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California’s rainy season runs October to March. Flash flooding is common and the dry washes and arroyos can fill within hours...overflowing and causing mud slides in the areas around Los Angeles. While in Carson the weather was clear and cool… further north in Santa Barbara a light rain had been falling for two days. Lightning lit up the sky and thunder boomed and in the early morning hours it had become a steady deluge. Upstream the washes were filling and over flowing the natural mud dams created from the previous season’s rain. The water soon began to course downstream…
“Mornin, mornin, mornin guys…,” Twenty five year old Paramedic John Gage said as he entered the Rec room of Fire Station 51. He gave his two regular shift mates Marco Lopez and Chet Kelly a slap on the back as he passed behind them on the way to the coffee pot.
John and his partner of four years, Roy DeSoto had swapped shifts with the two B shift Paramedics Kirk Carlson and Charlie Dwyer so they could have the Saturday free to go hiking with Roy’s wife and kids.
“My we’re awfully chipper this morning Gage…,” Chet replied.
“And why shouldn’t we be…? It’s a beautiful day and the sun is shining…and while you guys are slaving away… we’ll be out hiking and having a great picnic lunch…Joanne’s cookin…,” he said with a smirk.
“Shut up Gage…,” Chet said as he threw a balled up napkin at him. John batted it out of the air with a laugh.
Roy came in a moment later. “Mornin guys… you ready to spend the day with the Kids junior?”
“Yeah…lookin forward to it…”
Charlie and Kirk walked in along with Mike Stoker and the rest of the B shift who were getting off duty. They lined up at the coffee pot. Charlie turned and greeted the men already seated. “Good morning guys. Is the A shift ready to spend the day with the two best Paramedics in LA?”
Chet laughed but Mike Stoker loyally spoke up…”Nah…they’re goin hiking.”
“Thanks Mike…,” Roy said with a smile. Marco just shook his head while Charlie faked a look of indignation.
Captain Hank Stanley came in and saw both crews gathered including his two regular Paramedics. He pointed teasingly at Gage and DeSoto. “You two get out…the rest of you who are supposed to be here…Roll Call…”
John and Roy glanced at each other looking affronted. “Well…I guess I know where we’re not wanted,” Johnny said.
“Yeah…let’s go…,” Roy agreed.
“Hey you two…?” They turned to face him…”Have a good time...” They both grinned and then left.
It was a beautiful November morning. Crisp cool air, sun shining and not a cloud in the sky as the DeSoto family…Roy, Joanne, Chris and Jennifer climbed into Johnny’s land rover. Four year old Jennifer stood on the back seat. She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around John’s neck and planted a sloppy kiss on the dark haired Fireman’s cheek.”Hey Princess…,”
Johnny half turned in his seat to face his passengers. He pulled a giggling Jennifer onto his lap…tickling her ribs until her peals of laughter filled the vehicle. He finally let the breathless child stand up in his lap and greeted his other passengers. “How ya doin Chris…?” He asked the blonde nine year old boy.
“Great Uncle Johnny…,” he replied as his little sister climbed over the front seat to join him.
“Mornin Jo…,” he greeted Roy’s pretty auburn haired wife.
“Good Morning Johnny…,” she replied as she knelt on the backseat waiting for Jenny to settle so she could fasten her seat belt. She leaned across Chris toward the driver’s seat turning her face toward her husband’s partner. Johnny grinned and kissed the offered cheek.
“You ready for some hiking…?” He was answered by a chorus of yeahs from the back. Roy finished stowing their gear on the roof rack and climbed in the front seat next to Johnny. “I ain’t kissin ya…,” Roy said dryly…”and if you’re quite through kissin my two best girls…maybe we could get movin.” John grinned in reply.
The DeSoto’s and Johnny found a good spot and pulled over. The three adults strapped on backpacks…”Let’s go…,” Johnny said. They set off.
The two kids raced ahead while the adults took a slower pace. Joanne and Roy held hands as they walked, keeping an eye on the children as they talked about the previous shift and several interesting rescues the paramedics had been on. Joanne drew several laughs from Johnny and a frown of parental disapproval from Roy over some of the antics of the children as they continued walking…just killing time and relaxing.
Twenty miles north a major mudslide from last year’s rainy season had dried during the summer forming a blockage. The water continued to course down the dry wash piling up behind the natural dam and as the mud began to soak up the water, it softened and began to wear away.
Johnny was walking ahead with the children pointing out items of interest. Sometimes using the Indian word and then explaining what it was. The kids were fascinated, never having heard their Uncle speak in Indian...though Roy had on rare occasions.
“This…,” Johnny said pointing at the dry wash, “is O’évao’he’e” (A dry river bed). The children pronounced it with him. He chuckled at their attempt to speak his language and kept going…”As soon as the winter rains come this will fill up…and then around March or April it’ll start to go down again until it’s back to this…, they’re deep and very dangerous so don’t go down into em cause ya could get trapped. “
He continued to point out trees, insects, small animals scurrying from place to place as well as plants... Explaining what was edible and what was not. Jenny held his hand gazing up at John in rapt adoration… next to her father and mother… he was her very favorite person in the whole world. Chris, at eight was too mature for hand holding but he stayed close to John as well listening intently to every word.
“Uncle Johnny, I’m getting tired…,” Jenny complained.
“Well here Princess…,” he teased scooping the little blonde up and placing her on his shoulders.
“Johnny, you can’t carry her the whole way…,” Roy said shaking his head at his partner.
“Just till she’s rested Roy…” They continued to hike. Roy and Joanne trailing along behind listening to John play tour guide.
“I had no idea he knew so much about this stuff,” Joanne murmured to her husband.
“All that Indian blood…,” Roy replied drily.
