl. Chet was grinning in his sleep. Hank figured he was either plotting another deviate phantom attack or replaying the one he had pulled on Gage earlier that day.
His eyes traveled over to where his Senior Paramedic, Roy Desoto, laid. The man was completely hidden beneath his blankets. The only indication to his presence was a big lump in the middle of the bed. Hank wondered if it was DeSoto's only line of defense against the stench… given his close proximity to Kelly.
Gage, as usual, was on his back with his right arm slung over his face.
Wait a minute...
Hank did a double take. Gage ALWAYS slept with is left arm thrown haplessly over his face. Then he noted the bandage and remembered the burn the young paramedic had received that day to his left forearm. It wasn’t serious, but probably still hurt. As soon as the thought formed in his head, Gage’s arm slid down to his side, and the left arm came up and found its rightful place.
John grunted painfully in his sleep, but the arm remained stationary in its current position. Clearly the limb was just as stubborn as the man it was attached to.
He gave a fond glance at his last two crew members, his engineer Mike Stoker and second lineman Marco Lopez, before turning to his own bunk. He envied the sleeping crew and wondered miraculously how the odor didn’t cause the men to wake up faster than the Klaxon alarm.
It was every bit as obnoxious.
Hank finally tumbled into bed after ensuring, like the rest of his men, his turnout gear was in place. He pulled the blanket up to his chest and closed his eyes waiting for sleep to claim him. Despite the long hours and high demands of his position, Hank Stanley loved his job. Being Captain of 51’s A-crew was, in his opinion, a privilege.
His men were good. No…they were the best.
Hank knew he had the envy of many Captains within the Department. Even HQ recognized the skill and natural cohesiveness these firefighters possessed. His thoughts briefly went back to Gage and Kelly. Even taking into consideration the aggravation those two “twits” could sometimes cause, he honestly wouldn’t change a thing.
As he fell asleep Captain Hank Stanley had no idea that “things” were about to do just that. Change…and soon.
Just after 5:00 am, the Klaxon tones sounded, permeating throughout the previously tranquil building. "Station 51, Station 45, Engine 110. Structure Fire 1245 Alameda Blvd. 1-2-4-5 Alameda Blvd Cross street Vine time out 0514." The bright lights lit up the dorm momentarily blinding the men as eyelids snapped open. The groggy crew jolted upright in bed trying to acclimate themselves to the rude awakening.
No matter, within seconds feet were automatically sliding into boots, hands were tugging suspenders into place, and bodies were quickly running towards the apparatus bay. Stoker and Lopez were first and second out of the dorm. John made it through next, skidding recklessly as he attempted to make a hard turn. His arms flailed wildly in the air as he tried to regain his balance.
Chet was right on John’s heels, however the lineman’s attention, and eyes, were diverted to his shoulder as he struggled to fix a twisted suspender.
The stocky Irishman never slowed down and slammed hard into his crewmate, propelling the young man forward into the Engine. John’s hands instinctively reached out in front of him and a resounding “SMACK” was heard.
John Gage did not need to have eyes in the back of his head to know who the offender was.
“KELLY! GAGE!” both men shouted simultaneously.
“WOULD YA WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING YOU IDIOT,” growled the seriously annoyed paramedic.
Chet had his own comeback on the tip of his tongue when the Captain barked, “CAN IT…BOTH OF YOU!!” For the moment, Kelly had to content
himself with giving John a murderous stare. The Phantom was watching…and there would be retribution. That was for sure.
“THE TWITS! Man…those two are worse than my kids,” the Captain muttered under his breath as he maneuvered around his tangled crewmembers towards the podium. He hastily wrote down the address and then roughly yanked the mic off its mount and responded “Station 51 10-4 KMG365.” Roy, who had been hurrying past the Captain, heard the mutterings and wisely said nothing, but grabbed the sheet of paper from his boss’s hand. He did however risk shaking his head in amusement.
John reached the side of the squad without further incident and pulled his turnout coat out of the compartment. He didn’t bother checking the wall map but jumped directly into the passenger's seat, plunking his helmet on top of his somewhat unruly dark hair. He slid the strap into place where it balanced precariously on the edge of his chin.
He knew exactly where they were going and the fastest way to get there. Stoker watched his youngest crew member and John caught his eye. He gave Mike a knowing wink letting him know the visit to the map was unnecessary. Trusting Johnny's directional instincts, Mike climbed behind the wheel of the big rig giving him a quick nod and grin.
Roy had taken his place in the driver’s seat of the squad and passed the address on to Johnny. He took care not to look at his partner. He turned the key and the engine roared to life. With helmets securely in place and intent eyes looking ahead, the squad and engine began inching forward in anticipation as the garage door began its ascent. Once clear of the bay, the vehicles picked up speed and the sirens blared loudly, breaking the early morning silence.
Roy instinctively knew a Gage rant was about to spew forth from his young friend highlighting the mishap that had just occurred with the lineman. Roy decided to head it off, and with eyes focused on the road ahead, said “Forget it Junior.” He didn’t need to be looking at his partner to know his mouth was already poised…ready to let loose. Johnny hesitated only a moment and then;
“BUT ROY…did ya see that? DID YA??? I mean COME ON!” And thus an epic Gage rant began.
“He nearly FACE PLANTED me right into the Engine…did ya SEE that?
AND HE WONDERS WHY I’M THE ONE ALWAYS GETTING HURT! ...Turn right at the next light…SERIOUSLY HE IS SUCH A PAIN IN THE A…”
Thanks to the young paramedic, Station 51 was the first company to roll up on the scene. This brought a temporary reprieve of John’s verbal assault to Roy’s ears.
“Oh Man…its cookin’ pretty good,” Johnny commented, his full attention now completely on the scene before them. The structure was a five story office building. It was old and in a somewhat dilapidated state but still home to a handful of businesses.
One look at the already involved structure had Captain Stanley radioing dispatch for a second alarm. This was bad and they were going to need more help. At least he thought, with some relief, we can concentrate on the fire and not have to worry about sweeping the building for victims.
They would however need to evacuate the four flat residences on either side. The Battalion Chief, McConnikee, wouldn't be sleeping in this morning either Hank thought somberly.
As they rolled to a stop they could see men, women, and children, clad in pajamas and robes were already beginning to spill forth from the dwellings. Most hurried across the street putting a safe distance between them and the blaze. A few young men stood fixed on the sidewalk in front of the fiery building watching with fascination. Hank shook his head and got on the PA instructing the civilians to move back to a safe location. The men briefly looked for the source of the voice, and then shuffled backwards a few steps continuing to gaze in awe.
Hank fumed. “You just can’t fix stupid” he said out loud. Stoker glanced surprisingly at his Captain. “Well…you can’t” he emphasized as he once again grabbed the mic advising dispatch they were going to need police assistance for crowd control.
The men of 51's made quick exits out of their vehicles and fast hands opened compartment doors pulling out air tanks and masks. Cap yelled "Lopez...Kelly, pull two inch and half’s and cover the Southwest exposure.”
The linemen, anticipating their Captains instructions, were already in motion. Their booted feet landed hard on the platform of the rig while reaching forward into the bed of the truck. Their arms hooked around the coils of hose yanking their burden to the ground as they ran toward the blaze.
Stoker positioned himself alongside the rig readying the engine to go to work. From the corner of his eye he watched his fellow crew mates with trepidation. He, like his Captain and the rest of his crew, correctly assessed the seriousness of this fire, and had a healthy respect for its capabilities. Mike knew his job was important and never regretted becoming an
Still, he had been on the front lines before and experienced all the feelings and adrenaline rush these situations brought on. To watch from a distance was hard. He said a quick prayer for everyone's safety and with his hands on the instruments; he waited for the signal from his Captain to charge the lines.
The wailing of sirens was getting louder and Stanley turned his head to see the flashing lights of the other Fire Company’s cresting the hill. He confidently directed the responding crews into position, and seeing his linemen in place, gave Stoker the signal. The water rushed through the hoses on the ground making them twist and turn finally bursting forth from the nozzles in the men’s hands.
As he un-keyed the Handy Talkie, Stanley saw both his paramedics running towards him as they finished fastening up their gear.
Gage pointed in the direction of the building as he yelled..."Cap, we may have someone trapped on the fourth floor." Hank blinked once and then turned briefly to look in the direction John had indicated before resting his eyes back at his approaching paramedics.
He had been previously grateful that due to the early hour, the office building would be empty. He cursed inwardly.
Roy, sensing his captains next question, quickly replied "Cap, one of the business owners just pulled up. He was supposed to meet his partner here at 5:00am but he was running late. The man's car is parked in the street and he is nowhere to be found.”
The Captains eyes veered past his paramedics to look at the man who had run up behind them. A look of devastation and panic was clearly visible on his face. “PLEASE! I am begging you….PLEASE!” he screamed. “You have to save my partner!”
Captain Stanley faced the building for a second time and quickly re-assessed the situation. It was risky. Hank was a compassionate person and understood the anguish the man was going through. But that could not be a factor in his decision. Ensuring the safety of his men was a responsibility he did not take lightly. The Battalion Chief had yet to arrive and he was still in command of the incident.
Johnny locked eyes with his boss "Cap…Can we go in?” he asked. The fire had yet to engulf the area the victim was suppose to be in, but that was going to change. There wasn't much time.
He made his decision and gave a quick nod while bringing the HT to his mouth. "Engine 45...we have a man possibly trapped on the fourth floor. My paramedics are going in through the East Entrance. Have your men provide interior support, Engine 110...I need a line on that exit."
He faced his younger crew members and said "Make it fast boys...MAKE IT FAST."
Roy and Johnny acknowledged their superior and promptly ran to meet their support crew at the entrance. Seconds later, they disappeared inside. Stanley hoped the additional units responding could contain the blaze giving his crew enough time to search the building, and come out unscathed with the victim. He concentrated his efforts on achieving that goal as he continued to move men and equipment around trying to anticipate his worthy opponents next move.
Hank noted the Battalion Chief's car pull up and jogged over to update him on the latest turn of events.
The firemen were immediately assaulted by the intense heat and smoke as soon as they entered the building. Roy and Johnny looked at each other...no words were needed. They DIDN'T have much time.
Their support crew from 45 was Anderson, a solid lineman who knew his job and performed it well. He took the lead spot on the hose. His back up, positioned directly behind him, was Caldwell. Ryan Caldwell was a firefighter with three years experience under his belt. He had gone through the paramedic program and received his certification almost a year ago.
The four men took in their surroundings and located the stairwell despite the thick smoke. They moved quickly but cautiously. The building was unstable and threats of the floor giving way, ceiling collapsing, or a flashover, were all distinct possibilities.
As they reached the fourth floor, Johnny promptly made a left turn heading in the direction of the office. Roy was close on his heels.
Anderson and Caldwell posted on the landing. The men on the line were sweating profusely as the heat continued to increase. Anderson knew the reputation of 51's paramedics. They were awesome at what they did, and fearless in their mission; especially Gage. He was definitely the risk taker and at times, Roy DeSoto had his hands full keeping his younger partner reined in. He hoped like hell the victim was in the office. If not, they would have to soon abandon their position. At this thought, all of Anderson’s senses went on high alert as he watched and waited.
Johnny finally made it to the office door which was closed. He stripped off his glove and ran his hand swiftly over the surface. It was warm...but not hot. He put his glove back on and tried to turn the door knob but it refused to budge.
"Damn it," he swore out loud.
He backed up several steps preparing to kick in the door and bumped into Roy. He mumbled and apology, but was glad for the contact. He could hardly see a thing and at least he knew his partner was close.
He raised his right foot and kicked hard.
He repeated the action and as the door gave way, so did a portion of the ceiling that was directly above him. Roy glanced up in time and forcefully shoved Johnny through the opening as he landed hard on top of him. Both men frantically got up and did a quick self assessment.
Roy yelled, “Johnny, you ok?" John nodded in the affirmative.
They spread out and began searching the office. It was not a large space… And it was empty.
Roy grabbed the HT out of his pocket to give his Captain an update, just as Hank was about to key up ordering his men out. At that moment, John noticed the faint outline of another door. He moved forward and pushed it open revealing a small bathroom.
On the floor lay their missing victim who appeared to be unconscious………or dead. Johnny hoped fervently it was the former. He advanced on the man who suddenly let out a deep cough. Having that question answered, Johnny lunged for the man grabbing his body and quickly slinging him over his shoulders.
He turned and bolted out of the room yelling to Roy “I GOT HIM…MAN; WE GOTTA TO GET OUT OF HERE…NOW!”
The two men rapidly made their way to the hallway, carefully stepping over the smoldering ceiling debris. As they reached the stairwell, a look of relief appeared on Anderson's face. Roy was signaling them to move. The paramedics sensed the impending danger and willed their feet to pick up speed. The linemen allowed the paramedics to pass with their victim and started bringing up the rear. As they made their descent to the second floor an explosion erupted in another area of the building. The blast knocked them all to the ground.
John was dazed but forced himself to get up despite the pain now making itself known on his right side. He repositioned the victim back onto his shoulders as he saw his partner stagger to his feet. Roy gave him the OK sign and waved him on. John knew a secondary explosion was coming. He felt it. He hated leaving Roy and the other firemen, but he had to get the victim out.
A moment later he burst out of the exit and into a heavy stream of water. He deposited his victim in the capable hands of medic Charlie Dwyer who was working overtime at one of the other stations. Captain Stanley pounded the pavement making his way towards his junior paramedic. The Battalion Chief was not far behind. It did not go unobserved by either man that the other three firemen had not emerged.
Before Hank could reach him, John turned abruptly around and ran back towards the building. The Captain yelled "Gaaaaage.............Nnnn…!”
Stanley wasn't sure if his youngest crew member heard him over the noise, but even if he did, he knew the Paramedic would have gone in anyways. John would not leave a victim, especially his partner, to perish. Regardless if the effort cost him his life.
Stanley gritted his teeth in frustration and squeezed the HT so hard he thought it would snap in two.
As John re-entered the building he located the three firemen at the base of the stairs on the first floor. The HT was lying on the ground several feet from the men and Roy was struggling to hoist an unconscious Anderson onto his back. Caldwell was slumped against the railing and looked up with confusion in his eyes.
The explosion was coming...any second.
Without breaking stride, John scooped up the HT and keyed it up. He hit the mic hard three times; confident his Captain and crew members would understand its meaning. He slid it into his pocket before quickly maneuvering Anderson the rest of the way onto his partner’s shoulders. He tapped Roy on the back signaling for him to go.
He did a fast pivot and snatched Caldwell by the front of his turnout coat, forcefully yanking him forward. The man had no choice but to move his feet or be dragged along behind a sprinting John Gage. He caught up to Roy and they were shoulder to shoulder, each with their respective burdens, as they cleared the building.
The second explosion, as John predicated, occurred within seconds and demolished what remained of the structure. The force propelled the four men into the air and they landed with a resounding thud on the wet pavement.
Stanley had heard the three taps coming from the radio, and with a knowing nod immediately shouted into the HT for all the men to retreat and take cover.
The previous year Johnny had been doing a sweep in a structure fire at a Chemical plant. He had gotten separated from Roy, and to make matters worse, his regulator broke rendering his voice useless. John’s instincts told him a flashover was starting to build, and he was scrambling to get out. He worried that his crewmates and other firefighters might not have picked up yet on the subtle indicators, and would be caught in the blast. John had keyed up and hit the mic three times. Roy, who had already exited the building with his victim, was standing next to his Captain when he heard the sounds. “Cap” he said anxiously, that’s John’s version of a Code 3 or “GET THE HELL BACK”. It was a warning that had served them well that day and Hank would never forget it.
Stanley and McConnikee watched as the men on the perimeter beat a hasty retreat. They heeded the warning as well, but kept their eyes glued to the entrance not even daring to blink. Their efforts were rewarded as they saw a blur of bodies dressed in gray turnout gear charging out of the building and then a moment later, flying through the air.
Several Firemen moved rapidly toward the downed men. Anderson was quickly picked up and moved over to a yellow blanket on the ground near the waiting ambulance. The paramedic crew from 10 had already begun working on the man gathering his vitals. Other hands assisted Caldwell to his feet and moved him away as well.