Johnny turned and walked backwards so he could talk to his friends…“I heard that and you’re right… where I grew up, this stuff was drummed into you from the time you could walk.”
“Where did you grow up Uncle Johnny…?” Chris asked.
John hesitated…he hated talking about his past and rarely spoke of his life before he’d come to California, but after a moment he answered… "I grew up on an Indian Reservation in Lame Deer, Montana Chris.”
“Wow…that’s so cool,” The little boy said enthusiastically.
Johnny had a hundred reasons why he could disagree but didn’t want to have to explain to the children what he'd been through as a little boy...he remained silent and kept walking. Roy had tensed at his son’s question knowing his partner’s dislike for talking about his childhood but when John calmly answered the boy without getting upset he relaxed and continued walking.
After several hours of steady hiking they were all beginning to get tired. “Hey…who’s hungry…?” Johnny yelled.
A chorus of “Me’s…,” answered him. They found a spot reasonably clear of rocks and prickly brush to have lunch. Roy pulled a blanket from his back pack, spreading it on the ground while Joanne began digging through hers to prepare their lunch. John unhooked a couple of canteens from his own and dropped it next to her. She smiled at him as she pulled the remaining lunch preparations from his pack.
“At least the trip back will be a bit lighter…,” she teased, knowing her young friends appetite. Johnny grinned back and handed one of the canteens to Jen.
“Yuck…water,” she complained.
John glanced up at the sky…noticing the dark clouds gathering to the north. “Best thing for you out here Princess…anything else will just make you thirsty…,” he replied absently. Man…he didn’t like the look of that sky but it was still way off…and it could easily go right around them.
While they ate their lunch, John pointed out the dry wash to the kids…. "Look at that, guys… Do you see those boulders…?" The kids nodded… "Those are ho’honáá’e," (Boulders, Rocks). He waited for them to repeat it back to him and nodded in approval… "They’ve probably been buried there for thousands of years and the waters been wearing away at the sides every rainy season uncovering more and more. Some of them are probably huge and it could be a couple thousand more years before they’re uncovered completely.”
“That’s pretty cool…,” Chris said eagerly wishing he could take a closer look but he knew his parents wouldn’t let them too close to the edge. Finally Johnny turned his attention to the conversation with Roy and Joanne and the kids wandered off.
Further north the artificial dam began to break away and then as more and more water gathered behind it and started pouring through it began to crumble faster…finally letting go. The mountain of water piled behind began to crash down the river bed.
Chris and Jennifer could see their parents and Uncle Johnny, so they were unconcerned about the distance that they had put between them. Chris sidled closer to the edge of the wash and peeked down. “Cool Jen, look at that…, those ho… ho’honáá’e…,” he said finally remembering the word correctly… "look like stair steps…”
Jen shrugged… "They’re just big rocks…”
“Well how come you think they’re so cool when Uncle Johnny talks about them…?” He teased.
The little girl’s blue eyes turned moony…“Cause Uncle Johnny makes it in…in…intrestin…,” she finally stammered out. Chris laughed at her and Jen stuck her tongue out at him.
Chris glanced at the adults who were still engrossed in their conversation. “I’m gonna go down there and take a closer look.”
“No Chris…,” Jen said backing hastily away, “Uncle Johnny and Daddy said they weren’t safe.”
“Oh come on…There’s nothin to be scared of,” He taunted.
“I’m goin back…”
Chris frowned… "I’ll tell Uncle Johnny you have a crush on him…”
“So…I’m his best girl, he even said so…,” she threw back at him.
Chris knew if she went back she’d tattle unless she went down too. “I’ll tell him you really don’t care about the stuff he teaches us…he’ll only be hurt a little…,” he hedged, casting a sidelong look at his little sister to see if it had the desired effect. She was chewing her lip. She looked just like Uncle Johnny when she did that but he recognized the gesture…indecision. He gave one more little push. “You won’t be his best girl anymore.”
“Well…okay, but just for a minute.” They climbed down and wandered up the wash.
John, Roy and Joanne had covered a myriad of topics, one or all of them glancing over to where the children were playing periodically to be sure all was well. John kept a wary eye on the clouds that seemed to hang to the north of them. They may have to cut the day short and head for home if that continued to head in their direction. His attention went back to his friends as they began to laugh over an incident with Chet…John’s eyes wandered up to where the children had last been.
John suddenly sat up straighter. Roy looked at him in concern… "What is it?”
“Where are the kids…?” They all got to their feet looking in different directions. “Roy…you don’t think…? I mean…they wouldn’t…?” Johnny looked toward the dry wash… “Not after I told them how dangerous they are?” Roy followed his gaze. John turned to grab a rope from his backpack and they ran to the edge.
John got there first. He saw the kids about thirty yards further up the wash…he shook his head, boy from the look on Roy’s face they were in big trouble. “Chris…Jen,” Johnny yelled.
The kids looked up…Their Father stood with his hands on his hips, while Joanne tapped her foot in annoyance. John was shaking his head in irritation…"Oh oh,” Chris said in dismay.
Tears welled in Jenny’s eyes… "Now Uncle Johnny’s gonna be mad at me…and…and mommy and Daddy too and it’s all your fault…,” she sniffled.
John pointed at them… "Okay you little monkeys, I’m comin down to get ya.” Johnny looked at Roy and Joanne… "Don’t be too mad at them guys… you’ll spoil a perfect day.” Roy reached for the line but the younger man held it away… "I’ll go…you stay here and calm down. I’ll hand them up. Here…,” he said handing Roy the end of the rope, “You can tie it off there,” he directed pointing at a sturdy tree.
“Okay…but when I get my hands on them…” A faint rumbling sound reached them…Roy stopped, looking around. They all looked up at the sky… "Did you hear that?” He asked.