Only DeSoto and Gage remained on the ground side by side. They were breathing heavy and trying to process all that had occurred in the last few minutes. John gingerly moved his body. He could feel something warm and wet running down his face, and noted the pain was still there on his right side.
Okay, well actually he hurt pretty much everywhere. Johnny turned his head to stare at Roy. His face indicated that he too was feeling the effects of being unceremoniously catapulted out of the building.
Roy finally found his voice and said "that was a CLOSE ONE Junior."
John gave him the famous crooked grin before turning his head back and planting both palms firmly on the ground. He looked down at the pavement as he prepared to exert what little resources he had left to push himself up. Two rather large boots suddenly appeared under his nose. A feeling of dread washed over him. He knew who those belonged to. With a heavy sigh, he slowly moved his head to stare up into his captain’s stern looking face.
“AWWW MAN”, thought John. “The big guy is NOT happy.” He tried the Gage grin on his Superior; however it did not produce the desired results.
“Gage,” Stanley began, “Did you or did you NOT hear me calling you before you went back into that building?”
John looked directly at his Captain and said “Well, uh, yea cap…I uh, heard ya.”
Stanley’s eyes bore down on the young man “well since we have established your ears work, would you care to explain WHY you didn’t stop when I told you NO.”
Gage had his answer ready. “Well, Cap ya see, I heard ya call my name…I did, and well the only other thing ya said was Nnnnn. I just, you know, thought that you were going to say um… Nnnnnow don’t take too long,” he replied finishing the unspoken sentence.
Since the Gage grin hadn’t worked, he switched tactics and tried for the innocent look and finally settled on remorseful. He added in the one arched eyebrow for good measure.
That did the trick.
Stanley’s eyes narrowed into slits at first and then softened. How could he stay mad at a guy who just saved four people’s lives? He sighed and motioned for them to go get checked while he turned his attention back to the still out of control fire.
Roy and Johnny were a little banged up and suffered some heat exhaustion, but in light of the harrowing escape they just had, neither man was about to complain. The paramedics slowly rose from the pavement and went to check on their victim and fellow firefighters. To their great relief everyone was going to be fine.
Chet came up and thrust canteens of water into their hands. "You guys scared the living crap out of us," he admonished before heading back to work on the blazing inferno. Knowing his friend was now out of harm’s way, Chet glanced over his shoulder as he ran and said in a promising voice, “Uh Gage….you better be watching your BACK…Pal.”
They saw him make his way over to Marco who was manning a line by himself. Chet fell into place behind him and put his right hand firmly on the other lineman’s shoulder. His left hand picked up the trailing hose and he hugged it into his body. He gave Marco two quick pats letting him know he was set. Stoker, seeing the hose was now double teamed, increased the water pressure as the two men leaned in tackling the flames in front of them with determination.
John and Roy unscrewed the caps off the canteens and downed the water, desperately trying to replace the fluids they had lost. When he was finished Roy instinctively moved in to check on his young friend’s injuries. Gage waved him off. Roy would not be dismissed that easily. “Sit down and let me look at your head JOHN…unless you want to tangle with Cap again," DeSoto replied firmly.
Johnny took another gulp of water and plunked himself down on the back of the squad in defeat. As the older paramedic took a 4 x 4 and tended to the wound, Johnny notice their victim’s partner slowly walking towards them.
"Roy..." Johnny started as he began to pull away from his partners grasp.
"I MEAN IT JUNIOR...knock it off or I swear..."
"No...Roy, wait...look" he said in a low voice as he jerked his head in the direction of the approaching man.
“Excuse me…Gentleman? I'm...uh ss sorry for interrupting you. My name is Paul…I…I just wanted to say thank you for what you did.” The man paused, tears filling his eyes and spilling down his face in a steady flow.
The paramedics watched him intently but did not respond sensing he had more he wanted to say.
After several deep breaths he continued on, struggling with each word. “The last couple of years have been…ummm a very difficult time in my life. My ffather passed away eighteen months ago from complications to his diabetes. My beloved wife, who had been bravely battling cancer, succumbed to the disease a few months later.”
The man’s voice cracked and the tears flowed harder.
“I was devastated by the loss of these two people who meant so much to me. After they were gone, it was just me and my son Danny. Then… ssix months ago” he whispered in a pain filled voice, my son’s life was taken by a drunk driver. The intoxicated man was out…celebrating…a promotion he received at work. I’m sorry for troubling you with my burdens…but I wanted…No, I needed you to know that…my partner, his name is Jim, well… he uh… he is more than a partner to me. That man is my only family now… he is like… like a brother. I… I don’t know what I would have done if I lost him too.”
Paul turned and saw his partner being loaded into the ambulance. He started to walk away to join him and abruptly stopped.
He glanced back and, looking directly into the paramedics eyes replied, “This may not make much sense to you guys… but when you saved HIS life… you saved MINE as well. I will never forget the sacrifice you were willing to make for… my brother. Thank you so very very much.” He gave them a small smile and hurried off before the paramedics could offer up a response.
Roy and John watched the man as he made his way to the ambulance and climbed into the passenger’s seat. The lights and siren came on as the vehicle pulled away from the curb making its way to Rampart. They continued to stare until the ambulance disappeared - Paul’s words still resounding in their ears.
Roy was the first to reply, “I think we understand where he is coming from, don’t we Junior.” John gave his best friend…his “brother” a knowing look and stated “we sure do Pally, we sure do."
McConnikee’s attention was briefly diverted as he watched the interaction between the two paramedics of station 51 with interest. He wasn’t, however, close enough to hear the words exchanged. He knew Gage and DeSoto were a phenomenal team and their skills as rescue men and paramedics had served the Department very well indeed. He felt that all their paramedics were capable, or they wouldn’t be out in the field. But Desoto and Gage were unique. They seem to work effortlessly as one. He wished he had the answer to make the other paramedic teams come together as unified as those two.
It was then an idea started to take shape. Could it work?
It was definitely something to give further consideration. McConnikee gave a thoughtful nod.
The HT in his hand crackled to life with a status report from Captain Stanley indicating the fire was 75% contained. He listened intently to the voice on the other end and then gave his acknowledgement. McConnikee wondered what Hank would think of the idea.
He found himself laughing out loud. He already knew the answer to that.
Captain Stanley had ordered his paramedics to swing by Rampart Hospital and have the Doctors check them both out. The remaining members of the crew were going to be out for the next couple of hours at least on overhaul and clean up.
It was close to 10:30am when Johnny and Roy finally arrived back at the station. They had been cleared, but told by Dr. Kelly Bracket to take it easy on their days off.
Bracket, knowing Johnny’s propensity to hide injuries, went over the paramedic with a fine tooth comb. He had to concede that this time Gage walked away with only some heat exhaustion, a bruise to his ribs, and a small bump and cut to his forehead…no concussion.
Now that was a first.
The young paramedic was well known for his numerous concussions. It was also common knowledge that John Gage and head injuries didn’t bode well for anyone in a several foot radius of his mouth when the nausea hit him.
Dixie McCall, the head ER nurse, and a fond admirer of both paramedics, teased Johnny that one more concussion would earn him a framed certificate along with a gold plated emesis basin autographed by all the people he had ever puked on. Some names would be on there more than once.
“Ha Ha…very funny Dix,” the young man replied.
The doctor chuckled as he pulled open the exam room door and left the young man in Dixie’s capable hands.
Johnny truly loved Dix, in a close friend/big sister kind of way, and he took her ribbing in stride. He flashed the older pretty nurse a winning smile while pulling his blue jacket on to cover his bare chest. He was overjoyed that he wouldn’t be spending his days off at Hotel Rampart.
Johnny eased himself off the exam table and exited the treatment room holding the door for Dixie. Roy, who had already been cleared by Brackett, was waiting at the base station talking with Dr. Joe Early. Seeing his partner he inquired “You getting sprung Junior?”
Johnny grinned back “Yup, I told ya it was nothing to worry about…DAD.”
Dr. Early couldn’t suppress a grin listening to the two men. They were complete opposites, but for some reason, they complimented each other perfectly. And they were the best damn paramedic team out there.
As the small group sipped coffee and chatted casually the red light above the base station room suddenly lit up catching Dr. Early’s attention. “Duty calls,” he said with a smile. As he opened the door the group heard…
“Rampart, this is Squad 36…how do you read me?” Dr. Early hurried over and depressed the button responding “This is Rampart, we read you loud and clear 36…go ahead.” The door closed quietly with a click.
Johnny and Roy advised Dixie they needed some supplies and went about opening cabinets and drawers grabbing the various items. The task completed, they said goodbye and downed the remaining drops of coffee from their cups. They were anxious to return to the station…and then home.
Both men were tired and reeked of smoke. Johnny went into the station locker room to take a quick shower and changed while Roy called home. Joanne, his lovely wife, answered the phone on the second ring. She had planned on her husband and Johnny arriving after their shift to sit down and eat a big breakfast she had prepared.
News of the early morning fire reached her ears from the TV she had flipped on for the kids, Chris age seven and Jennifer age four. She plopped down on the couch watching the film that was being replayed from the earlier broadcast. She scanned the multitude of red emergency vehicles filling the street. Her trained eyes finally found what she was hoping not to; the red rescue squad from Station 51. She fought back the nervousness she felt rising in her chest. Joanne was at least comforted to know that Roy and John were together. She knew Johnny would do whatever it took to bring Roy home safely to them at the end of every shift. He had given her his solemn promise.
And he had kept that promise.
Jo remembered back almost five years ago now how upset she was when Roy first announced he had asked to have Johnny as his permanent partner. Roy had gone through the very first paramedic class through Harbor General. At the conclusion, he was tasked with trying to recruit other rescue men to join the program. Johnny signed up and went through the second class which was held at Rampart Hospital. Roy was allowed to participate in the training again.
During the classes he and Johnny, despite their contrasting lifestyles and personalities, had become close friends. In his heart Roy DeSoto knew asking John Gage to be his partner was the right decision, for both of them.
When Jo first met the man she couldn’t believe how incredibly young he was. Only twenty-one years old! Her first impressions of John did not exactly win her over. He was quiet, a loner, withdrawn, and extremely sensitive. She couldn’t fathom why her husband chose him.
To be honest, it had scared the hell out of her.
Joanne never had the opportunity to see the other side of the young man.
At work, he was recognized as an outstanding paramedic. His intelligence and ability to navigate his way through fires was uncanny. And in rescues he was fearless…which aged his crewmembers prematurely. Roy, who was four years his senior, felt drawn to the young man. He saw signs of pain and mistrust in the gentle brown eyes that Johnny so desperately fought to keep hidden.
Roy couldn’t help himself from wondering what had occurred in Johnny’s life to cause such…sorrow. Roy couldn’t push it from his mind.
The older paramedic was bound and determined to understand what made John Gage tick; regardless of the barriers his young friend had created. Roy was a patient man and knew his efforts would yield the desired results.
In time Roy did gain the young man’s trust and learned some heartbreaking things about his past. John had lost both his parents at a young age, and his extended family made it clear to the impressionable young boy that he was neither wanted nor loved. Furthermore, John was half White and half Native American. Instead of people seeing the whole person that made up John Gage…He was looked upon and treated as a “half-breed” through the eyes of narrow minded people. John knew no other life until he entered his mid teens and went to live with his Aunt Rosemary. She accepted him into her home and heart, but by then the lessons were engrained in the young boy’s head. He accepted the ill treatment as “normal” and kept everyone at arm’s length. The collective results of his past left him feeling unwanted and unable to love or be loved. John excelled and thrived in his professional work, but his personal life was in shambles.
That all changed when Roy DeSoto and his family entered his life.
The Desoto’s had been through some difficult times helping John reclaim his identity and getting him to understand what a true family was really about. Among the difficulties were some tragic misunderstandings that had threatened to end the relationship and almost cost John his life.
The trials and tribulations endured were growing and learning experiences for all of them. John Gage brought something very special to the Desoto family. He was a fiercely loyal partner, friend, and brother to Roy, a loving uncle to their kids, and both a friend and brother to Joanne.
His energy level at times was off the charts and he left them sometimes feeling absolutely dazed and exhausted.
But that was John.
His gift to them was insight and understanding into the struggles of life so many people silently endure. Joanne and Roy had never truly appreciated this before they met John. His determination and will to survive along with his heart for forgiveness made him truly unique and special in their eyes.
Their family, with Johnny as an integral member, had settled into a comfortable routine. Joanne felt truly blessed.
Jo was standing at the kitchen sink finishing up washing dishes from the kids breakfast. Her thoughts kept going back to the fire and the safety of Roy and Johnny. Around 10:35am the phone, which was mounted on the wall across the room, shrilled loudly. She jumped at the sound almost dropping the glass she was holding.
With wet hands Joanne covered the ground between her, and the object of her attention, with lightning speed. She had the receiver off the hook by the second ring and drew it quickly to her ear. The familiar voice on the other end said “Hi babe…sorry, we had to hang over on a call. We just got back to the station. Johnny and I are famished. Is it…ah… too late for some breakfast?”
Joanne breathed a sigh of relief hearing her husband’s voice, as she wiped her hands on the edge of the apron wrapped around her waist. She looked around the kitchen, sparkling clean from her morning efforts and thought to herself, “It’s never too late to make my boys breakfast”. Joanne had picked up on the exhausted sound as her husband spoke and knew they must have had a rough night.
“Honey, it’s no trouble at all,” she assured him. They chatted for a few more minutes before hanging up and Joanne promptly walked over and started a fresh pot of coffee brewing. She knew her men, and that would be the first order of business when they walked through the door. That done, she quickly started opening drawers and cabinets pulling out the items she would need; all the while humming happily to herself.
The senior paramedic had replaced the receiver in the cradle and smiled. He was a lucky man and he knew it. He pushed open the locker room door just as his partner was finishing getting dressed. John looked up with hopeful eyes. Roy gave him a thumbs up and John gleefully responded “YES!”
Jo was an incredible cook and he was ravenous. His mouth started watering at the very thought. “What’s she makin,” John asked with anticipation.
Roy chuckled “Don’t know Junior…does it matter?”
“Nope…so let’s get movin,” he stated just as his stomach gave an enormous growl.
Roy grabbed his stuff out of the locker and slammed the door shut. He briefly thought about sneaking a quick shower himself, but changed his mind. The urge to get home was stronger than the smell currently emanating from his body.
John wrinkled his nose as Roy passed him on their way out the door. He was glad that he would be driving in his own car. His partner was RIPE.
Roy guided the Porsche into his driveway as Johnny parked his Rover on the street in front of the Desoto house. They climbed, somewhat stiffly, out of their respective vehicles and lumbered towards the front door.
Roy was reaching for the knob when the door flew open. Chris and Jennifer had been watching from the window and saw the men approaching. They raced to greet their father and uncle. As the kids were about to launch themselves into Roy’s arms, they skidded to a halt.
“Daddyyyy! Youuu stinkyyy,” Jennifer squealed. Chris was in complete agreement with his younger sibling’s assessment. They turned to their Uncle instead and John was on the receiving end of the warm hugs and kisses.
Roy frowned and said “Hey!” His wide open arms hanging suspended in mid air…empty.
Johnny, grinning from ear to ear, caught the children in a tight embrace. “Hi there little Pally,” he said to Chris, rubbing the top of the blond haired boy’s head with his hand. He then picked Jennifer up and planted several kisses on the little girl’s porcelain face. She giggled in delight. “And how is my beautiful girl this mornin?” he asked as he set the child back down on her bare feet.
In hindsight, Roy thought he probably SHOULD have taken that quick shower at the station. His momentary twinge of jealously vanished as he watched the affectionate exchange between his kids and partner. Joanne, peering from around the kitchen doorway, caught the scene as well and despite herself, couldn’t suppress the smirk that crept to her lips.
Jo moved over to her husband and wrapped her arms around his waist pulling him into a loving embrace. “Well handsome,” she said as she planted a kiss on his lips “You’re not to STINKYYYYY for me!” Roy laughed and returned the hug and smooch.
“You’re a sight for sore eyes,” Roy exclaimed as he kissed his wife again before extricating himself to go and take that much needed shower. The smells wafting from the kitchen…coffee, bacon, eggs, homemade bread…almost halted that progress. But he had learned his lesson.
Johnny, hearing Roy’s remark, grumbled, “Yea…sore eyes,” he agreed.