“Sounds like thunder,” Joanne replied.
Johnny began to feel uneasy…The storm was still too far away for the thunder to be that loud…he shook the thought away and lowered himself down. Chris was sauntering toward him, hands in his pockets and dragging his feet but Jennifer remained where she was…weeping inconsolably because Uncle Johnny would be mad…
John met Chris partway. “Ah c’mon Chris it’s not that bad…your Dad’s a good guy. He ain’t gonna kill you ya know?”
“I know…,” he murmured. Chris kicked a rock and shuffled forward head down…he looked so pitiful that John had to laugh. He scooped the boy up and carried him to where his father was waiting. He stepped up on a pile of rocks and handed him up to Roy. Laughing dark eyes met angry blue.
“I’ll go get Jen…,” he said not wanting to be around when the heavy hand of retribution fell. He started back up the wash at a trot as the little girl began to walk slowly in his direction but the rumbling sound again caught his attention. It seemed to be getting louder. “That’s not thunder…what is that,” he muttered to himself. He knew the sound but from where? He finally reached Jennifer.
“Oh come on Princess…what’s with all the flooding…?” Flooding? He threw a glance back at Roy and Joanne but they were looking around as well, trying to pinpoint the rumbling sound as well. “Flooding?” John murmured again finally remembering a flash flood he’d seen when he’d lived in Duarte as a child. “Oh my God…” John grabbed Jennifer up in his arms and started running.
“Uncle Johnny…what’s wrong…?” Jennifer sobbed with fright as she bobbed along in Johnny’s arms. She’d seen the fear in his dark eyes.
“Nothing baby, nothing…," he panted. Johnny never slowed down.
“Roy…,” Joanne screamed as she pointed up the river bed. A mile away they could see the rushing water pouring down the channel and Johnny and their daughter were in its path. Roy pushed Chris toward Joanne and grabbed the rope.
“Stay there…,” Johnny yelled gasping for breath. He was only yards away now. The water roiled closer… It was now a race and Johnny had every intention of winning. He reached the rope and literally threw Jennifer up to Roy. He’d made it.
Roy caught his small daughter and handed her off to Joanne. Hurry Johnny…,” Joanne yelled. Roy turned back to his partner…reaching to catch his hand and pull him up.
John grabbed the rope, he put his foot on the pile of boulders to help propel himself upward…the boulders suddenly shifted and John lost his balance. His foot slid from the rocks and lodged into a crevice between them. He fell backwards with a cry of pain. The boulders tumbled, pinning his leg. “Oh man…,” he gasped, “Oh God…,” he choked out as pain ripped through him from his ankle to his knee.
John looked up at Roy, despair evident in his brown eyes. He knew he was about to die. The water was half a mile away and coming fast…they’d never get him out in time. Roy grabbed the rope. “No Roy…no,” Johnny gasped out … “Stay there…it’s too late, you can’t help me now.” John’s eyes flicked to Joanne. She stood at the edge holding the children tightly against her and shaking her head in denial.
“No Johnny…,” she whispered in terror. Chris and Jenny were sobbing hysterically.
Roy looked at Joanne… "I love you,” he said, as he swung around and lowered himself over the side.
“Ro…oy,” she screamed as he disappeared from sight…
“Are you crazy…?” Johnny shouted, “Get out Roy.”
The older man grabbed the rope and knelt beside his pinned partner. He wrapped the rope around both Johnny’s waist and then his own, tying it off. The tumbling flood was bearing down on them. Roy reached around his young partner and pulled him close against his chest. He wedged himself back into an outcropping of rocks.
“Roy…there’s still time…you can still get out…please Roy.”
The older man placed John’s hands on the rope… "Hold on tight Junior.” He pulled John’s face tight against his chest. Joanne and the children were still yelling at him to get out but he couldn’t leave Johnny.
“Roy…please...you gotta go…Joanne needs you,” John gasped against Roy’s chest.
“Take a deep breath partner…”
The blonde paramedic tucked his head down next to Johnny’s… "Now would be a good time to shut up,” Roy warned.
The water hit like a freight train, drowning out the screams of Joanne and the children. A cold, dark tumult pounded against them trying to tear Johnny from his grip. Debris slammed into them both…it pinned Roy against the rocks…going on and on until Roy thought his lungs would burst and then it was past. They were left sitting in knee deep water...Roy slumped forward, gasping for air. He eased John away from him…he was unconscious. Roy finally made out the sounds of Joanne and the kids frantic cries...
“I’m okay…,” he assured them, “but I need to help Uncle Johnny now so you need to be quiet…,” he panted… “I need to be able to hear his lungs.” He laid his head against John’s chest…he couldn’t hear anything but that didn’t mean he hadn’t aspirated any water. He rested his hand against John’s stomach…his respirations were normal.
“Roy…is he okay?” Jo asked worriedly.
“Not sure yet…,” he replied as he ran his hands over John’s extremities, checking for broken bones. He couldn’t check his one leg which was still pinned under the rocks and his ribs were okay… he moved on. He ran his fingers through the wet, sable hair and felt the lump on the back of his partner’s head. Something must have hit him. Satisfied that other than the bump, the younger man wasn’t injured any worse than he had been…Roy looked up at his still shaky wife. “Jo…I need you down here.” She nodded. “And be careful climbing down, those rocks are still unsteady.”
Joanne used the rope to awkwardly climb down. Touching bottom she turned and punched her husband in the arm… "Don’t you ever do that to me again…!” Tears welled in her eyes as she wrapped her arms around her sopping husband. Roy reached up one handed to comfort his wife…, the other still firmly held his partner. “Are you hurt…?”