“AND back, arms, head, legs, hair, toenails…” He was continuing with his list when Roy shot him a backward glance and a look of warning. Roy knew as the wife of a fireman, Joanne had two constant companions that were faithfully present whenever he was on duty.
Their names were Worry and Fear.
Roy did his best to protect his family from knowing too much about his job; especially the close calls like this morning. But somehow, Jo always seemed to know, or at least sensed it. Then there was the media. They aided and abetted by providing visual images to accompany the already frightening thoughts that played in her mind.
John looked sheepish, knowing instinctively what Roy was saying with the stare. He attempted to divert the conversation by exclaiming “Hey Jo…the food smells fantastic, I am STARVING.” And, as if on cue, his stomach gave another incredibly loud rumble. John inwardly thanked his body for doing its part to help him out of the scrape he landed himself in.
Jo shook her head. “Honey, don’t blame Johnny, I already saw the news broadcast this morning covering the office building fire.”
“Damn reporters” Roy fumed.
“OFF…THE…HOOK!” was John’s first thought. The second was “Hey Jo, is the coffee ready?”
Joanne laughed, she KNEW her guys! She leaned up to give him a kiss on the cheek and replied “Yes, sweetheart, it’s all ready. Come in the kitchen and we will have a cup while Roy takes his shower.”
Roy smiled. He turned and headed up the stairs to do just that while Johnny followed Jo into the kitchen. It was a great start to their days off.
Beep…Beep…Beep…BEEP! “What the hell was that annoying sound,” John thought angrily as his eyes slowly opened. His sat up turning his head back and forth trying to hone in on it. CRAP! How could it be Monday morning already? John slammed his hand down on the alarm clock, silencing the offensive thing before taking both hands and rubbing his face. He glanced at the clock. It read 6:30am.
He lay back down in his bed and his eyes drifted shut once again. It had been an incredible weekend. He had met a beautiful young lady while at the beach with the DeSoto family. The two had gone out last night and he replayed the evening in his mind. A slow grin spread across his face.
Suddenly he jolted awake and flew out of bed; breathless. How long had he been laying there? Damn it…he couldn’t be late AGAIN! HOW, he asked himself, could the Klaxon alarms wake him from a dead sleep at work and in a matter of seconds, he could be dressed and sitting in the squad fully alert? Yet at home he couldn’t drag his sorry butt out of bed to save his life. GEEZ, he would be pulling latrine duty for a month!
John Gage ripped open the drawers of his dresser grabbing boxers, a white t-shirt and some socks. He picked up the jeans off the chair by his door as he made a mad dash from his bedroom to the bathroom. He quickly took care of the basic necessities, and ran to the kitchen to snatch up his keys and scanned the apartment for his shoes. His eyes stumbled upon the clock in the kitchen.
It was 7:07am.
“AWWWWW MAN! Next time, GENIUS, look at the stupid clock before ya freak out,” he chastised himself. After a few moments he calmed down and shook his head. Well, at least he wouldn’t be late. John decided to swing by the bakery and pick up some donuts for the shift.
At 7:36am he walked into Station 51’s day room and set the box of donuts on the kitchen table. He had already eaten a couple of the jelly filled ones in the car. He knew from past experience there would be none left once Chet arrived.
He sauntered into the locker room to get dressed. Roy, who was already there, looked up in surprise.
“What…Can’t a guy be early?” John hissed out.
Roy couldn’t resist. “Well, yea…a GUY can be early…but it usually isn’t you!”
“Oh, that’s good Roy…very funny,” Johnny shot back. He opened his locker door, reaching in to shake the blue uniform shirt from its hanger. He proceeded to shove his arms through the holes. He caught his partner’s sly grin out of the corner of his eye and had to laugh himself. What could he say? The man was right. He smirked at his partner as they both finished getting dressed.
Johnny and Roy were sitting at the table enjoying their first cup of coffee when the rest of the A-shift filed into the day room. Chet, spotting the box of donuts, made a beeline for them. He picked up the pastry and took a big bite. The jelly squirted out the sides dribbling all over his uniform shirt. He looked down in dismay as the guys started laughing.
Johnny rolled his eyes and couldn’t resist…“Chet, did you take stupid pills this morning or something? How many times does that have to happen before ya learn the proper technique for eating a jelly donut?”
Roy chimed in “Hey what’s it called when you keep doing the same dumb thing over and over again expecting to get a different result?”
“Insanity!” Marco and Mike said in unison.
“Gage…why don’t you go play on the freeway…and take your buddies with ya,” Chet shot back.
“That cut me deep amigo,” Marco replied with a grin.
Henry, who was stationed at his post on the leather couch, slowly lifted his head up to see what all the commotion was about. Seeing nothing that interested him, he let his head drop, readjusted his body to get comfortable, and fell back asleep.
“You guys need to get some new material,” Hank commented jerking his head towards the sleeping hound. “You can’t even hold Henry’s attention.”
“Hey, come on Cap. Using Henry as an example is not exactly setting the bar very high. I don’t think he would move off that couch even if it was on fire,” Chet replied.
“Well Chet, next time you are given the day room to clean just make sure you don’t use any “special solvents” to wipe down the couch. You know, like the one your friend gave you to repair those skis; and Henry should be safe. But I will keep the fire extinguisher handy…just in case,” Roy smirked.
Captain Stanley hadn’t forgotten that incident and looked over at his lineman with a frown.
Chet had bought a used pair of skis and was in the locker room working on them. A friend had given him a “homemade” solvent to use…which ended up in the damn things catching on fire. Roy had to rush in and put the blaze out with a fire extinguisher. Chet’s newfound enthusiasm for skiing went out almost a quickly as the flames.
Yea…his crew liked to keep him on his toes alright.
Cap glanced up at the clock noting the time. “Ok, enough team building, let’s get lined up for roll call.” The crew pushed back their chairs just as the tones went off.
“Station 51…Station 36…Squad 110…multi-vehicle accident with injuries on the Santa Monica Freeway mile marker number 45…Time out 0802.”
The men filed out the door and ran for their vehicles. “Man, this is NO WAY to start off the day,” he said to no one in particular as he made his way to the podium.
Stanley’s thoughts went back to his last shift. Nodding his head…he had a gut feeling he had made the right decision to finish his work that night.
The crew of Station 51 pulled up on the scene and stared wide eyed at the sight before them.
Crumpled vehicles littered the road. The people that were not injured exited their cars looking stunned at the scene around them. In the middle of the chaos was a huge Charter bus. It had come to rest on its left side perpendicular to the lanes of traffic. The front end was pressed up against the cement divider. Suitcases and other personal affects of the passengers had been evicted from the compartment bin of the vehicle. They were scattered in every direction.
The pavement around the bus was wet and the pool of liquid was getting larger…the gas tank had ruptured.
It was times like this that Captain Stanley’s strong leadership skills stood out. His eyes scanned and assessed with amazing speed. Within seconds his voice, calm and commanding, began directing his men.
“Kelly, grab an inch and half and get on that gas spill.”
“Lopez, make sure we have no issues that’s gonna spark a fire…then check back.”
“Gage, find a way inside that bus. I need information. How many people, what kind of injuries, and the best way to get ‘em out.”
“DeSoto, get started on the other vehicles. When squad 36 arrives I will have them relieve you and get back here and help Gage.”
The crew of 51’s had absolute faith in their Captain and his abilities. They flew into action without a moment’s hesitation.
Once his men had dispersed, Hank turned his attention to the other responding units. “Station 110, take the West side and begin checking vehicles and the status of the victims.”
“Squad 36, respond to our location on the East side and assist DeSoto with victims from this end.”
The tasks assigned, Captain Stanley keyed up the HT again, “LA this is Engine 51, we have a Charter bus on its side with a gas leak. There are at least twelve other vehicles involved in this incident. Respond Battalion 14, I need another Engine Company and squad, and at least six ambulances.”
“10-4 Engine 51,” Sam Lanier responded and he proceeded to immediately tone out the second alarm.
“Engine 36 from Engine 51,” Hank continued as soon as the radio traffic cleared.
“Go ahead Engine 51,” responded Captain Miller.
“Let’s set up a triage designation at your end. I want to keep people clear of this bus until we figure out just what we are dealing with.”
“10-4 Engine 51…we got it covered.”
One of the regular police officers and friend, Vince Howard, quickly approached Captain Stanley.
“Hi Hank…what a mess!” Vince replied shaking his head.
“You can say that again. Do you know what the hell happened?”
Vince nodded his head and replied, “Witnesses say the bus apparently blew a front tire. It looks like the driver overcompensated and lost control. At the speed he was traveling, the whole thing flipped on its side and skidded almost 100 feet before it came to a stop. It took out all the cars in its path.”
“OK, well the bus is leaking fuel and we want to try and head off any potential explosions. I need your guys to keep these people back. We don’t need any further injuries to deal with,” the Captain stated firmly.
“You got it. Let me know if there is anything else we can do to help.”
Marco came trotting up to his boss “So far so good Cap, I will keep an eye on it though in case something crops up.”
“Good man…Go and see if you can give Gage some help,” Stanley directed. Marco nodded and took off.
John Gage, with helmet, turnout coat, and gloves in place, approached the vehicle to begin his climb.
Something was wrong.
He paused for a second trying to put his finger on what it was. Then it hit him. He cocked his head to the side…
There wasn’t any sound coming from inside the bus.
He had been on enough of these types of accidents to know that he should be hearing people yelling and crying out for help. Looking around at the large number of items cast about the pavement was indicative that the vehicle had not been empty.
Concern mounting, John agilely scaled the undercarriage of the bus and pulled his lean body forward until he was on top of the vehicle. He laid down the pry bar tool he had brought, and holding his breath, peered through a window looking down into the wreckage.
Roy had separated from his partner grabbing the biophone and drug box out of the squad as he headed toward the car closest to him. He could see a male subject sitting upright in the driver’s seat. For all intensive purposes, the guy looked like he was just patiently waiting for traffic to start moving. Roy attempted to gain access through the driver’s side door without success due to the excessive damage.
“Hang on…I am going around to the other side,” he called to encourage the victim.
Roy went around the back of the vehicle and tried the passenger's side door. It opened with ease and he proceeded to climbed inside. The victim, Roy estimated, was in his 20’s. His eyes were open staring straight ahead.
As the paramedic moved forward to start his assessment, he realized the man was not responding to his verbal questions and was not moving.
Not even his eyes. They remained, unblinking, on the road ahead. The realization hit him like a ton of bricks. Roy had a flashback to a call they had a couple years ago at a car repair shop. A young man had been found, alive, but in a catatonic state with his eyes fixed open.
Whether it was because of that memory, instincts, or a hope that he was wrong, the fingers of Roy’s right hand reached out to touch the neck of the statue before him. He waited and then re-adjusted his fingers. He felt no sensation of life below his practiced digits. He grabbed his pen light and checked the young man’s pupils. There was no reaction. Roy reached behind him stowing the light back into the pouch on his belt.
The blond haired paramedic slowly started to back out of the car until his feet were on the ground. He stood up and looked around. He noticed the team from 36, Senior Paramedic Neil Beck and his partner Jack Bradley, were jogging up towards him.
“What have we got Roy?” Beck called out.
The paramedic shook his head and replied “He’s gone.”
Beck looked at his partner, “I think we’ve got it from here. Why don’t you split and go help out Johnny…I think he is gonna need it.”
Roy gave him a nod and turned to walk away. He wondered just how many wounded and dead they were going to have. At the thought, he picked up his pace and went to go find his partner.
John Gage peered into the overturned bus and was surprised at what he saw.
The crowd of people below were obviously scared and upset, but sat quietly.
As his face appeared in the window all their eyes turned upward to stare at him expectantly.
John located a partially broken window immediately adjacent to the one he was at. He wanted to clear the remaining glass from its frame but didn’t want the fragments to rain down upon the already injured passengers.
John moved quickly further down and found another window closer to the front of the bus. No victims were immediately below it. He broke through and, after clearing away the remnants, dropped himself cautiously inside.
John looked around, his trained eyes rapidly evaluating the situation.
“Hey, how you guys doin?” was all that he managed to say to the silent group. “Well… THAT was profound. I sound like I just casually dropped in for a Barbeque,” he thought.
A sandy haired man in his early 40’s started to make his way towards him.
“Hi” he responded. “My name is Dr. Richard Hoffman. These two men behind me, he gestured with his hand, are Bill and Joe. They are paramedics from Pasadena.” The two men waved acknowledging the doctors introduction, and feeling compelled to make it official, pulled out their wallets displaying their badges and Identification.
“I’m John…John Gage. I’m a paramedic with LA County…Nice to meet ya.”
He now understood. These three men had stepped in and immediately taken control of the situation, keeping these people calm and reassured that help was on the way.
John smiled back at the men. His eyes conveying the appreciation he so desperately wanted to verbalize at that moment. They shook their head in understanding and smiled back.
Gage pulled off his gloves and stuffed them in his pocket. He started to move around the passengers taking inventory as the doctor spoke. “John, we have done a quick check and the majority of people just have minor injuries; Bumps, bruises, cuts, and some broken bones. We have four others that are unconscious…but breathing. We haven’t had a chance yet to get to the driver.”
Bill and Joe had been closely monitoring the unconscious victims. John made his way over to them.
Bill replied “These four all had window seats on the left side of the bus. It looks like they sustained head injuries when the bus tipped over. Doc said we are going to need to get them out of here and get some lines going. No internal injuries that we can find.” John took a quick look at the four most seriously wounded, confirming their findings.
Johnny nodded and reached in to grab the HT from his pocket.
“Engine 51…HT 51”
“Go ahead Gage,” Hank responded.
“Cap, I’ve got about forty people in here. There is a doctor on board along with two off duty paramedics. He relayed the information he had received.
“We are going to need a few more guys in here to help. Have them bring bandages and splints and some ladders to get the people who are mobile outta here. Also four cervical collars, backboards, and stokes. The faster we get them out the better. I’m gonna head up and check on the driver.”
“10-4...help is on the way Pal,” Captain Stanley replied.
He turned to the group at large. “OK," Johnny called out reassuringly, "I have more guys coming. Don’t worry…we are going to get you all out of here safely and taken care of.”
He had no sooner finished talking when they heard the sound of ladders slapping against the side of the bus and feet making their way up the rungs. He looked up a few seconds later and saw Roy along with several other familiar faces through the windows. They lowered a ladder down and started their decent. Confident the passengers would be well taken care of, John made his way up to the front of the bus.
Hank had just completed a quick walk around the crash site with Chief McConnikee at his side. They estimated twenty victims in addition to the people inside the bus when he heard Gage’s transmission.
“LA…Battalion 14,” McConnikee called.
“Go ahead Battalion 14”
“Contact Rampart and Harbor General, advise them we have had a major MVA on the Santa Monica freeway and have an estimated sixty potential patients. We are setting up a triage and will provide further information as it becomes available on the seriousness of the injuries. Have them evaluate how many they believe they can handle and if we need to divert some to St. Francis.”
“10-4 We will make contact and advise.”
The blond haired bus driver was unconscious and bleeding from a facial laceration. It looked like he also cracked his head when the side of the vehicle hit the road. John ran his hands over the man’s head finding a large bump on the left side. He continued working his way down the neck and spine, noting no deformities. He carefully inserted his thumbs in the man’s ears and drew them back examining them. No blood or fluid. That was a good sign. John took out his pen light and gently lifted the closed eye lids. The left pupil was sluggish.
Pulse 90 and weak.
BP 100 by palpation.
John mentally recorded the vitals. He turned and saw Caldwell from squad 45 coming up behind him. “Need some help?” Ryan asked.
“Ahhh…ya…Just give me a second, I still need to finish checking him over.”
John ran his hands over the man’s arms and then moved to his abdomen and chest. He was grateful to find his belly was soft, no sign of internal injuries. The man moaned slightly as the medic’s hands examined the ribs on his left side. They didn’t shift under the pressure, indicating they weren’t broken, but possibly bruised or cracked. He continued on to the victim’s legs. John checked carefully for any abnormalities or signs of bleeding.
“Damn it” John muttered, “I think his left foot is pinned.” Johnny twisted himself around to see if he could get a visual on what the problem was.
“Hey Ryan…” he called from below, “We are gonna need a cervical collar and backboard for this guy as well. Also, get the porta-power.”
“You got it,” Ryan exclaimed as he turned and headed out.
Adam Washington, the senior paramedic of Squad 45, leaned in a moment later. He had been helping treat and evacuate the other passengers on the bus.
"Hey Johnny, how's it going? You need anything?”
"Hey Adam...no, I think I'm good. Your partner is running to get me some equipment. I think we got it covered," Johnny replied.
The man nodded."We are about ready to transport the second wave of patients. A couple of ambulances are headed to Harbor General. I am going with this next group to Rampart. I will let Caldwell know when he gets back."
"Got it...see ya later," Johnny said.
Ryan returned a short time later with the requested items. “They are moving the other passengers fast. They almost got about everyone out,” he related to the paramedic as he handed him the cervical collar. John swiftly got it in place, dressed the wound, and went to work on freeing the man’s trapped foot.
Marco, true to his word, had been keeping an eye on the bus watching for any signs of trouble.
It was a good thing he was.
While assisting with the evacuation of the last people on the bus, Marco saw a plume of smoke coming from the engine compartment. His eyes widened.
He turned his head and saw Hank Stanley standing near their rig talking to Stoker.
“CAP…CAP…!” He shouted as he ran towards him. Stanley looked up as Marco closed the distance.
“We’ve got smoke coming from the engine…”
“Marco, grab another inch and half. KELLY,” he shouted “get that line on the engine compartment of the bus…it’s starting to smoke.”
The men advanced on the vehicle as flames suddenly made their appearance.
“HT 51 from Engine 51, the bus is on fire…you need to get out NOW!”
Caldwell had been watching Johnny and then his attention was diverted as he saw the smoke. “Gage, we better hurry…I see smoke.” John straightened up confirming Ryan’s words. The sound of his Captain’s voice suddenly blared over the Handy talkie “…the bus is on fire…you need to get out NOW!”
John stared down at his patient and his eyes fell upon the gold wedding band on the victim’s left hand. He had a wife probably kids. John, like Roy, experienced his own flashback to a prior run.
A man had been trapped in a burning vehicle and his diligent attempts to extricate the victim had been unsuccessful. John had not averted his eyes from the horrific scene and watched helplessly as the man was engulfed by the flames. The victim's distraught wife had directed her pain and anger at him.
He was NOT going to let that happen again.
John went back to work re-doubling his efforts despite the radio traffic emanating from of the HT ordering them out. Caldwell stared at the HT… “Gage, he said softly…we can’t do anymore. We have to get out of here!”
“No, I am not leaving this man to die,” Johnny vowed silently as he worked in the cramped space.
"I…almost…got…it…” he stated panting with the effort.
Caldwell stared hard at John Gage. His eyes fixating on the medic’s very faded last name imprinted on the back of his turnout coat. It was barely readable, unlike his own which could be discernible a full mile away. Ryan felt a deep sense of respect and admiration for the man in front of him. He figured if Gage's coat could talk, it would probably rip his owner a new one for all the hair raising situations it had been put through.
This being one of them.
"THERE!” Johnny stated triumphantly, breaking Ryan's train of thought. The crushed metal finally relinquished its hold on the driver’s foot.
John Gage regretted not being able to put the man on the backboard and prayed he didn’t have any spinal injuries. But there wasn’t time. They would have to risk it.
The flames, despites the firemen’s best efforts, were on the move. Johnny and Ryan could feel the heat building inside the vehicle. Sweat ran freely down their faces and the uniform shirts clung tight to their bodies.
Johnny pulled the victim towards him and then angled him sideways onto his lap. This done, he put his arms under the victim’s armpits and firmly grabbed both the man’s wrists in his hands. He backed out pulling the man with him.
“Thank God he is unconscious,” John thought.
“RYAN...grab his legs and let’s move!”
Caldwell followed John’s directions and the two made their way back to the passenger area of the bus where a ladder was still in place through one of the windows. Water was raining down on them through the smashed windows as anxious faces watched the men’s progress from topside.
John put his back to the ladder, and feeling it with his feet, climbed a few rungs with the man still in his arms. He paused estimating he was close enough. He repositioned his grip on the man and together he and Ryan pushed hard shoving the victim upwards into waiting hands. The firemen hoisted the man the rest of the way out of the opening. “Watch his left ankle,” Gage warned “he has a probable fracture.”
Johnny flipped his body so it was forward facing on the ladder. Before starting his own ascent, John confirmed that Caldwell was right behind him.
In fact he almost ran Gage over in his attempt to get up the ladder and out of the bus.
“Hmmmm,” John thought as he started to climb. “The guy must be taking lessons from Kelly.”
The driver was rushed over to the triage area with Gage following close behind. Ryan, who knew his partner had already left with one of the ambulances, decided to stick with the dark haired paramedic. John stripped off his turnout coat casting it carelessly to the ground. The helmet had been abandoned long ago. His victim had been placed on one of the many yellow blankets that had decorated the ground.
“Ryan, grab the O2 and let’s get him started on 6 liters,” John advised.
Johnny knelt down next to the man with his back to Roy who was already working on another victim. The tools of their trade sat between the two men allowing them to separately work on their patients, but have joint access to their equipment.
John reached over and grabbed the Biophone.
“Rampart, this is squad 51…how do you read?” He asked.
“This is Rampart,” came the familiar voice of Dr. Kelly Bracket.
“Rampart, I have another victim of this MVA. He was the driver of the bus. Victim is a male approximately thirty-two years old. He is unconscious, a contusion to the left side of his head, possible cracked ribs, probable left broken ankle. We have him on O2…stand by for vitals.”
Johnny grabbed the spare stethoscope out of the drug box and placed it around his neck. “Hey Roy,” he said reaching one arm behind him. The blond haired paramedic instinctively slapped the BP cuff he had been using into his partners waiting hand. John’s fingers wrapped around it and he proceeded to maneuver it onto his patients arm.
After securing the vitals John Gage plucked his green pen from his shirt pocket and scribbled the information on his notepad. He picked up the biophone once again passing the information on to the doctor waiting at the other end.
Dr. Bracket listened intently. “10-4 51…start and IV D5W TKO on your patient. Keep him immobilized, splint the fracture, and maintain the O2. Give me another set of vitals in five minutes. Advise DeSoto to commence with an IV normal saline on victim six along with 5 mg MS IM for the pain.”
“10-4 Rampart,” he acknowledged as he pulled the drug box closer to him grabbing the necessary items.
“Johnny,” Roy said without looking back.
“On the ground next to ya”
“OK…thanks,” Roy said reaching for the IV bag and box containing the tubing.
John pushed the drug box back towards Roy knowing his partner would need it to grab the syringe and MS.
Ryan Caldwell and another newbie paramedic, Jack Bradley, from station 36 watched in fascination as the two partners worked. They were impressed with not only the men’s skills and proficiency but the way they interacted and communicated with each other.
McConnikee was watching too, but not the team of DeSoto and Gage. He had seen them in action countless times and understood why the men were engrossed in the scene before them. HIS attention was focused on Caldwell and Bradley. McConnikee’s thoughts returned to his idea from a couple days ago, and his desire to pursue it was even stronger.
A short distance away, a heavy set man in his late fifties was talking to a young woman. Roy had just finished administering the MS injection to his victim when he looked up.
The couple caught his attention.
The female seemed upset and was animated in her gestures. The older man shook his head and turned to walk away. Roy immediately understood the young woman’s concerns. The subject was sweating profusely, had his hands to his chest, and his face grimaced in pain. No sooner had Roy processed what he had seen and the man went down. Roy jumped to his feet.
“Johnny!” Roy shouted, “A man just collapsed across the street. Looks like a cardiac...can…”
“I gottcha covered...GO!”
“Jack,” Roy stated, “grab the equipment…your comin with me.”
Jack Bradley gathered the equipment and raced behind DeSoto to the fallen man. The two paramedics dropped to the ground and a flurry of activity ensued. McConnikee moved closer. He noted DeSoto’s calm and patient demeanor with the newbie. Jack was at total ease working with the senior paramedic and it showed. The kid did an outstanding job and McConnikee saw the look of confidence on his face.
“Hey Ryan…looks like you and me are partnered again,” Johnny said grinning at the young man. "Let’s check these guys vitals one more time before we get them loaded into the ambulance.” Ryan smiled back at the idea of Gage's first remark.
"You got it Johnny, I'll take Roy's place...I mean patient," he replied.
The conversation had reached McConnikee's ears. He liked what he was seeing...and hearing. He just wasn't quite sure of the logistics. But it would come to him. He was confident of that.
Gage and Caldwell finished up and got their patients loaded in the ambulance. Caldwell climbed in and sat down.
"Stay here and keep an eye on them," Johnny instructed. "I'll be right back."
Gage made his way over to Desoto and Bradley. "You need a hand Pally or are you all set?" he asked. "We're fine Johnny… thanks," Jack here did a real good job. The guy is stabilized and we should be ready to go in a few minutes."
"Good deal. I am going to let Cap know Caldwell and I are heading into Rampart. His partner as well as Jack's went in with some other patients a little while ago…So we can all meet up there. I will see if Cap can make arrangements to get all our squads to the hospital," John finished.
"Sounds good...see ya at Rampart," Roy stated.
The dark haired paramedic sought out his Captain and informed him of the plan. The man nodded in agreement.
"Nice work today John"
"Thanks Cap...we'll see you guys later."
John started to walk back. He hoped the two off duty paramedics, Bill and Joe, along with the Dr. Hoffman ended up at Rampart instead of Harbor General. He wanted the opportunity to buy them a cup of coffee and hear their version of what happened. He also figured Cap might want to contact their Department and give the guys an "atta boy" for a job well done.
John finished this thought as he approached the ambulance. He opened the back door and jumped inside, slamming the door behind him.
The ambulance arrived at Rampart and chaos reigned once again. It was a madhouse. Johnny and Ryan helped the orderlies guide the stretchers through the maze of people lining the hallway.
Dixie spotted her favorite dark haired paramedic and swiftly went to his side.
“Take both of your patients in treatment room five. I already have two other people in there, but it’s the best we can do at this point. Dr. Early is inside...by himself. Do you think you could hang around and give him a hand?”
“Sure thing Dix, we probably have awhile to wait anyways until our squad shows up,” Johnny replied.
“Thanks” Dix said gratefully giving him a warm smile, “You guys are the best!”
Almost two hours later things had somewhat calmed down. The group of paramedics had restocked their depleted supplies and then made their way to the staff lounge to escape, grab a quick cup of coffee, and reunite with their respective partners.
Roy had just sat down on the couch next to Johnny as Chet burst through the door. He spotted DeSoto and lobbed the squad keys at him.
“THERE YOU ARE...I have been looking ALL over for you guys! Must be nice…kickin back and relaxing. You paramedics got it made! Oh yea...AND I’m going to start charging livery service fees if I have to keep haulin YOUR squad all over LA,” he balked.
The group of men simply stared at the fireman during his tirade.
“Man, he is wound up tight,” Roy murmured to his partner as he easily caught the keys.
“Yea? I bet I could get him wound up tighter,” Johnny said in a challenging voice, his thoughts going back to this morning and some unfinished “team building” as the Cap called it.
“Hey Kelly…What’s that red stuff on your shirt?” John taunted.
Chet, having forgotten the jelly donut incident from the morning, looked down and then his face turned as red as the stain.
He gave John a sinister glare before turning and stalking out of the room. The guys snorted in laughter.
“Hey,” Bradley stated “How is he getting back to your station?”
“I’m guessing the guys on the engine followed him in. Cap knows the Emergency room was probably swamped and they would appreciate having us hang around to lend a hand. He’s a pretty perceptive guy,” Roy offered. “And Junior… you are definitely pushing your luck. When the Phantom strikes he is going to show no mercy.”
“Yea yea…whatever,” Johnny replied as he went to take a sip of his coffee. The cup barely reached his lips before…
“LA…Squad 51 what’s your status?”
Johnny stared at the HT in disbelief as he yelled back at it...
Both paramedics pulled themselves up off the couch and earned sympathetic looks from their peers.
John sighed and depressed the button “Squad 51 is available from Rampart.”
“10-4. Respond with Engine 51 for a man trapped… 4113 Maple Street…4 1 1 3 Maple Street…Cross Street Harding…Time out 1148.
“Squad 51 10-4…Later guys,” they said as they raced out the door.
The crew of station 51 backed their vehicles into the bay. They had been running nonstop since this morning’s freeway accident and were hungry and exhausted. They dragged themselves into the day room and collapsed into the chairs around the kitchen table. They were leery to say the words “breakfast”, “lunch”, “dinner”, “snack” or mention any food item by name, fearing it would set off the alarm again. It seemed to be the “taboo” topic of the day.
Marco finally decided to risk it and got up and walked to the refrigerator peering inside.
"Sandwiches OK?" He asked with his head still in the fridge. They all froze in anticipation. The room remained blissfully silent.
A tired chorus of “Yea… Sure… Whatever…” followed. They were too beat to really care what form of nutrition passed through their mouths, as long as it filled the void in their stomachs.
Marco started taking out lunch meat and other items for their dinner. Mike got up and helped by getting plates, cups, and silverware.
The remaining four went to get cleaned up and headed into the dorm to set out their turnout gear. When they returned, the food was on the table. Kelly had switched on the TV and the men watched and ate in silence.
Cap finished first and headed into his office closing the door. The crew’s eyes followed his movements not envying the paperwork the man now faced. Kelly cleared the table while Johnny and Roy quickly did the dishes. By 11:25pm the men were all in bed, except for their Captain. Hank decidedly had enough a mere thirty minutes into his paper nightmare before calling it quits. He shuffled to the dorm and fell into bed. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
Five hours and thirteen minutes after the vehicles pulled into the station...the tones sounded again. They were part of a second alarm assignment. The men let out a collective groan. They slid out of the comforts of their warm beds trying to shake off the sleep and get their heads focused on the task at hand.
“Station 51…Station 110… Assist Station 10, Station 45, Squad 36, and Battalion 14 with a structure fire…1505 Market Street... 1 5 0 5 Market Street…Cross Street Lowden…Time out 0353.”
The structure was a large medical supply company. There were offices in the front and a 28,000 square foot warehouse attached to the rear. The black smoke could be seen billowing upward in the early morning sky before the building even came into view.
At the scene John leaped out of the squad to help Marco haul hose off the rig and hook up to the nearest fire hydrant. Mike pulled the engine away letting the lines unravel as he went. Reaching his intended destination, he threw the rig in park, jumped out, and prepared to charge the lines. Kelly and Lopez, with hoses in hand, joined the other firefighters already engaged in battle against the raging fire.
Once his task was complete, Gage jogged the short distance up to where Roy had parked the squad and was already out and donning his gear. Johnny copied his actions opening the compartment and slinging his SCBA across his back. The mask dangled freely in front of him. He also grabbed some rope and looped it over his shoulder. He had a feeling...
"Engine 51...Battalion 14," McConnikee called out. "Respond to the command post with your paramedics...on the double."
"10-4…on our way," Stanley replied. The three men wasted no time maneuvering their way around the hose obstacle course that lay before them. Hank took in the fiery structure in front of him and then a side glance at the two men keeping pace next to him. He knew without out a doubt where his boys were headed...and he didn't like it.
The three men of 51 reached the command post and looked expectantly at the Chief waiting to be briefed.
"Hank," McConnikee began, “the owner advised he had two men working overnight doing inventory. They were trapped somewhere inside the Warehouse. Squad's 45 and 36 went inside to do the search. There was an explosion. 45 managed to locate one of the victim's and got him out. They are working on him now..." he paused.
"Attempts to raise 36 have been unsuccessful. We have been able to get a couple of crews with lines back inside the warehouse. I need your men to go in and find the other victim…along with Beck and Bradley. Be advised the warehouse stores various medical supplies…including 02 and Nitrous Oxide," McConnikee added.
"Chief," DeSoto spoke up. "It's a big Warehouse. Where did 45 find their victim? The other guy may be close. And do we have a last location for 36?"
"Affirmative DeSoto...45 found the victim at the southwest end of the building. 36 was headed that way, assuming the two men were probably in close proximately to one another, when the explosion occurred.” The men nodded with this additional information and started toward the building.