“No…just a few bruises…” He turned to lightly pat his friend’s cheek…. "Johnny…? C’mon junior…wake up for me…” He was rewarded with a low groan as John’s eyes fluttered open and he began to cough.
White, hot knives stabbed into Johnny’s awareness. His leg was on fire and he couldn’t feel his foot. His head hurt and he was cold and wet. He began a groan that turned into a racking cough as the water he’d swallowed made a reappearance. After a moment he looked up at his partner. “Are we dead…?” He asked weakly.
Roy chuckled… "Not unless heaven’s really, really wet,” he replied. “Okay Jo…I need your help. I need you to keep Johnny sitting up. It'll be easier for him to breathe if you keep his upper body out of the water as much as possible. He situated his wife behind John and then moved around in front of his groggy friend. He gently raised John’s chin to look into pain filled eyes. “Still with me junior…?”
“Okay…I’m loaning you my wife there pal, so mind your manners.” John gave him a lopsided grin as Roy ruffled his friend’s wet hair back. “Hang onto him Jo…”
Roy examined the rocks pinning John’s leg. He had to get Johnny out and soon. Roy knew that as soon as the raging water reached the end of the wash, the vacuum that had sucked the water with it would be broken. It would backwash and level out. Roy would survive but John would drown.
“Partner…this may hurt a little,” Roy warned as he grasped the stone that trapped John’s leg. Joanne pulled Johnny closer to her. His head rested against her shoulder.
“Johnny, I wanted to thank you for saving Jennifer.” She stroked the wet hair back from his face as she watched Roy and tried to keep the younger mans attention focused on her. “That was an incredibly brave thing…”
She was cut off as Johnny screamed…his back arced and his head snapped back into Joanne’s shoulder so hard she almost dropped him. Hearing John scream the children once again began to cry.
“Johnny, I’m sorry…,”Roy tried to calm his friend. John was gasping for air…teeth clenched against the burn in his leg. Tears of pain mingled with the water trickling from his hair to trail down his face. His body went limp.
“Roy…?” Joanne asked, looking scared.
“He’s okay…he’s just passed out.”
“Daddy…what happened to Uncle Johnny…?”
“Honey…?” Jo questioned.
“I tried to move the rocks off his leg but I shifted the others and they rolled back and fell on him. I’m gonna have to try and find something to use as a lever. You okay with him for a minute?” Joanne nodded.
Roy climbed the rope. “I need your help guys…” Chris nodded.
“What daddy…?” Jenny sniffled.
“I need you to look around. See if you can find a straight heavy branch that I can use as a lever.”
Jennifer wasn’t sure what a lever was but she could look for a straight tree branch.
“Damn…,” Roy mumbled after they’d tried a half dozen tree branches. The smaller stones had been rolled or levered away but nothing budged that last boulder pinning Johnny’s leg. He needed help. He climbed back down to where Johnny and Joanne were
“Joanne...?" She looked up at him, her frightened blue eyes meeting his. “Honey I can’t get him out alone. Now as near as I can figure from the roundabout route we took, we’re about two miles from the land rover.” Roy dug through Johnny’s pocket, coming up with his keys…he handed them to her. “I need you to get to the car…about five miles back there was a gas station, call the fire department and get them out here, okay?”
“Roy…? I don’t want to leave you here…”
“Joanne…this water is gonna continue to rise and it’s gonna get worse when that storm gets here…,” he said, pointing at the dark clouds moving steadily towards them. “Johnny’s going to drown if we can’t get him outta here…understand…?”
“Good…Chris,” he yelled up to his son.”
“I need you to throw the backpacks down to me."
“Okay…” Chris ran to get their packs and tossed them down.
“Good…,” he said propping them behind Johnny...allowing Jo to stand up. “Okay Honey, I’m gonna boost you up…grab that rope.” She pulled herself to the top and started to move away.
“Joanne…?” Johnny called weakly.
Roy spun around… "Hey junior, I didn’t know you were awake…Joanne…?” Roy called. “Johnny’s calling you…” She returned to the edge of the ravine.
“What is it sweetheart…?”
“Take the kids with you…”
“Johnny, they’ll slow her down…,” Roy replied.
Johnny ignored the explanation and continued… "If you… don’t get back in time…,” the young man struggled to finish… “I don’t …don’t want…want them to watch me drown…,” He gasped as his eyes closed once more.
“Oh my God…,” Joanne’s hand flew to her mouth in horror.
Roy looked up at her… "Take the kids…,” he said quietly. She nodded… "Joanne…?”
“Tear up the blanket to mark the way, because you’re gonna have to be able to lead them back here.” She nodded and turned to leave…snatching the blanket up as she went.
“C’mon kids…we have to help Uncle Johnny.”
Roy once again situated himself behind his young partner supporting his weight against him. “How ya doin Junior…?”
Roy could feel his body shaking… "Johnny what’s wrong…?”
Geez how could he be so stupid…The day had been warm for November but Johnny had been sitting in the cold, knee deep water for forty five minutes…John was shivering and going into shock. Roy brusquely rubbed his partner’s arms and shoulders trying to increase his circulation and warm his body.
“Hang in there junior…help's on the way.”
Joanne and the children had been alternately walking and running for thirty minutes…the kids were exhausted but refused to stop. They all knew Johnny’s life was dependant on how quickly they could get help. Even Jennifer at four…understood the urgency and didn’t complain about her tired legs. They continued on.
After another ten minutes, Jo began to fear she’d missed the rover. Tears filled her eyes…what if she’d gone the wrong way. She’d been talking to Roy and hadn’t really been paying attention to the passing scenery. Joanne stopped…the children halted turning to look at their mother curiously.
“Mommy, why are we stopping?” Jennifer asked.