Captain Stanley followed his paramedics to the docking bay which was the only clear entry point into the warehouse. A crew was standing by keeping a steady flow of water streaming in.
John looked down and saw a coil of rope lying discarded in a puddle at his feet. His eyes followed the length of it finally coming to rest on the severed end. The burned edges told John the other half was somewhere inside, probably attached to a paramedic's body. He desperately hoped it could still be called a "lifeline".
Gage set his jaw in determination and removed the rope off his own shoulder and secured it around his partner's waist. When he was finished he handed the remaining slack to his boss. He felt his right pocket making sure the handy talkie was safely stowed inside. Both men pulled the masks over their faces and adjusted the straps. They took a couple of test breaths before flipping their helmets up off the back of their necks, and finally tugging gloves into place.
"You guys know the drill...keep your heads down and get the hell outta there if things go south...UNDERSTOOD!" Hank said pointedly.
"Understood Cap," Roy replied in a muffled voice.
"Yea Cap...understood," John answered.
Captain Stanley watched the rope feed out from his hands as it disappeared inside...along with his men.
Roy and Johnny moved rapidly through the vast interior. Their eyes scanning and ears straining to hear any sounds that might lead them to their victim's.
Navigating through the warehouse was proving to be a treacherous task. Tall metal shelving units filled with stock were weakening under the heat and additional weight of the water. Many had already collapsed and others were threatening to do so. The fire had taken a firm hold and the linemen had their work cut out for them trying to beat it down. The two partners moved further and further into the building, hoping they were headed in the right direction.
Several moments later, John's eye caught a glimpse of something. He stopped abruptly staring hard. It was the end of a rope. Roy's eyes tracked his partners stare and he saw it to. Both men moved forward following the trail. They had gone only about fifteen yards when they saw the rope disappeared under a large piece of shelving. They stepped around the fallen structure and found Beck lying, unmoving, beneath it.
Bradley had been trying desperately to free his partner without luck. He looked up with relief as he saw the medics of 51. "ROY...JOHN! I can't get him out. Beck has the HT in his pocket and I couldn't call...I was gonna go for help, but the rest of lifeline was gone.”
"OK Jack…don’t worry. The three of us are gonna get him out."
"Johnny, you grab one end and I will get the other. Let's see if between the two of us we can lift this shelving off him. Jack, if we can get it up, you need to slide him out quick…OK?”
The man nodded and Johnny and Roy moved into place.
"On three… One...two...THREE!”
Both men lifted with everything they had. Their muscles screamed in protest but the shelf rose slowly. Jack grabbed his partner and pulled him clear. John and Roy let the metal prison fall back into place.
"Jack," Johnny said. “Do you know where the other victim is?”
“We thought we heard someone calling and were making our way through the aisles when there was an explosion, and everything came down around us."
"Are you hurt?" Johnny asked.
“I’m ok…just banged up my leg a little. I can walk on it…no problem.”
Johnny knelt down next to Beck and reached into his turnout coat locating the HT while Roy checked on the fallen paramedic.
"Engine 51…HT 51 can you copy me?" Johnny shouted above the noise as he tested the radio.
"10-4 HT 51...I copy you," Stanley replied.
"We've located 36...Beck is hurt...he is unconscious. Bradley has a minor leg injury but otherwise appears ok. We think the other victim is close. Stand by."
Johnny handed 36’s HT to Jack as he lifted the mask off his face. “I am gonna head to the other side of this unit and see if I can find our victim."
Roy hesitated a moment and then nodded.
John let the mask fall back into place and quickly ran to the end of the aisle and made two hard rights. He jogged around the fallen debris, and jumped out of the way as items continued to come crashing down.
"Gage?!" came the voice of Bradley from his pocket. He reached for the radio keying up, "All Good," he said.
Johnny continued his forward movement. His eyes came upon the subject lying on the ground before him. He had a lot of debris on top of him and also a large carton rested on his legs and the small of his back. Seeing the paramedic, the man called weakly “Over here…PLEASE HELP ME!”
John moved quickly towards the trapped man. As he got closer he noticed something covering the victim’s face. He also saw a half empty bottle of saline solution on the floor.
John Gage grinned and applauded the man’s ingenuity.
The victim had located a box of surgical masks and the saline. He had doubled up the masks and soaked them in the solution before placing them over his nose and mouth, giving him some protection from the smoke.
John observed the man had some minor burns on his arms and a gash on his forehead.
“What’s your name?” he asked as he kneeled next to his victim.
“Scott,” the man answered weakly pulling the masks from his face.
“Ok Scott, John replied, already starting to clear the debris away, “I’m gonna get this carton off of you. Do you feel any pain in your legs or back?”
“Uh, yea…maybe a little.”
John bent down and got in position. He was able to catch the writing on the side of the carton.
EMISES BASINS - COUNT 1000. He rolled his eyes. The carton was busted open and he had a fleeting thought about snatching a handful. With all the stuff falling down in this place, he was sure a concussion was in his future. Dix would be impressed if he brought in his own supply when he graced the ER with his presence.
He sighed and gave the box a shove, successfully rolling it off his victim. “How are your legs?” the paramedic inquired as he checked the guy out quickly. Scott moved them easily back and forth and then pushed himself into a sitting position. John nodded; the man did not appear to be too seriously injured. He reached up and slipped off his mask offering it to his victim. Scott pulled the mask to his face and gratefully took in the fresh air. John allowed him a few deep breaths and then knew they had to get moving.
“Do ya think you can get up?” John yelled.
“Yea…I think so,” Scott answered. The dark haired paramedic helped the man up and noted he appeared to be pretty stable on his feet. He was glad his victim would be able to walk on his own; it would have been a hell of a job trying to carry him through what John had now dubbed the “war zone.”
“OK Scott…you good?” John asked, “Cause we need to get outta here….FAST.”
“WAIT…wait a minute!” he shouted, “My friend… He is around here somewhere! You have to…” John put both his hands up palms out and stopped him. “It’s ok… it’s ok. He’s safe… some other firemen already got him out.” The man breathed a sigh of relief.
John removed the HT from his pocket. "Jack, I got him and he is mobile...listen, you guys take Beck and start movin. Untie Roy’s line and leave it. When I make my way back around...I can follow it out."
Roy hesitated...he didn't like the idea of leaving Johnny behind, but Beck was not in good shape.
Jack looked at Roy. “You want me to go help him?”
“No…it sounds like he’s got it under control.”
"Ok Johnny...you'll be right behind us?" Jack confirmed.
"YES...get going!" John said sharply.
“Engine 51 from HT 36” Bradley called.
“DeSoto and I are heading out with Beck. We are gonna leave the line for Gage to follow with his victim…so don’t retract it.”
Roy undid the line around his waist and let it drop to the ground. Jack helped hoist his partner onto the older man’s shoulders.
“Ok Roy, I’ll lead us out. You ready?”
Gage and Scott made their way back to the spot the others had just vacated. He found the line and picked it up. John explained quickly to his victim. “See this rope,” he pointed with his gloved finger leading the trail in front of him. The man nodded.
“If something happens and we get separated…you keep following that line. Got it?” The man nodded again.
“OK…let’s go.” He placed the man in front of him and they began to move. John scanned the area around them alert for any signs of danger. He had to side step a couple times to dodge falling debris.
They were about thirty feet from the exit when it happened.
“RUN!!!” Gage bellowed. The startled man found a burst of energy and sprinted forward just as a massive section of the ceiling caved in behind him. The sound was deafening and Scott just barely made it through the exit in time. He was shaking from head to toe but turned with extreme relief and gratitude to thank his rescuer for saving his life.
The young fireman was not there.
The exit Scott had just passed through was now completely blocked with the burning debris from the collapsed ceiling. He knew the fireman had been right behind him and must have been crushed to death. He felt his stomach lurch and was sure he was going to be sick.
A crew member from station 36 had brought over the equipment from their paramedic’s squad and Roy and Bradley had started working on Beck. Hearing the loud crash Roy looked up expectantly, hoping to see his partner doing his typical mad dash out of the building. Instead, he saw some firemen assisting a very shaken man over to their location.
Roy’s blue eyes continued to search for his partner.
“Jack, check this guy out,” he instructed, motioning with his head towards Scott. “I will be right back.”
DeSoto walked over and stood by his Captain. The two men stared in silence at the completely blocked exit.
Their eyes slowly moved towards the wet pavement taking in the second life line now lying next to the first.
“Cap…?” Roy said slowly.
Captain Stanley raised the HT to his lips.
“Engine 51 to HT 51…?”
“Engine 51 to HT 51…?!”
“HT 51 - THIS ENGINE 51…DO YOU COPY?”
“Roy,” the Captain said slowly, “Go back and take care of the victims.”
“But Cap…?” he choked out, taking a step forward towards the building.
Captain Stanley grabbed Roy’s arm to stop him.
“I know… But Bradley needs you. Now go back and help him with the other two victims,” Stanley repeated softly as Chief McConnikee came up next to him. The two men began talking in a low voice. He heard his partner’s name and the term Code F escape McConnikee’s lips. He saw his Captain pause and then shake his head up and down. McConnikee put his hand on the Captain’s shoulder giving a squeeze before turning away.
Roy hesitated and then walked back. He knew his partner. Things may look bad, but after all…this was John. He refused to believe his partner was gone.
Bradley was getting Scott’s vitals when Roy returned and kneeled down to continue working on Beck. He was feeling angry and frustrated that he couldn’t get back into the building to search for his partner. He needed to find him.
Scott looked up at the paramedics before him with tears in his eyes. “I am so sorry about the other fireman. He saved my life! I don’t know how he KNEW…he he just did. We we…were making our way out and all of a sudden…he was yelling at me to run. I didn’t even know…what was happening. I just ran! He was right behind me and and…MY GOD…the whole ceiling came crashing down right on top of him!”
Roy shut his eyes tight as the words penetrated his brain…and his heart.
“No…NO!!!! This can’t be happening…it CAN’T BE REAL!” Roy’s mind screamed silently.
A short distance away from the distraught paramedic, Ryan Caldwell was helping his partner Adam Washington load their victim into the ambulance. Ryan bent down and handed the drug box to Adam, who had climbed in after his patient.
“Hey Adam, I’m going to see if 51’s medic’s need any help. I will bring the squad in and meet you at Rampart in a little while,” Ryan advised.
“Ok, sounds good. See you later.”
The ambulance pulled away and Ryan made his way over to where the group was gathered. He was relieved to see Bradley and Beck had gotten out along with the second victim.
He searched the faces and noticed the dark haired medic from 51 was not among the group.
“Hey,” he asked looking around “Where’s Johnny?”
The answer to that question was caught in everyone’s throat.
Ryan looked at each man expectantly, and then seeing the expression on their faces…he understood.
“Oh god…,” Ryan said in a cracked voice.
The three paramedics were each overcome with their own sense of guilt.
“IF we only could have moved faster and reached both victims’…Gage and DeSoto wouldn’t have had to go in,” thought Caldwell.
“IF I would have put the victim first instead of seeing to my partner, I probably could have freed the man and come back to Beck and waited for help. Precious time was lost because I didn’t do my job. Gage had to do it for me,” thought Bradley.
“IF I only would have told Bradley to grab Beck and go…I could have helped Johnny extricate the man faster,” thought Roy.
The explosion that disrupted their thoughts was significantly more intense and powerful than the previous one. Even the men standing quite a distance away could feel the strength of the blast. The group of paramedics gave an involuntary shudder. Their guilt plunged even deeper.
Roy turned away from the inferno and picked up the biophone. He hoped he could control the tremor in his voice.
“This is Rampart, go ahead,” came the voice of Dr. Early.
“Rampart, we have two additional victims of this fire. One is a Code I.”
Joe Early rubbed his nose with his finger shaking his head. He wondered what injuries DeSoto’s partner had incurred this time. He hoped it wasn’t serious.
“51…is your Code I John Gage?” Early responded thinking he was beating Roy to the punch.
“Negative Rampart…it’s it’s…Beck.” Go back three letters in the alphabet Doc and you will have the right Code for my partner, he thought with a crushing sense of loss.
Roy took a deep breath and kept the thought to himself. He proceeded to relate the vitals and condition of both his victims. He fought against the tears threatening to well up in his eyes.
John had heard the preemptive sounds that the ceiling above them was going to go. He had been several feet behind Scott when he shouted his warning. John knew he couldn’t clear it if he attempted to beat the fallout. Instead, he had been forced to retreat backwards to avoid being buried beneath the rubble. Still, some of the burning ceiling tiles came down striking his left shoulder. He fell to the ground grimacing in pain. John rolled on the wet floor successfully extinguishing the flames on his turnout coat.
He went to pull the HT out of his pocket noting with a dread that the antenna had been snapped off. All he heard was static.
He was trapped.
John heard the alarm sound off on his tank and knew he was starting to get low on air. In the grand scheme of things, it probably wasn’t going to matter much. He withdrew the knife from his belt and bent down to cut the life line. He gathered it up as he made his towards the back of the warehouse, his eyes working overtime trying to work out a solution to his current predicament.
The Warehouse had only two ways to get in and out, the docking area and a main door that led to the offices. Both were impassible. There were no other doors or windows…
John moved to one of the outer walls and looked up. That is when he saw them; very small rectangular windows…about twenty feet off the ground near the ceiling. He wasn’t even sure he would fit but it was his only hope. The next problem - there was nothing around for him to climb up on to reach them.
Adding to an already desperate situation, John noticed, with a sense of foreboding, Nitrous Oxide bottles lining the wall a short distance away. He was surprised with the intense heat that the tanks had not already blown. It was going to be quite an impressive blast and John had no desire whatsoever to witness the event up close and personal.
His attention was drawn once again to the windows. This time, his eyes located a beam running across the ceiling. His mind went to work...If he could just rig the rope around that beam so he could climb…But how?
He needed to find something to tie to the end of the rope. It had to be light enough so he could throw it, but heavy enough to be able to cause the line to come back down to him.
John looked down and his eyes focused on the entry tool attached to his turnout coat. He nodded. It just might work.
He yanked the tool free and tied it to the end of the rope. He said a silent prayer, did a quick calculation, and launched it as hard as he could upward. It flew over the beam with a foot to spare. John carefully fed out the line. The tool, with the rope in tow, descended toward him.
He untied the entry tool and put it back on his coat. He then skillfully created a loop knot at one end of the rope. John grabbed the other end of the line and threaded it through the loop and pulled. He kept pulling until he had a secure tie off to the beam. He was going to have to do a free climb up the rope to the window. He wasn't confident his sore shoulder was up for it, or the rope would even hold. It was wet and singed in some locations. Not optimal conditions…But he had no other choice.
John pulled his mask off and shrugged out of his SCBA. He grabbed the rope firmly with both hands and looked upward. Who would have thought twenty feet could seem so damn far away? Realizing now was not the time to ponder such questions he started his climb; teeth clenched as his arms and shoulders supported all his weight. He shook off the pain and continued his progress, his legs swinging wildly back and forth.
John finally reached the top and leaned his body back. He kicked the window hard with both feet. The glass shattered on impact and he felt a searing pain in his right leg. A jagged piece of glass sliced through the turnout pants and into his flesh. Blood droplets fell to the ground below. John glanced down and fervently hoped that was the only part of him that would hit the floor. He braced his left foot against the wall while trying to clear out as much of the glass fragments as possible with his right foot. His arms started to shake under the intense strain. He was running out of time and he knew it.
He swung feet first through the small opening. The rest of his body followed. His back scraped along the bottom of the frame but he cleared the window. John hung onto the rope pulling the slack out with him. His intentions were to lower himself down along the outside of the building.
It was a good thought...and was working until he was about half way down. The heat and the fire finally reached the Nitrous Oxide containers. The explosion that followed was so powerful it rocked not only the building, but almost dislodged the fillings out of paramedic’s teeth.
It was nothing short of a miracle that he was able to retain his grip on the rope. And the suddenly… John Gage was rapidly being pulled BACK UP into the building.
WHAT THE HELL?
Realization and reaction hit him at almost the same time. The ceiling beam his line was attached to had given way and was collapsing to the ground, taking his line with it. He had no choice.
He let go.
John fell about twelve feet onto the pavement below. He landed on his feet and felt pain shoot through his right knee and ankle as they absorbed the brunt of his weight. The leg gave way and he sank to the ground.