“Yeah Mom, we gotta hurry…,” Chris added.
“We should have found the car by now…where’s the car…?” Tears rolled down her cheeks as the thoughts of failure rolled through her head. “Oh God Johnny…I’m sorry…,” she whispered, sure she was lost.
“Mom…,” Chris suddenly shouted as he pointed up ahead… "I remember that tree when we were first hiking in…Uncle Johnny pointed it out to us,” he said directing her attention to a gnarled and twisted pine tree. “The car should be that way…”
Joanne wiped the tears from her face praying her son was right and had been listening to Johnny better than she had. They began to run in the direction Chris had pointed. “Come on kids…” They rounded a thick clump of bushes and there was Johnny’s rover.
The three DeSoto’s were exhausted but they knew they couldn’t stop now. “Get in kids…put your seat belts on…Chris, help your sister." Joanne yanked her windbreaker off and draped it over the bushes as a marker to lead the rescue team back.
Further north the rain came down even harder…further south the rushing water reached the end of the wash, spewing up in an eruption dirty water and debris…then it began its backwards flow into the riverbed…beginning to even out the water levels as it went.
Roy watched the storm clouds rolling in with an anxious eye…lightening lit the sky north of them and light rain began to fall. He continued to keep up a running conversation with his partner. John’s head lolled on his shoulder. The water was now waist high and continuing to rise. John’s body temperature was dropping rapidly and his teeth were chattering so hard, the older man was afraid they’d break.
Roy worked his way around in front of his friend… "Johnny, look at me…can you hear me…?” There was a faint nod and his eyes briefly opened before fluttering closed once more. “Look…I know you’re cold and it’s making you really sleepy…” again there was a weak nod. “But I need you to stay with me Junior… keep your eyes open…”
“C…c…can’t … T’red… my leg hurs…,” he slurred as his eyes flickered open and closed, once more.
Roy gave him a shake… "Wake up John…don’t go away on me here.” Johnny’s eyes cracked open once more… "Good boy…We’re gonna get you outta here real soon and into a nice warm bed… "the dark eyes drifted shut. Another shake rocked his head on his shoulders… "Wake up Gage…that’s an order.”
“Leave…me…lone…Roy…sleepy…,” he gritted out through chattering teeth. But Roy kept talking refusing to let Johnny lapse into sleep.
Joanne had broken the speed limit down the road to the small general store Roy had mentioned. She ran inside… "I need to use your phone…there’s been an accident.” The proprietor handed her the phone. She called the only number she could remember… "Please, please don’t let them be on a run,” She whispered.
“Station 51…Captain Stanley speaking…”
“Hank…,” She practically shrieked… "It’s Joanne DeSoto.”
“Hey Joanne…I thought you were hiking…”
“Hank…” she cut him off… "There’s been an accident…Johnny’s been hurt. His leg is pinned by some rocks…he’s trapped in a dry wash and it’s filling with water. We can’t get him out…” She was sobbing now… "Hank, he’s gonna drown.”
“Calm down Joanne…tell me where you are?” Cap heard her talking to someone in the background. “It’s 1159 Ridgeline…please hurry.”
Cap hung up and called dispatch. “LA this is Station 51… we have a still alarm and a Code I, 1159 Ridgeline. Station 95 is the closest…please advise.”
“Station 51…LA…Station 95 is unavailable…Station 51 respond to still alarm 1159 Ridgeline…Time out… 15:08.”
“Station 51…KMG365…” Cap stuck his head in the dayroom. “Let’s go guys…still alarm…It’s Johnny.” The stampede into the apparatus bay nearly bowled Cap over. The squad rolled out followed by the Engine… ETA thirty minutes…
Joanne paced by the rover…what was taking so long? She’d called thirty minutes ago…Johnny could already be drowning…Two pairs of frightened eyes watched her anxiously… "Where are they Mom…?” Chris asked, voicing her own concern.
“I don’t know sweetheart…” She finally heard the wail of sirens in the distance… "Oh thank God…,” she murmured. The squad rounded the bend followed closely by the engine. Joanne breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the number on the truck…51…she knew no one would work harder to save Johnny then they would.
She jumped into the land rover and pulled out ahead of the squad. They fell in behind her as she raced back the way she’d come…praying she wasn’t too late and that she could find her way back. Jo spotted the windbreaker and turned off the road. “Hold on kids…it’s going to get rough…” The station crew never hesitated…just followed her in.
The water was chest deep on Johnny and Roy was getting scared…Jo and the kids had been gone for almost an hour. What if they’d gotten lost out here? What else could he do to save his friend? What if the Fire Department wasn’t even on their way…? What if? What if…?
“R…Roy…,” Johnny stammered.
“What is it Johnny…?” Roy asked leaning close to his partners face.
“You n…need to get out now…”
“No go Junior, I’m here for the duration…”
“Save your breath partner, I’m not leavin…”
“Y…you c…can’t help me a…anymore. W…waters risen too fast." John’s lips were blue, his face pale and his body shook uncontrollably. He looked at Roy with hopeless eyes. “Thanks Roy…you’ve been a great f…friend.”
“Shut up Johnny…, stop talking in the past.”
“Tell Jo and the k…kids…thanks for t…tryin and I l…love…”
Roy gave him a hard shake… Stop it John…we’re gonna get you out of here.”
“Liar…” A small half smile appeared on John’s face.
Roy’s heart lurched… "Don’t you quit on me Johnny okay…?”
“Promise…?” A slight nod answered him. “I’m gonna hold you to it.”
Roy tried once again to shift the rock but the branch snapped. He couldn’t leave his partner to try and find another. Where the hell was the rescue team…?
The water continued to climb and within minutes it was up to Johnny’s chin… "God…where are you Jo…?” Roy was holding John’s head above water as the rain began to fall harder…thunder rumbled and the sky darkened ominously.
John’s body continued to shake…his eyes were drooping…hypothermia was setting in and Johnny’s pulse was becoming erratic. Ventricular tachycardia, hypoxia and ischemia was the greatest threats. Seizures could follow as the blood flow to John’s brain decreased…a serious threat from the coolness of the water he’d been immersed in for over two hours and to top it all off, the water was continuing to rise.
Though only waist deep on Roy, Johnny would soon be completely under water…it was already lapping over his friends face. John began to cough as a small wave washed over his nose and mouth. Desperate, brown eyes met Roy’s…saying goodbye without using the words that Roy was unwilling to hear.
Helpless and frustrated, Roy could only hold John’s head as high as possible but the water rose relentlessly. It climbed the final half inch and Johnny was completely submerged. His eyes closed in resignation.
“Johnny…!” Roy took a deep breath…pinching John’s nose, he ducked under the water…his mouth closed over John’s, breathing precious oxygen into his partners lungs. Johnny’s eyes flew open…peering through the murky water at Roy…he understood what his friend was doing. He didn’t know how long Roy could keep this up. Johnny knew that either Roy would become exhausted and have no choice but to give up or Johnny would lose consciousness from hypoxia and drown but he had to let Roy try or his partner would never be able to forgive himself.
It became a routine…deep breath…submerge, Johnny would exhale and Roy would breathe air into his partner…resurface and do it again and again and again…
Roy was rapidly tiring…he was terrified…Johnny was dying before his eyes and he was helpless to stop it…The younger man’s eyes drifted closed… "No Johnny…,” Roy gasped… "Please stay with me…”
Roy felt something hit the water next to him. He felt a hand rest on his shoulder. "Roy, let me take over…” Roy nodded, panting for air and backed away to let Chet Kelly in. He began to breathe for John.
Marco and Mike suddenly landed in the water beside Roy. A moment later Cap followed. Mike knelt next to Johnny, crowbar in hand and began feeling for the rock that had pinned his young friend’s leg. Wedging the crowbar firmly under the boulder…Mike, Marco and Chet rolled the stone away but his foot was still wedged between the rocks. Mike dove under.
His leg finally free, Roy was able to lift John’s head above water. Charlie Dwyer and Kirk Carlson moved in close to Chet pushing Roy gently away. Kirk checked the limp figure for respiration… "He’s not breathing…,” Carlson announced. Dwyer quickly shifted Chet out of the way and took over breathing for Johnny.
Mike resurfaced… "I can’t get his foot out…,” he gasped in panic. “It’s wedged to tight and I can’t turn it.”
Roy closed his eyes…"Break his ankle if you have to.” Mike looked at Roy in shock. A gasp from above told him Joanne had returned and heard the directive. “Mike…,” Roy said calmly, “the water is still rising…Johnny needs help now…we need to turn that foot to free it. We can fix his ankle but not if he’s dead…”
Johnny suddenly gasped and began to cough…then vomited the water he’d swallowed. “I have spontaneous respiration Roy… He’s breathing on his own,” Charlie announced. Captain Stanley moved to support John’s head as Kirk climbed the rope to begin setting up to treat the young fireman.
Roy moved to the Engineer’s side. “Do you want me to do it…?” He asked reaching to take the crowbar from the stricken man before him.
“No…I…I’ll do it…you’ve already been through enough.” Mike gripped John’s hand briefly… "I’m so sorry Johnny.” He dove down. A moment later John’s back arced…a scream of pain erupted from John’s lips and tore through the hearts of his friends. Mike resurfaced a look of agony on his face.
Johnny was gasping now as pain and the need for air vied for his attention. Tears of agony seeped from his tightly closed eyes…"R…Roy…,” he choked out. His hand blindly flailed out, somehow knowing his friend would be there.
“I’m here Johnny…,” Roy said as he grabbed the hand. “I’m sorry Junior but your foot was still trapped and we had to get it free.” Roy looked at the others. Mike had tears in his eyes at what he’d just had to do.
“Let’s get him outta here…,” Charlie directed. Chet had already returned to the top and now lowered the stokes down to the others. Marco quickly climbed up to join his crew mate as the rest lifted Johnny into the framework and strapped him in.
“Take him up…,” Roy yelled. Kirk and the two lineman finally pulled John to safety…now they had to get him to the hospital or risk losing him to hypothermia.
Joanne and the children stood watching anxiously. “Is Uncle Johnny gonna be okay mommy?” Jennifer asked solemnly
“I hope so sweetie…I hope so.” Chris and Jen tried to run toward the stokes as it reached the top of the wash but Joanne grabbed them and pulled them back. Roy came to the top followed by Charlie Dwyer. Mike followed more slowly. Dwyer began to hook John to the EKG Monitor, while Roy wrapped the BP cuff around his friends arm. Kirk slipped the oxygen mask over John’s face and then grabbed the Biophone, contacting the hospital…
”Rampart base this is squad 51…”
“Go ahead 51…” came the reply…Dixie’s voice.
“Rampart…we have a twenty five year old male. He’s been trapped in a flooded wash for over two hours. Patient is Hypothermic…he is cyanotic. He was underwater for approximately five minutes. He aspirated quite a bit of water. He was not breathing when we arrived but he is now breathing on his own and is conscious. His vital signs are…?” Kirk glanced at Charlie and Roy.
“Pulse is 110, respirations are shallow…his BP is 100/60… detecting rales in both lungs…”Roy announced. Kirk repeated the information to Rampart as Charlie and Roy reeled them off.
“He has a broken Fibula and distal Fib Fracture. He has a small lump on the back of his head…We have him on 6 liters of O2…,” Charlie informed him.