A couple of firemen from 10 along with Lopez and Kelly had seen the glass shatter. It drew their attention and eyes grew wide in wonderment as they saw a slender body pop out through the opening and start a downward decent.
The two men from 51 looked at each other..."Gage."
"Well I'm sure he just added a few more gray hairs to caps head," Kelly replied.
“Yea,” Marco agreed, “And subtracted a few from Roy’s.”
They both turned back amazed at their youngest crew mate’s abilities to get himself out of virtually impossible situations. It was short lived as they saw Gage being yanked back up into the building.
Their jaws dropped in dismay as they watched him let go and fall.
Chet and Marco ran over to where the young paramedic had landed. John turned to face his friends and gave a weak smile.
"Oh...hey guys," he responded and then proceeded to cough violently.
"Hey yourself John," Marco stated.
The two men quickly lifted their crewmate and carried him a safe distance away before setting him down again.
John continued with his rasping cough and Marco gave him some oxygen from his mask. After a couple minutes it eased up and John decided to try and stand. He tested his right leg, bearing some weight on it, and winced in pain.
"Nope" he said to his friends shaking his head.
"It's ok Johnny...we gotcha. You want us to get the stokes?” Marco asked.
“NO! Just give me a minute…I’m ok…I’m ok,” he answered.
The linemen waited patiently until Johnny signaled to them he was ready. They positioned themselves on either side as they assisted the battered paramedic to the other side of the building to get his injuries attended to.
Roy and the other two paramedics were loading the patients into the waiting ambulance when Chief McConnikee and the Captain walk up to them.
Roy was numb. It hadn’t sunk in yet. He saw the Chief approaching and anticipated what was coming. Roy knew the speech would be sincere and well intended, but he was in no mood to hear it.
“DeSoto…uh, Roy” McConnikee began. The paramedic turned to face his Chief.
“How is Beck?”
“He sustained a pretty decent knock on the back of the head, a few cracked ribs, and a lot of bruising on his back. He will probably be out of commission for a bit, but I think he…is gonna be…ok,” Roy responded quietly.
McConnikee nodded and continue, “Glad to hear that.”
“Roy…I just wanted to tell you how sorry we are about Gage. It is a tremendous loss to this Department. He was an outstanding paramedic and firefighter…”
As the Chief spoke, Mike Stoker, who was standing by the engine, did a double take at the sight coming around the side of the building. He hurried over to his Captain and grabbed him by the arm.
“Uh, Cap…you might want to take a look to your left.”
“Mike, not now. Ok Pal?”
“CAP! You REALLY need to take a look OVER THERE!” Mike pulled on his superior’s arm forcing him to turn around.
Hank Stanley’s eyes grew wide as he stared in utter disbelief.
“You would THINK I would be used to this by now!” the Captain blurted out.
Chief McConnikee stopped mid conversation and turned as well to see what had gotten Stanley’s attention. Roy, Ryan, and Jack followed suit.
The group of men watched as John Gage, supported by Lopez and Kelly, made his way towards them. They could tell he was hurt and in pain, but miraculously very much alive.
It took Roy about a half a second to realize who he was seeing before his feet were in motion. He reached Johnny’s side in the next half second.
“Look what we found dangling outside of the building,” Kelly announced as he relinquished his position to the senior paramedic.
As Johnny limped up to the astonished group he asked “Hey… did Scott…I mean the other victim get out? Is he ok?”
Roy just stared in wonder at his younger partner. It was so typical of John to barely escape a near death experience…and the first question out of his mouth was to ask if other people were ok.
“Yea Junior…he’s fine. Now how about we do damage control on you?”
He was fighting the urge to pull his partner, his little brother, into a bone crushing bear hug. The relief he felt could not be expressed in words.
“DeSoto,” McConnikee started, why don’t you let Caldwell here take a look at Gage and you…” His voice trailed off at the intense look he received from the senior paramedic.
“NO…I’VE got him,” Roy had made his declaration.
Captain Stanley had a slight grin on his face that his Chief, thankfully, did not see. He turned towards the junior medic of 36.
“Bradley, you go with the victim’s to Rampart. Caldwell, follow them in your squad… I will take care of notifying your Captain’s.”
Bradley nodded and climbed into the back of the ambulance. As the door was closing they heard him say “Scott, I have some news I think you’re gonna want to hear…”
Stanley picked up his HT to request another ambulance.
John stopped him. “Cap…really, it’s not necessary. Roy can just bring me in the squad.”
Cap looked at Roy who shook his head.
Stanley, ignoring the younger paramedic, keyed up the HT.
“LA, please respond another ambulance to this location for a Code I.”
Johnny started again with his rasping cough as the guys gently lowered him to the ground. Roy looked up, “Mike, can you go and get our equipment out of the squad…and grab the 02.” The engineer nodded and took off.
McConnikee looked at the injured paramedic in amazement. “Gage,” he said, “I don’t know how you managed to get out of THAT mess he nodded toward the building…but we are grateful you did. I hope you are not to seriously injured. You let your par…uh, DeSoto take care of you. Understood?”
“Yes sir,” John acknowledged tiredly.
McConnikee addressed Captain Stanley quietly. “THIS story, I have to hear in person over a cup of coffee…or maybe something stronger,” He added with a smile.
Hank yearned to grill his youngest crewmember about that very thing, but looking at his face he knew now was definitely not the time or place.
“I know Chief; I can’t wait to hear it myself,” Stanley replied.
“Ok Johnny, where are ya hurt?” Roy asked.
“Mostly it’s my right leg - the knee and ankle. I also cut it on some glass. My left shoulder is a bit sore from some ceiling tiles that hit me, but otherwise…I’m ok,” He said as his voice trailed off.
Roy started with the leg. He removed the boot and took his scissors cutting his way through the tough material of the turnout pants. The laceration was about two inches long and still bleeding. It didn’t look to be extremely deep, but would definitely require stitches. Both John’s ankle and knee were a bit swollen and tender, however he still had good range of motion in the joints.
Mike set the equipment down beside Roy and gave John an affectionate scruff on the top of his head before heading back to the engine.
“Cap,” can you get him on 6 liters of 02 and then grab some 4 x 4’s and try to stop this bleeding. I’m gonna check his shoulder.”
“Sure thing Roy,” Cap replied.
“Johnny, are you sure you didn’t get hit on the head,” his partner asked with concern.
“Naw, not this time.”
Roy finished his initial exam and started to gather John’s vital signs. He then picked up the biophone.
“Rampart this is Rescue 51…how do you read?”
“This is Rampart…go ahead 51.”
“Rampart, squad 36 is going in with our previous two victims. I am still at the scene and have another Code I.”
“10-4 51…go ahead,” came Dr. Early’s reply.
“Rampart, the victim is a 25 year old male who was trapped in a structure fire. He has pain in the left shoulder, a two inch laceration on his right leg, swelling, pain, and tenderness to the right knee and ankle. He also has some heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. Vitals are BP 148/86 Pulse 94 respirations 24. The Code I is…Gage.”
“10-4 51…start an IV D5W, dress the wound, and keep him on the 02. Immobilize the shoulder and his right leg.”
“Hey Johnny, how did you mess up your knee and ankle?” Roy asked getting the IV set up.
“Oh…Uh…I think I just ummm fell on it the wrong way,” John replied evasively.
Kelly, who had walked up and was standing off to the side chimed in.
“Fell the wrong way! Are ya kiddin Gage? Roy, he dropped like a stone probably over twelve feet onto the pavement…landed on his feet. Then he collapsed on the ground. Marco and I saw the WHOLE thing!”
Roy snapped his head back to his partner with accusing eyes. “IS THAT TRUE?” he yelled. John’s guilty expression was a good as an admission.
“Kelly, get me a c-collar and the backboard.”
“Roy…no, I’m fine…I swear.”
“ARE YOU CRAZY? You could have a compression fracture in your neck or spine! For God’s sake Johnny, WHY didn’t you tell me?”
He snatched the biphone “Rampart…squad 51,” Roy ground out angrily.
“Go ahead 51”
“Rampart, I was just advised the victim sustained the knee and ankle injury due to falling over twelve feet onto the pavement. He landed on his feet.”
“51…apply a cervical collar and get him on a backboard. Take all spinal precautions.”
Kelly came back with the items and handed them over to Roy. The dagger stares from both his partner and Captain kept John from protesting further. He did however manage to give Chet a “Why couldn’t you keep your big mouth shut” look.
Kelly smirked back at John. “Hey buddy, I am just watchin out for your BACK.”
Roy, knowing that Chet was giving John a shot, rounded on him... “AND YOU! If you saw him fall, why in the HELL did you WALK him over here?”
Kelly’s smirk disappeared immediately at the realization of what Roy was saying sunk in. He and John tormented each other, but it was just the nature of their relationship. They were friends and Chet would never do anything intentionally to hurt Johnny.
“Uh…sorry Roy…he he seemed to be ok and umm…we ahh, just took his word for it.” Kelly answered feeling full of regret.
He pointed a finger at John while his blue eyes flared at the lineman. He bellowed “CHET…SERIOUSLY? HOW MANY YEARS HAVE YOU BEEN WORKIN WITH THIS GUY? And you took HIS word for it? YOU REALLY HAVEN’T FIGURED IT OUT YET IN YOUR HEAD THAT JOHN HAS A RATHER LENGHTY TRACK RECORD FOR HIDING INJURIES?” Roy finished incredulously.
“OK Roy…that’s enough.” Cap interjected. “Finish up with John and get him into Rampart. Kelly will be more than HAPPY to drive your squad in a little later… Right Chet?”
“Yea Cap…absolutely…no problem whatsoever.”
Roy gave Kelly a final glare and turned back to finish tending to his partner. The ambulance arrived and they got him loaded in.
Cap looked around and saw the men were bringing the fire under control. He turned to his lineman. “Kelly, show me where you saw Gage fall from.”
The lineman took his Captain around the side of the building and pointed up.
“He came out of that small window? How did he even get up there?” Cap asked the man standing next to him.
“I dunno Cap”
“So he was hanging onto the window frame and let go?”
“No Cap, he was lowering himself down on a line,” Kelly replied absentmindedly.
Captain Stanley looked back at the building. There was no rope hanging from the window. He brought this to Chet’s attention.
“Yea, I know Cap.”
Hank Stanley ran his hand over his face in frustration.
“Cap…” Chet looked at his boss, his face clearly showing his concern. “You know I would never…I mean, he wasn’t complaining of any pain other than his leg….I didn’t think…I’m so sorry. Do ya think he is going to be ok? Roy will never forgive me if…if…” The lineman couldn’t finish.
Captain Stanley looked down at the curly haired Irishman.
“Chet, Roy’s nerves are shot. We thought Gage was killed in the collapse and blast. He just snapped. John has hidden injuries from ALL of us, including his partner. I know, as does Roy, that you would never intentionally do anything that would hurt him…OK?”
The man nodded.
“Now, start from the beginning and tell me exactly what you saw.”
The lineman nodded again and related to his Captain what he had witnessed.
When he finished, Captain Hank Stanley shook his head. “That guy NEVER ceases to amaze me.” His curiosity was peaked even more to hear the rest of the story from Gage.
The two men from 51 drew their attention back to the situation at hand. Even though the fire was now under control, they still had a lot of work ahead of them.
John Gage laid on the stretcher with his head secured to the backboard. Roy knew he absolutely despised it, having been in this predicament a time or two before. He expected John to be having one of his tirades on the ride in, but his partner became quiet and closed his eyes.
Roy instantly became alarmed. Maybe he did have a head injury and was trying to hide that too. He was already pulling out his pen light to check his pupillary response.
“John? What’s going on Pal? You ok?”
“M tired…wanna sleep”
“I know Junior…just hold out a little longer. Here, let me check your eyes real quick… Okay?”
Not having much choice, John complied, but then drifted off after Roy confirmed his pupils were equal and reactive.
They reached the hospital and Dixie was waiting at the doors with a concerned look on her face. “Hey there sweetie” she said in a loving tone, her hand gently caressing his forehead. The warm chocolate brown eyes opened at the sound of her voice and rotated to the side, coming to rest on her face. He gave her a small smile and whispered jokingly “Hey Dix...miss me?” “Always” she replied “however, I prefer you coming here walking NEXT to the gurney instead of ON it; and HOLDING the IV bag instead of being on the working end of it,” she chided.
“Yea…you and me both,” John agreed wholeheartedly.
“Uh…That makes three of us,” Roy added.
“Take him into room one,” Dixie instructed as she continued to smile down at the young man.
They were transferring him to the table as Dr. Early came through the door.
“Ok Johnny, let’s see what we’ve got,” the gray haired doctor stated as he approached the table. Roy, can you get another set of vitals on our young friend here?”
“Johnny, can you tell me what happened?”
It was on the tip of his tongue to say he fell, but that didn’t pan out so well the last time he tried it. He blew out a breath and recounted the events in detail beginning with the ceiling collapse. John did this, in part, so Roy would have the information and could tell Cap and the others. He didn’t want to have to repeat it again and again. He was tired and wanted nothing more than to go to sleep.
His voice had trailed off at the end. He shut his eyes again, hoping the inquisition was over and he could sleep.
Roy, Joe, and Dixie stared at him with looks of surprise when he finished.
“Unbelievable!” Joe exclaimed.
“Dix, let’s get X-ray down here. I want a full spinal series along with both legs.”
“John, I think your knee and ankle are just strained. They don’t appear to be broken, but with the swelling I want to be sure.”
“Are you positive you have no pain in your back or neck?”
“Do you have any tingling or numbness in your extremities?”
Joe and Dixie looked at Roy. This was uncharacteristic behavior for Johnny. He normally would be talking a blue streak, asking when he could be released even before any tests had been run.
The brown eyes opened somewhat reluctantly and sought out his partner. Roy stared back intently for several seconds. He didn’t see excruciating pain, or confusion, or anxiety. He saw…
Roy relaxed. He gave his partner a reassuring nod indicating he got it. Suddenly, he felt the same way, minus the injuries.
“Doc,” Roy began “Our last shift was busy, and we got a little roughed up on that Office building fire. This shift…we ran for almost fifteen hours straight and only had about four hours sleep before this run.”
“Johnny has nothing left. He is exhausted and I think the best thing for him once you get done here is for him to…SLEEP.”
John knew Roy would understand without him having to spell it out. At times it was annoying as hell that he could read him so well. But now was not one of those times.
Johnny gave his partner a grateful look as his eyes drifted closed yet again.
The Warehouse fire was finally completely out and the crews were going about the unpleasant task of overhaul and clean up. They were all bone tired and wanted nothing more than to grab some food, a quick shower, and go to bed.
McConnikee approached Captain Stanley as the crew of 51 was preparing to head back to the station.
“Hank, can I see you for a minute?”
“Sure Chief,” the weary Captain replied.
“I was wondering if you would be able to swing by Headquarters tomorrow around 10:00am?”
“I think so,” Hank answered slowly “Is there anything wrong?”
“Relax Hank, no nothing is uh…wrong,” the man replied, “Go home and get some rest and I will see you tomorrow. By the way, your men did an outstanding job today.”
“Thanks Chief…I guess I will see you tomorrow.” Hank turned to walk back to the engine. “I wonder what THAT is all about” he pondered, a crease appearing on his forehead. He knew McConnikee…and that look. Something was up and Hank had a distinct feeling that he was going to find out the two men had a very different meaning of the word “wrong”.
Roy left the exam room to go grab some water in the lounge. He dropped onto the couch with the Styrofoam cup in his hand. He stared at it for awhile before finding the strength to bring it to his lips.
He was grateful the room was empty. He needed a few minutes alone to decompress. The short time he believed Johnny to be dead had taken its toll. He felt his heart race again at the mere thought. He blew out a ragged breath.
Roy recalled his partners words describing what had occurred inside the Warehouse. Roy felt the slight pang of guilt return. He knew no one, including John, blamed him or anyone else for the young man getting trapped.
They made life and death decisions in a matter of seconds, based on the information currently available and immediacy of the circumstances. Roy attributed the success he and Johnny had on several things. Training, without a doubt, was a huge piece. But that wasn’t enough in this job.
You had to have the natural raw instincts. When things turned to shit, you couldn’t always rely on pulling something you learned out of a book or training exercise to save your life.
John was living proof of that time and again. Surprisingly, Roy laughed out loud. He didn’t think the Department would find an example of what John had done today in any of their Department manuals.
Having the ability to keep your head and react in life threatening situations was paramount. Sure, everyone experienced fear, but letting it take over could paralyze judgment and reactions. And in this job, that was the kind of mistakes that had deadly consequences. Also, he acknowledged…Having a little luck in your favor didn’t hurt either.
Feeling better, he drank the last of his water and pushed himself up to go use the phone to call his wife.
Joanne was upset, but also relieved to know that her other guy was going to be ok.
“Roy, if they don’t admit him, make sure you bring him home with you. He needs to get some rest, good food, and to stay off that leg.”
Roy LOVED that woman!
“Thanks honey, I will. I was thinking maybe if Johnny was up to it, we could have the guys from the station come over tomorrow later in the afternoon for some food, and just to relax and hang out on the deck.” He didn’t let on to his wife how close they had come to losing his best friend that day.
“Works for me…Call and give me an update as soon as you know anything more about Johnny.”
“OK…Hey Jo? You truly are an amazing woman and I love you so much…” Roy said softly.
“I love you too babe…See you soon.”
Roy hung up the phone only to pick it up again a few seconds later. He called dispatch to find out the status of the rest of his crew. They, along with the other fire companies, were still out at the scene on clean up. Roy decided he would call Cap later to fill him in on his youngest charge.
Roy made his way back to treatment room one as Dixie and Joe Early walked out the door.
“How is Johnny,” Roy asked with some trepidation.
“He’s good Roy,” Doctor Early told him. “Nothing is broken, the x-rays came back clear. He has another bruise on his shoulder to add to his growing collection. He just strained his knee and ankle, but if he rests and keeps his leg elevated for a couple days, it should improve a lot. Brackett had popped his head in when he heard our star patient was here. He volunteered to stitch up the wound. We gave him something to ease the pain. You were right; he is totally wiped and already sleeping. We are going to admit him for now so he can rest. I will check on him later this afternoon and if he is up to it, we can release him before dinner.”
“Thanks Doc. Joanne insisted he come stay with us she can watch over him,” Roy chuckled.
“I figured as much” the older man smiled.
“Hey Doc, do you know how Beck is?”
“He sustained a pretty severe concussion, three cracked ribs, and some deep bruising on his back. He was lucky. From the description I heard about the conditions inside that warehouse…it could have been a lot worse.”
Roy looked at the Doctor. “Yea” he agreed, “it definitely could have been worse.”
As the three were talking, Roy’s attention was drawn to the tired, dirty, fireman walking somewhat hesitantly towards them. Chet’s facial features displayed true concern and also fear.
Roy felt horrible. He had really let loose on the lineman.
“How…how is Johnny?” Chet asked almost afraid to hear the answer.
“I got this Doc. I will see you guys later.”
They nodded and moved away.
“Chet,” Roy began “Johnny is gonna be fine. They are going to admit him for the day to keep an eye on him…and let him get some rest. Listen, I owe you an apology. I came down on you pretty hard back there. I know how Johnny is…I just…well…I’m sorry.”
Chet looked instantly relieved when Roy said that Johnny was going to be fine.
“Roy, it’s ok. Actually you were really not that far off base. I DO know how Gage is and, having seen the fall he took, Marco and I should have known better.”
Roy clapped his friend on the back. “What do you say we head back to the barn? I’ll drive…I wouldn’t want you to have to chauffer me around LA in the squad.”
Both men laughed. Before leaving Roy poked his head into the treatment room and saw Dr. Brackett working on John’s leg. His partner was out cold. The doctor looked up from his task and grinned shaking his head.
“Hey Doc,” Roy greeted him. “I’m gonna head back to the station. Will you tell Johnny I will be back this afternoon to see him?”
“Sure thing Roy…go get some rest yourself. You look like hell.”
“Yea…I will. Hey, take care of him for me…ok?” Roy asked quietly.
“It’s a promise. Now get out of here before you fall over from exhaustion. He will be fine,” Brackett assured him.
He gave a last glance at his young partner before letting the door swing shut. Roy turned to lineman “So Chet, what do you have planned for tomorrow?” he asked as the two firemen made their way out the doors.
Captain Stanly had received a call at home from Roy later that afternoon. He was relieved to know that both Gage and Beck were going to be ok. Roy filled him in on the events that occurred inside the warehouse and how Johnny had escaped. Roy extended the invitation for him to come over the following day for a get together with the shift at his house. Stanley stated he looked forward to it and would be there.
Hank refrained from saying anything to Roy about going to Headquarters tomorrow. He had a feeling it had something to do with his two paramedics but after racking his brains he couldn’t figure out what it could be. He hoped his enthusiasm for the social gathering with his crew wouldn’t be marred by the meeting he would be attending earlier that day. Only time would tell he thought.
At 9:45am the following day, Hank Stanley pulled his vehicle into the parking lot at Headquarters. He was early, but he was pacing around the house driving his wife nuts, so he decided to just leave. He sat in the car for a few moments, once again going over in his head what this meeting could possibly be about. Again, he came up with nothing. He sighed and exited the vehicle. He climbed the steps and pulled the door open. He saw Chief McConnikee and Chief Sorenson in the hallway talking. They looked in his direction.
“Hank, thanks for coming in on your day off. Why don’t you grab yourself a cup and lets go into my office,” Chief Sorenson replied.
Hank complied. He sank into the soft comfortable chair, took a sip of his coffee, and stared at the two men in front of him, waiting for them to speak.
“I’m sure you are wondering what this is all about,” Sorenson began.
“Yes Chief, actually I am.”
“Chief McConnikee and I have been conducting an evaluation of the paramedic program.”
Stanley shook his head, still not sure where this was going or how it involved him…or his men.
Sorenson continued, “I think you would agree that the program has been a huge success. We have trained quite a number of paramedics over the last four and a half years that are operating throughout the County. Chief McConnikee has recently been watching and evaluating the paramedic teams in the field, and has brought some things…concerns…to my attention.”
Hank jolted upright in his chair, almost spilling his coffee at the last remark.
“Not with your men,” Sorenson immediately assured the Captain, reading his reactions correctly. “In fact, it is just the opposite.”
Hank relaxed a little bit…But not much.
“I have noticed,” McConnikee started, “most of the established teams seem to be a good match, it is some of the newer paramedics I have a few reservations about. Currently, men are required to train in the field with a paramedic team after graduation. If they pass this last portion they go on to receive certification and assignment. It seems, for some of these new paramedics, there is considerable merit in hand picking the “right partner” to mentor them for a period of time; maybe three to six months.”
The light bulb suddenly went on in Hank Stanley’s head. The Captain took advantage of his Chief’s momentary pause.
“Sir,” he interjected, “it is well known Gage and DeSoto are, and continue to be, two of the best paramedics that have gone through this program. Transferring Gage out of 51’s has been tried before and it didn’t work out so well. I would respectfully ask that you reconsider what I think you are proposing,” Hank finished somewhat firmly.
“We are not transferring Gage out of 51’s,” McConnikee answered.
He hesitated and then continued.
“We are transferring DeSoto.”
Blank shocked registered on Stanley’s face.
“Hank, I have watched DeSoto interact on calls with the newer paramedics who have passed but are still not as confident as we would like in the field. DeSoto is someone who is calm and a good teacher. His doesn’t intimidate newer guys…he is patient and works to build their confidence. Gage was an excellent paramedic right out of class, however, he was a little over exuberant…and being with DeSoto helped curb that,” McConnikee stated as if that was concrete evidence to support their stand.
“We would like Roy to partner with those paramedics we determine need someone like him. And we currently have a man who could benefit from being DeSoto’s partner, Jack Bradley at 36’s.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I am not criticizing Beck’s abilities as a senior paramedic. He is a good, but thinks he has a “seasoned” partner sitting shot gun with him in the squad…and Jack is just not there yet.”
“We did not want to do it this way, but with Beck being injured and out for an undetermined amount of time, we decided to seize the opportunity.”
“DeSoto will be moving over to 36’s effective the next duty day.”
“Sir,” Hank directed his comment at both men. I understand where you both are coming from, but don’t you think DeSoto should have a say in this? After all he has given a lot to this program and he and Gage are not only partners, they are best friends.”
“Hank, we know the two men are close friends outside the Department, which is why we are keeping them both on the A-shift. That way, they still have the same days off, and will still have the opportunity to see each other occasionally on calls.”
Hank was convinced his two men were not going to be happy with this arrangement at all. And he felt powerless to do anything.
“What about Gage? Who do you have slotted to be his new partner?”
“We are going to bring Ryan Caldwell over to 51’s. He is a real good paramedic, but could probably learn a few things from Gage about rescues. John Gage is more than ready to step into the role of Senior Paramedic and we think it is high time he was given the opportunity. We value your leadership Hank and know that the team of Gage and Caldwell will thrive under your command.”
“How and when are you planning on telling DeSoto?”
“We are going to call him this afternoon and have him come down. As DeSoto’s captain, we wanted to advise you first,” Sorenson replied.
“Will there be anything else?” Hank inquired getting ready to stand up.
“No Hank,” Sorenson replied.
“Wait a minute,” McConnikee said, “Please hear me out. We know you are not happy about this. But at some point, everyone has to move on. I know your crew is one of the best, but there are other opportunities out there that could be just as good…or better. You have talked about taking the Battalion Chiefs test yet you haven’t…why is that?”
“DeSoto passed on an immediate promotion to Engineer. Something a hundred other men would have given their right arm for…Why did he do that?”
McConnikee looked hard at his Captain and former Engineer. “There comes a time when others see great potential that is sitting there going to waste. And it is time to step in. We know how dedicated DeSoto is to this program and seeing its continued success. And that is why we feel, even though it may be a difficult adjustment at first, he will see the benefit as we do.”
“Hank, neither of those two are likely to be rescue men and paramedics for their entire career. That job takes a huge toll on a person both physically and mentally. DeSoto is already four years older than Gage. I am sure he will probably be looking to move on in the next few years to something that is not as demanding and he can make more money. But as long as they are two of our best, we would like to take advantage of imparting their skill and knowledge on as many new paramedics and rescue men as we can. Both men definitely have potential to move up the ranks in this Department…As do you. We want to encourage that and nurture it along.”
“I guess the decision is made,” Stanley replied as he finished standing up to his full 6’4 height. “But for the record, and with all due respect, I don’t agree with it.”
He paused for a moment weighing the repercussion of saying what was on his mind. The mark of a good Captain, he fully believed, was not only leading by example, but being dedicated and backing the men entrusted under your command.
“Chief, may I speak freely?” Hank inquired.
Chief Sorenson looked at the man and responded, “Of course Hank, I value your opinion and what is said will stay in this office.” Sorenson did a side glance to McConnikee who nodded his head.
Hank took a breath and continued, “Encouraging and nurturing is one thing. Forcing a DECISION on two people without even asking what they think or want is putting YOUR wants and needs ahead of theirs. I already told you I understand the situation you have come across as it relates to new paramedics and partnering them with a stable reliable person. I also understand that it needs to be, and should be, addressed. However, it appears to me that you have looked at no other options or solutions.”
He let the comment hang for a moment providing the opportunity to interject any other options they had not mentioned. Both men were silent.
Hank continued “You found one “potential” solution and looked no farther. Every fire or rescue we roll up on can quickly evolve into a life threatening situation. I still take the time, even if it is seconds, to consider the options available to me. Sometimes I seek the advice of others before making my decision. No one person can expect to come up with the right answer all the time. If they do, they are fooling themselves and possibly putting others at risk. No matter how you try to justify the actions you have planned, it is my opinion you are rushing into this and breaking up the best paramedic team on the Department is a mistake.” He paused choosing his next words carefully.
“Sometimes the anticipated benefits we expect to receive from a decision end up not being worth the price that had to be paid.”
“For your information Gage was released from the hospital and is staying at the DeSoto’s. Roy is having the entire shift over later today for a get together. So this afternoon would probably not be the best time to share…your news,” Stanley concluded.
Sorenson looked at the Captain standing before him and he thought,
“Hank Stanley is going to make an EXCELLENT Chief someday”.
“Ok, We will wait and call him tomorrow morning. And Hank, I really do appreciate your feedback…and your honesty,” Sorenson replied.
The Captain turned to leave and the stopped abruptly. “Will you please have a copy of Caldwell’s file sent over to me? I am not familiar with the young man and he has never worked for me before. I would like to review his background.”
“My secretary is on vacation for a week; however I will notify her replacement to send it over to you,” Sorenson replied.
Hank nodded and left the office. He pounded down the stairs and nearly ripped the car door off its hinges.
“Damn it,” he muttered to himself. He debated about going over to the DeSoto’s this afternoon. He didn’t feel much in the mood for it…but he had already promised Roy. He was not looking forward to the impact this was going to have on his paramedics or the rest of his crew when they heard the news. He started up the car and drove home trying to get his anger under control.
Hank Stanley pulled up in front of the DeSoto’s home. He recognized the cars of his crew parked in the driveway and along the street. “Looks like everyone could make it,” Hank thought as he reached around for the twelve pack of beer on the floor behind him. He stepped out of his car and heard laughter coming from the backyard. He bypassed the front door and walked around the house. He spotted the adults sitting on the deck relaxing.
“Cap!” several voices called in unison. “Where ya been?”
“Sorry I’m late,” he directed this apology to Joanne and Roy. “I had a few things to take care of.”
“No problem at all,” Joanne assured him. “Get yourself a drink, the food is almost ready.”
The next several hours the crew of 51 just kicked back and relaxed. As promised, John stayed put in the lawn chair on the deck.
“Hey John,” Stanley said to the young man, “How are you feeling?”
“Hiya Cap! I’m doing good…doin good. The knee and ankle are a lot better. The swelling is almost gone. I think I just jammed them a bit on my landing. Marco and Chet gave me a 9.50. They took a half a point off cause I fell over.” John laughed at his own joke and the Captain heard the rest of the crew join in.
“I still have another day to rest em up. I might need to wrap the ankle to give it some support…and Roy may have to do any climbing or rappelling…but otherwise I should be fine. Dr. Early still has to release me. I’m gonna drop by the hospital later on tomorrow…so I will let ya know. Hopefully our next shift will be a quiet one…we deserve it.”
“AMEN to that,” Marco replied.
“Nice going Gage…now ya just jinxed us,” Chet complained.
“Oh, go soak your head in the pool and see how long you can hold your breath,” John retorted “Marco will help…right Marco?”
“Yea…come on Chet,” Marco answered grabbing his friends arm.
“I bet he can do five minutes…any takers,” John continued taking another sip of his beer.
Hank sat down in one of the chairs. He watched and listened to his crew playfully banter back and forth. They really were a great bunch of men and he idly wondered if this would be the last time they would be together as crewmates…no, as 51’s A-shift “family”. He let out a low sigh at the thought as he sat nursing his beer. Roy came over and took the seat next to him.
“Hey Cap…your awfully quiet. Is there something on your mind?” Roy asked.
Hank looked at his senior…FORMER senior paramedic…and lied to his face.
“Oh…uh…no Roy, I think I am still feeling the effects of the last shift. I wish I could recover as fast as that boy does,” he jerked his head in the direction of John. I am hoping Gage is right and it is quiet on…Our next shift. I got a lot of paperwork to catch up on.”
“Yea Cap, that last run…I thought for sure we had lost him,” Roy replied softly. They both glanced fondly at the young paramedic who was smiling and enjoying getting the “phantom” all riled up. Cap nodded remembering that moment as well. Roy’s thoughts were interrupted as he saw trouble begin to brew with his young offspring. “Hey, Chris…Don’t…leave Jennifer alone…CHRIS! Excuse me Cap…I will be right back.” Roy quickly vacated the chair to attend to his kids. Hank Stanley remained seated but his eyes followed the blond haired man. He had an unpleasant task ahead of him that he knew was going to put an end to the young man’s good mood before the night was over.
It was getting late and the crew of 51’s had all left the DeSoto home except for Johnny and Hank. Jo was trying to convince the young man to stay another night.