Kirk duly repeated the information to Rampart…following it with…“Be advised Rampart…Victim is John Gage."
Dixie closed her eyes. How many times had she heard that particular advisement and it still brought an ache to her throat and tightening to her stomach. Kelly Brackett arrived at the base station…"What have we got Dix…?”
She handed him the notes… "Near drowning…freshwater…,” She hesitated briefly before she dropped the next piece of information… "Kel…it’s Johnny.”
He looked up sharply… "Our Johnny…?”
Had it been less serious, Dix might have laughed at the turn of phrase but she merely nodded. "Yeah…”
Kel pushed the transmit button… "51 can you send me an EKG…?”
“10-4 Rampart…this’ll be lead 2…”
Kel read the strip… "Ventricular tachycardia 51 administer lidocaine bolus…100 mgs," Kel waited while they administered the ordered medication…they were rewarded as John’s heart rhythm began to return to normal, at least for the moment.
Kel breathed a sigh of relief…"I’m reading sinus rhythm 51…Start an IV…D5W TKO. Splint his leg. Wrap him in blankets and keep him as warm as possible. Transport immediately 51. Monitor vitals and keep me posted."
Kel turned to Dix…"we need to treat that hypothermia the minute he gets here. Let’s start warming several bags of ringers. I want warmed Oxygen…start an esophageal airway the minute he’s in emergency.”
“Cap…,” Chet hollered.
“Ambulance can’t get in here…grounds to rugged.”
“You guys about ready to move him…?”
“Yeah Cap,” Roy replied.
“Let’s get him on the engine…”
They lifted the stokes and carried him to the rig. Roy climbed up into the back and reached down to grab the bottom of the frame…they lifted Johnny carefully into the hose bay.
They covered the two miles slowly, trying to jostle Johnny as little as possible. With the heart monitor beeping out it’s reminder that John’s heart was anything but stable, the last thing they wanted was to bring on V Tach again. They met the ambulance at the road and made the transfer. Roy and Charlie Dwyer climbed aboard with Johnny…Kirk followed with the squad, then Jo and the kids with John’s Rover and the engine bringing up the rear almost as an escort for Joanne.
“Rampart we’ve made the transfer…we’re on our way ETA thirty minutes.”
Johnny was rushed into treatment room two… Roy followed alongside the gurney but Dixie tried to stop him at the door.
“Dix don’t…,” was all Roy said.
She nodded…“Go ahead…”
Roy rushed to Johnny’s side and took his hand…looking into exhausted brown eyes. Charlie and the two orderlies moved Johnny to the exam table and then cleared out. Charlie gave Roy a pat on the back…let us know about Johnny okay?” Roy nodded.
“Dixie…get that IV started with the warmed ringers…,” Kel directed. A rasping cough erupted from Johnny’s lips. Kel frowned and he began to insert the airway. Johnny’s body was shaking, making the insertion difficult.
“Doc…he’s breathing okay…why…?” Roy began…
“Warmed Oxygen Roy…we need to get his core temperature back up…this will help warm him from the inside…,” he explained. Kel continued to bark orders…"Carol…I need CBC…BUN, creatinine and arterial blood gases and Electrolytes. I also want a chest film and a skull series as well as his leg and ankle. I want hot water bottles…as many as you can find."
Kel finished with the airway and hooked the oxygen line in… “How long was he without oxygen Roy…?”
“About two minutes…I was breathing for him for about five before he lost consciousness. His foot was wedged and I couldn’t keep his head above water. We had to break his ankle to get his foot out.”
“You did the right thing Roy…we can fix the ankle…it looks like a a nice clean break.”
“I’ll tell Mike Stoker…he’s the one that had to do it and he’s pretty busted up about it himself.”
“I’ll talk to him…”
“He’s in the waiting room,” Roy told him…Kel nodded.
The door opened to admit the portable X- Ray unit.
“Roy, let’s step into the hall and let Malcolm work.”
Roy moved his hand from John’s grip. The younger man groaned and tossed his head restlessly as his hand lifted weakly. Roy took his hand again and leaned close to Johnny’s ear. "Hey junior…I’m right here…I have to step into the hall for a minute but I’ll be right back okay…?” He reassured the younger man as he swept the still damp hair back from John’s forehead. Johnny nodded tiredly and relaxed back onto the table…his eyes drifted closed.
“Roy, Dix…Let’s get some coffee. Malcolm…I need those films Stat…,” Kel said as they left the room. The young, black man nodded and got to work.
Forty five minutes later a young nurse dropped off the test results… "Some of his levels are a little low but that’s to be expected,” Brackett told them as he read the papers.
Malcolm stuck his head inside… "films Doc.” Kel took them from him and tucked them into the light panel.
“Minor head injury and his ankle and fibula are fractured,” he confirmed…snapping the next film in place…he checked the chest film. Kel returned to the exam table...he listened to John’s lungs. Roy was on his heels, stopping close to Johnny’s head.
“I’m still detecting rales but not nearly as bad.” Kel checked his temperature…96° and the EKG monitor...sinus rhythm. Johnny was still shivering but his temperature was definitely on the rise and getting closer to normal and his color had greatly improved. Warm oxygen was still being pumped into him. Kel checked the IV’s that were running in both arms. Brackett nodded in satisfaction. “I think he’s gonna be fine Roy…”
Johnny seemed to somehow sense his partner’s presence. Without opening his eyes he weakly raised his arm reaching for the hand he knew would be there. The young paramedic felt his hand grasped in a strong firm grip…a cool hand rested on his forehead.
Dixie and Kel had turned at Johnny’s first movement…both of them as always amazed by the rapport between these two friends. “Hey partner…you think you can stay with us this time?”