“Jo, really I am fine. Besides I have some stuff I need to take care of so I should be getting home. I appreciate you guys taking me in…again, and also for the leftovers.” He gave her a wink and planted a kiss on her cheek.
Roy reached over and gave his partner an affectionate slap on the back. “Anytime Junior, be careful driving home. I will see you Friday at work, unless Early doesn’t clear you.”
“Naw, I’m sure he will. See ya Roy…Cap,” the young man called as he made his way to his Rover and climbed in.
Hank had lingered after everyone left. He had made the decision to tell Roy tonight; before getting the phone call in the morning. He owed him that.
“Roy, can I speak with you a moment...maybe out on the deck?” He saw Joanne working in the kitchen cleaning up after the party. The kids were already in bed.
“Sure Cap,” Roy said as he opened the sliding glass door and stepped out onto the deck.
Hank followed him out closing the door behind him.
Roy eyed his Captain and sensed something was not right.
“Cap?” he asked “what is it?”
Hank had been trying to figure out all evening how to say what needed to be said. He decided the best way was to just get to the point.
“Roy, I was asked to come into Headquarters this morning to meet with McConnikee and Sorenson. The Department has been closely watching the new paramedics that have been coming out of the program. They feel that some, while able to work in the field, would benefit more by being partnered with a paramedic, a mentor, who could give them additional support and build their confidence. They would be with this person for approximately three to six months before being permanently placed with another partner.” He paused before continuing.
“Roy, they have chosen you to be that mentor. You are being transferred to Station 36 on the A-shift…effective Friday morning, to be partnered with Jack Bradley. Headquarters will be calling you tomorrow to come in. They will be giving you your new orders at that time.”
Roy stared at his Captain.
“Wait…WHAT! Is this some kind of a joke?” he yelled. The look on his Captain’s face gave him the answer. “Did you know about this?” He demanded.
Joanne suddenly appeared at the sliding door. She obviously heard the yelling and was concerned. “Honey” she said “Is everything OK?”
“Yes…I mean No! Jo, give me and Cap a minute…please. I will tell you everything after he leaves.” Joanne reluctantly agreed. She did not know what Hank Stanley could have possibly said to upset her husband this bad.
“Roy, I didn’t know a thing about this until the meeting today. I gave them my candid thoughts on the matter and stated I felt they were making a mistake and was against it. Unless they change their mind after reflecting on what I said, it is a done deal. They are looking at this as a “benefit” to you as well.”
“Johnny?” Roy questioned. “What about Johnny, Cap?”
“John will remain at 51’s and Ryan Caldwell will be his new partner. Headquarters has always been impressed with John’s abilities as a firefighter, rescue man, and paramedic. They feel that, in large part because of you, John has settled down and is more than ready to assume the role of Senior Paramedic. They also feel John is a good match for Ryan and can teach him a few things about being a rescue man.”
Roy’s eyes shot up. That last remark concerned him…a lot.
“Teach him about being a rescue man? What exactly is that suppose to mean? This isn’t some damn training exercise they are assigning him to. Cap, that statement right there tells me that Caldwell won’t have John’s back. Is that what they want? For John to get injured trying to spoon feed this guy through a rescue?” Roy’s protective nature over his partner was in full swing and he was getting more heated by the second.
“Roy, take it easy! I don’t think the Chief meant it the way you are inferring. It is well known that John is one hell of a rescue man. The guy even rescues himself for God sakes! I believe they see it as an opportunity for Ryan to learn from one of the best. Just like what they are trying to do by partnering Bradley with you.”
“Uh huh…and the difference is if Caldwell screws up on a dangerous rescue not only can the victim be put in jeopardy…but my partner gets DEAD!”
Roy paced back and forth across the deck unable to contain his nervous energy.
“Cap, Johnny and I are a team and trust each other with our lives. We agreed to move on when we both are ready. Despite the hazards and close calls we love our job and the crew we’re with. I don’t think either one of us want to lose that.”
“I know, I feel the same way and tried to explain that to them. Maybe it will have more of an affect coming from you,” Hank stated. “Roy, about John…do you want me to tell him tomorrow or do you want to do it?”
“No Cap, I’ll do it. I will drive over to his place after my meeting with the Chiefs…I can’t believe this.”
Hank nodded his head. “Do me a favor Roy, give me a call tomorrow night and let know how things went; both with the Chiefs and with John.”
“And Roy…I hope we can get this resolved. But regardless, I want you to know that it has been my pleasure to work with you. I am going to miss having you on my crew.”
“I know Cap…me too. I am not giving this up without a fight though,” Roy replied in earnest.
Hank stated “I will back you guys 100%. Just let me know any way I can help.”
“Thanks Cap…I will talk to you tomorrow.”
Hank nodded and disappeared into the dark.
Roy stared up gazing at the stars. It was a clear night. His mind ran through the discussion he just had with his…Captain. Roy swallowed the lump in his throat. He was not looking forward to going into the house and breaking the news to his wife. She was not going to take this well at all. He took a deep breath and blew it out hard. Then, turning to face the house, he walked over to the door sliding it open. He could hear his wife was still busy in the kitchen.
“Joanne” he called out “Babe, we need to talk.”
Roy was up early the next morning. He ate his breakfast and sat at the kitchen table drinking his second cup of coffee. It was 8:47am. He eyed the phone waiting impatiently for it to ring. Twenty minutes later he heard the sound he was waiting for. He picked up the receiver on the third ring “DeSoto residence,” he answered.
“Roy, this is Chief Sorenson.”
“Good morning Chief,” Roy responded trying to keep the anger out of his voice.
“I was wondering if you had some time today to come to Headquarters, there is something myself and Chief McConnikee need to discuss with you.”
“Discuss? Yea, right…and there are a few things I would like to DISCUSS with you.” He thought.
“I have some time…right now,” he stated.
“Ok Roy…sounds good. We will see you when you get here. Just come directly to my office.”
“I’m on my way,” He replied and both men hung up the phone. Roy picked up his keys and headed out to his car. As he started the engine he tried to calm himself down. He wanted to get this over with and was hoping there was still a chance to keep this from happening. That chance, he believed, was slim. If his Captain couldn’t put the brakes on it, he didn’t think they would listen to him. But he had to try.
Then there was Johnny. Roy was definitely not looking forward to that conversation. Roy couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that he was no longer a member of station 51, or that John Gage was now someone else’s partner. Someone he did not trust to have his back.
John slept in the following morning. He was feeling remarkably well and woke up confident that Early would allow him to return to work. He cleaned up his apartment and ran some errands. John glanced at his watch noting it was 3:15pm. He had a 3:30 appointment with the Doc and didn’t want to be late.
Johnny walked through the doors at Rampart and made his way to the base station. Doctor Early and Dixie were monitoring a rescue call. He stood by patiently, pouring himself a cup of coffee while he waited.
“10-4 Squad 45, transport as soon as possible,” Doctor Early advised.
Dixie gave John a wink and said “Hey there sweetie, how are you feeling today?”
John didn’t disappoint Dixie and rewarded her with his impish grin that she loved so much.
“The leg is still a bit sore, but not too bad. I feel pretty good. Having three days off was just what I needed,” John said.
“Well,” the gray haired Doctor replied “Let’s go into treatment room one and check you over. Dix, when squad 45 gets here let me know. This shouldn’t take too long with Johnny.”
The pretty nurse nodded her response as the phone rang and she picked it up to answer.
Doctor Early completed his exam and gave John a gentle slapped on the back. “Ok, I am going to clear you to return to duty tomorrow, but just take it easy and don’t push it. If the leg starts giving you problems, let the Captain know.”
“Yea…and thanks Doc,” John stated as he grabbed his release papers and made his way out of the door. He stopped back at the base station to say good bye to Dix and spied the phone. “Might as well call Cap and let him know I am good for tomorrow,” he thought as he picked up the phone dialing the number.
The phone rang several times before a female answered.
“Hi Mrs. Stanley, this is John Gage, is the Cap…uh your husband available?”
“Oh hi John, no he isn’t here right now. Can I take a message for him?”
“Yes Ma’am, could you please let him know that I have been medically cleared for duty tomorrow. I will bring the paperwork in with me.”
“Yes of course, I will let him know.”
“Thank you ma’am, I appreciate it.”
“Not a problem,” she promised.
John hung up the phone as the paramedics from Station 45’s C-shift came shuffling up to the base station.
“Hey Johnny! Glad to see you are up and around. We heard that Medical Supply fire was a real bad scene.”
“Yea,” John agreed “you could say that.”
“So how are you taking DeSoto being transferred over to 36’s? We couldn’t believe it! I will tell you Ryan Caldwell is absolutely thrilled to be partnering with you. You would think he won the…Gage?? Hey Gage???”
Johnny stared in confusion at the two men before he realized they were serious. He growled out in a low voice “What the HELL are you talking about?”
The two medics from 45 looked back into the face of John Gage and wished at that moment they were someplace else...anyplace.
“Uh…Johnny… Sorry man, we thought you knew.”
“Well why don’t you both enlighten me now,” he snapped back.
“Caldwell stopped into the station this morning to empty his locker. He told us he had been called into HQ yesterday and given his transfer orders. He said DeSoto and the Station Captains had meetings with HQ yesterday as well. He had heard that DeSoto was being moved into Beck’s slot at 36, and he was coming to 51. John…that’s all we know.”
“Thanks for the information,” John said shortly as he turned and walked down the corridor and out the exit. He reached his Rover and hit the hood with his fist. His emotions were at war with each other. He couldn’t decide if he was more angry…or hurt.
John’s thoughts went back to the other day. Roy had left for a couple of hours before everyone showed up. Had he gone to Headquarters? If so, then both he, and probably the Captain, knew about this and never said a word to him.
John felt completely betrayed and blindsided. After all he and Roy had been through…he couldn’t understand why? What had happened? Were they just planning on letting him walk into the station on Friday and see Caldwell sitting in the day room sipping coffee?
And then say, “Oh yea…John, by the way, Roy is out and Ryan is in. Let’s line up for roll call.”
John struggled with what he was going to do.
He wanted to call and talk to Cap…but then again he didn’t.
He wanted to call and talk to Roy…but then again he didn’t.
His anger had peaked and he decided to do…nothing. If neither the Cap nor Roy had bothered to call him or keep him in the loop of what was going on, he felt no obligation to make the first move. He would show up to work tomorrow and welcome his… new partner.
At the last thought, the anger lost its strong hold and the hurt rolled in full force.
Roy was sitting in Chief Sorenson’s office listening to, what he assumed, was the same speech his Captain had received. When both he and McConnikee had finished Roy cleared his throat and responded.
“Chief, I truly appreciated the confidence you have in me to mentor these new paramedics. I have always felt very privileged to have been on the ground floor of getting this program started. That commitment is still there and I am willing to help in whatever way I am able to. However, I also have commitments to my family, myself, and my partner that factor into my decisions. When there is a conflict, I have to weigh all the information and make a choice as to what is the right thing to do. Today, you have taken that choice away from me. I understand you have the right to assign your personnel wherever you see fit. I have always felt, however, that the Department does try to take into consideration the impact their decision has on that person’s life.”
“This transfer, and the way it was done, has had a negative impact on my other commitments. My wife is devastated. She knows the job of a fireman, especially a rescue man, is extremely dangerous. On more than one occasion she has asked me to quit. It is a hard choice. I love my family and I love my job. The one thing that helps keep my wife feel as secure as possible is having John Gage as my partner. There are absolutely no guarantees, but she knows he is one of the best rescue men on the Department and TRUSTS him explicitly with my life. That is a mutual trust that also exists between John and I.”
“We know this isn’t going to last forever, but for now, John and I believe we are in the right place and with the right people. Can we still do our job elsewhere and with other partners? The answer is yes. But we feel we are at our best as partners with the crew of 51. That is a benefit not only to us but the citizens we serve and the men we work alongside.”
“You mentioned watching talent and experience going to waste. I don’t see it that way at all. How can you say that looking at our track record of saves and rescues and call that a waste? We have always volunteered to sit in on committee’s and offer ideas and suggestions to make improvements. It will be a time of OUR choosing, when we are ready to move on.”
“I will go to 36’s and be Jack Bradley’s partner if that is what you are ordering me to do. And I will do my job to the best of my ability. John, who doesn’t even know any of this is occurring, will do the same. That is the kind of man he is. But I want you to fully understand the ramifications this has had for me, my family, and John.”
Sorenson and McConnikee were silent when Roy had finished.
“Roy,” Sorenson began. “You, as well as Captain Stanley, have given us some…things to consider. I apologize for the way all of this came about and any undue stress it has caused your family. The transfers have been put through however; I am going to make them temporary until Beck is released back to full duty. We can meet, as a collective group, to evaluate and assess the changes. No permanent transfers or decisions will take place until that time.” Roy stood and shook both men’s hands “Thank you,” he said as he turned and walked out of the office.
The blond haired paramedic was exhausted. He and Joanne had stayed up late into the night discussing the transfer. She was a mess; worrying about her husband and Johnny. She told him she could not handle him being partnered with a new person every few months. Even after they went to bed, Roy couldn’t sleep, eventually getting up to go sit on the deck before dawn.
These thoughts played through his mind as he drove into Johnny’s apartment complex. Roy did not see the Rover and pulled into an open spot to wait. After about twenty minutes, he sighed in frustration and decided to go home and update Jo on how the meeting went. He knew it wasn’t a guarantee he would go back to 51’s, but at least the door wasn’t completely closed on the idea. It was the best he could hope for.
Roy attempted to call John’s apartment several times throughout the day and evening without receiving an answer. He was beginning to get worried knowing that Johnny had an appointment with Dr. Early. He wondered if some complications set in. He picked up the phone once again, but this time call his superior.
“Cap?” Roy said as he heard the man’s voice.
“Roy, I have been waiting to hear from you all day. What happened at your meeting?”
“I will tell you in a minute, but first, have you heard from Johnny? I stopped by after going to HQ but he wasn’t home. I have been trying to call all day and evening.”
“Yes Roy, I didn’t speak with him directly, but he left a message that Early cleared him and he would be into work tomorrow.”
“Ok…well that’s good. I was a little worried. I met with the Chief’s and I am still going to 36’s tomorrow and Caldwell is replacing me”. He heard his Captain let out an aggravated sigh. “But, they did listen to what both of us had to say and, for now, the transfers are temporary until Beck returns. Sorenson stated that we would sit as a group and evaluate the change and see if it should continue.”
“How long is Beck going to be laid up?” Stanley asked.
“I’m not sure, but I will check with the hospital tomorrow. I am going to try and call Johnny again. I wanted him to hear about this from me and I can’t figure out where he is. It’s getting late. If I don’t reach him, can you talk to him tomorrow and fill him in. Tell him we will get together at my house for breakfast after our shift.”
“Ok Roy, I will talk to you later.”
It was 10:00pm and Johnny’s phone rang again. He knew who it was and the damn thing would probably ring all night unless he answered it. He reached over and lifted up the receiver.
“Yea…” he answered.
“Johnny? It’s Roy…where the hell have you been?”
“Listen Junior, I need to talk to you about something.”
“Ya do huh? NOW you want to talk? I wonder what it might be about…Hmmm lemme guess. Is it maybe that you are now transferred over to Station 36 working with Bradley? Did I guess right?” John replied sarcastically.
“What? How do you know?”
“What does it matter Roy. I heard about your meeting with HQ. You’re going to 36’s and I am going to be Senior Paramedic at 51’s with Ryan Caldwell as my partner. There…we talked. So if that about covers it…I gotta go.”
“JOHN…! That doesn’t begin to cover it… Wait? Are are you saying…that you are… good with this?” Roy asked in disbelief.
“Sure Roy…no sweat,” John replied trying to cover the hurt in his voice. He knew he was not a good liar and was going to have to get off the phone before his voice betrayed him.
Roy was stunned. What was happening here? He understood why John was upset and angry. He was too. But why was he mad at him?
“Roy, it’s late and I need to get some sleep. Good luck tomorrow at 36’s…see ya around,” John hung up the phone. He shut the lights off in the kitchen and walked into his bedroom.
Roy heard the click and stared at the receiver. He didn’t believe for a minute that John was ok with this. He hoped Cap would be able to sit down and talk to John tomorrow and see what was going on. He slammed the phone down in frustration.
Continued in Part 2
Posted to Site 05/05/13
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