John’s dark eyes flickered open. His gaze traveled about the room settling briefly on Dixie and Dr. Brackett. His mouth curled tiredly at the corners but the message was clear. Kel nodded…” I think we can take that out now.” John gave him a tired nod. “You know the drill Johnny…I want you to cough for me while I remove it.” John nodded again.
He had no trouble complying with the directive. John coughed harshly as Kel tugged the tube free. “Thirsty…,” John rasped. Roy poured a cup of water and held it for John to sip from the straw. “Thanks…,” he whispered.
Dixie moved to his side. “Hey kiddo…that was some hiking trip…,” she teased as she brushed the tangle of sable hair off John’s forehead with the back of her fingers.
“Roy saved my life…,” he said gratingly.
“You saved Jennifer’s, so we’re even junior.” Roy smiled at him.
“You coulda been killed Roy…,” he said hoarsely.
“It was a sure bet you woulda been…You were worth the risk. Right at that time…there was nothing else I could too.”
“No…no buts… Johnny do you really think I coulda just stood there and watched you drown? Would you have if it had been me…?”
“No…but you have… and I don’t have…,” Johnny stammered but then stopped as he began to cough harshly…
“Did you understand that…?” Kel asked in confusion.
“Don’t have what…?” Dixie asked curiously with a grin, well used to Johnny's convoluted conversations.
Roy answered for him… "A wife and kids…you see my crazed partner here is under the misguided perception that his life isn’t as important as mine because he doesn’t have a wife and kids to worry about,” Roy explained in annoyance.
Doctor Brackett had joined them when John had begun to cough. He looked at the younger paramedic in disbelief. “Is that true Johnny…?” A hesitant nod answered him. Kel shook his head. “You’re as valuable as anyone else in this room Johnny…you know that?”
John looked between his three friends…he knew he was outnumbered. “Joanne….,” he began.
But Roy interrupted him…“Joanne was frightened when I jumped into that ravine with you yes…but how much more upset would she have been if I’d just stood there and let you die. She knows the risks I take every day for total strangers, do you really suppose she wouldn’t expect me to risk it for my best friend. I mean, I can bring her in if you want to ask her…she’s right outside.”
“No, no… that’s alright…,” He rasped out quickly.
Brackett and Dixie exchanged a grin, amused by the idea that their young friend braved a lot of terrifying circumstances every day without batting an eyelash but the idea of going head to head with Roy’s wife scared him silly.
“Johnny…,” Kel said throwing a smirk at Roy…”We’ve pretty well got you stabilized, so we’re going to send you up to orthopedics to cast your leg and then we’ll get you into a room so you can rest. We’ll be starting you on heavy doses of antibiotics to try and ward off any complications before they start. Your temperature is almost back to normal and your CBC’s and electrolytes are at the low end of normal. We’re going to keep you for a couple of days at least…” John nodded in resignation of yet another hospital stay.
A couple hours of later, Johnny was finally resting in bed. The door cracked open and two sets of blue eyes peered in at him. “Come on in you monkeys…,” he said hoarsely.
“Uncle Johnny…?” Jenny’s lip quivered as she climbed up on the bed and flung herself on the young, dark haired mans chest. Chris hung back by the door.
“What’re the tears for Princess…?”
“Uncle Johnny…I’m so sorry…if we hadn’t gone down there, you wouldn’t have got hurt.”
“Well yeah but…I’m okay now…,” he rasped out forgivingly.
“No you’re not…,” Chris said quietly… "You sound awful and your legs broken and it’s all my fault. I made her go down there,” he confessed.
“Doesn’t matter anymore Buddy…I’m not mad at you,” John said.
“You should be…,” Roy said as he and Joanne came into the room. “You’re letting them off way to easy.”
“C’mon Roy…I remember being that age once…I was quite a handful.”
“Can’t imagine that Junior…,” Roy quipped drily.
John shot him an irritated look as he waved Chris over. The boy shuffled over to Johnny’s bed, eyes downcast.
Johnny laid his hand on Chris’s head… "Hey Pal…I’m gonna be fine okay?”
Chris nodded… "But I’m still sorry.”
“I know you are… so next time listen when someone tells you it’s dangerous okay?”
Joanne came to the side of the bed. She kissed John’s cheek and ruffled his dark hair.
“Hey Jo…,” he said tiredly.
“Johnny, thank you…I wouldn’t have my little girl if not for you.”
“Jo, you know I’d do anything for this little princess,” he replied chucking the tiny blonde under the chin, drawing a giggle from the little girl.
“Yeah…well, you may have let this go partner but I haven’t. They’ve both got some answering to do when we get home.” Johnny started to protest but Roy cut him off… "You were almost killed today my friend and in case you’ve forgotten…it was a direct act of disobedience…”
John grimaced… "Sorry guys…I tried…” Johnny’s eyes were beginning to droop in exhaustion…
“Come on Kids, Uncle Johnny needs to sleep.” Roy said as he herded the kids toward the door but turned back a moment later…"Oh and Doctor Brackett said if you don’t develop any complications he might let you go home tomorrow.” Johnny grinned but it faded as Roy continued… "As long as you have someone to help you.”
“Oh…,” he said in disappointment.
“Which is why I’ll pick you up as soon as he springs you,” Roy teased.
“You don’t have to do that…I don’t want to be a problem.”
Joanne kissed his forehead… "You’re not,” she reassured him.
She turned and took Roy’s hand as they headed for the door. “Get some rest Junior…,” Roy told him but it was too late…John was already asleep.
The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII productions. Thanks for letting us borrow the gang from time to time. Any medical mistakes are my own. Posted to Site 09/09/09
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Productions. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order.
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