A Helping Hand
By Audrey W.
Captain Hank Stanley stood near Engine 51 with his engineer Mike Stoker as they looked at the devastation in front of them. Where less than an hour before, a home had stood filled with a family and relatives celebrating the holiday. Now as the rest of his engine crew worked to put out hot spots with another, it was just a smoldering empty brick shell. What was left of the roof was scorched. Water puddles were all around, remains of the firemen’s battle to put the consuming flames out.
The exterior walls where windows once had been were blackened from the flames that had shot up and out once the glass had shattered from the intense heat and gasses.
Hank then looked to where paramedics Roy DeSoto and John Gage were with the still stunned victims of the disaster. Although there were no serious injuries, one of the men involved had briefly needed oxygen, another ointment on his hands for minor burns.
A cardboard box where holiday dishes were normally stored had been left on the stove, no one in the house aware that one of the electric burners was still on low power. A panicked reaction of trying to put the resulting fire out themselves before calling the fire department had allowed the flames to spread quickly through the interior of the brick home before help arrived.
Now a family with two young children was homeless and their guests, a couple with an infant son, were doing their best to comfort them while looking dazed as well. Hank knew from experience that it sometimes took awhile before the shock of the incident wore off and the reality sank in for victims. But these people appeared to fully comprehend that they’d lost everything.
“Of all the days to have something like this happen,” Mike said when he caught Hank’s gaze.
“Yeah. . .” The captain then returned his eyes to Marco Lopez and Chet Kelly as they hollered and signaled for Mike to release the pressure on the hose. The job was nearly done.
“You sure you’re okay?” John asked the man who owned the home.
Ken Wadell nodded as he reached down and patted the head of his young son, who was still clinging to his leg. “I never knew a fire could spread so fast..” He glanced at the mess and the firemen still at work, then looked at Johnny. “I’m sorry. This really messes up your Thanksgiving, huh?”
“Hey, man, don’t worry about us. That’s what we’re here for. I’m just glad everyone got out of the place okay. We all are.”
Ken’s wife Rebecca was standing a couple of feet away, her sister with an arm around her as she held her two-year-old daughter Tracy in a firm hug. After listening to her husband, she spoke out, still staring in disbelief at the remains of their home. “I can’t even cry right now. I know I should be, but it won’t come.”
It will, Johnny thought to himself.
Roy was nearby with Rebecca’s brother-in-law, who was holding his month-old daughter bundled up in a soft pink blanket. He’d suffered a couple of minor burns on his hands, but the ointment Roy had applied lessoned the pain from the slight injury.
“It looked like it was a perfect turkey this year,” he stated numbly. “Rebecca and Carol really did a good job. Now it’s nothing but charcoal.” He paused a few moments after Roy nodded in acknowledgement, then added, “Kinda funny what comes to mind at times like this.”
“I think something like this is hard to comprehend at first. Sometimes it’s easier to think about the smaller things that are less of an issue.”
The man just looked at the ruined home, a pained expression on his face. “Yeah, I guess so.” He shifted his gaze to Roy. “What’re we gonna do? Where’re they gonna live?” he voiced his thoughts, not really expecting an answer from the paramedic.
The firemen on the scene were already informed that the Wadells had just recently moved to Carson from a small town in Minnesota called Bethel. The rest of their relatives still resided there, including these visiting now. Thus there’d be no family locally to take them in while they looked for a new place to live.
With his words and the comments from the others to Johnny filtering in, Roy sighed. The Red Cross would help them as much as possible, but starting over was never easy on anyone, especially a family with small children.
A few of the neighbors that were home returned to their holiday dinners after witnessing the firemen fight the scary blaze.
The next door neighbors who had called the fire department for the victims returned to their home with their holiday guests as well, except for the father. He hesitantly approached the homeless family, the slight smile on his face a cross between wanting to be friendly, but not sure if he should be smiling at all.
“Uhm. . .We were wondering if you’d like stay at our house for a few hours . . .until the Red Cross can get you set up somewhere. You could join us for Thanksgiving dinner.”
“Oh. . . I don’t know. . .” Rebecca looked to her husband.
“I don’t think I could even eat right now,” he stated.
“Works perfect, then. We’ll be short on food anyway,” the neighbor said with a try for humor in hopes it would help. “So whataya say? For the kids, if nothing else.”
Roy and the brother-in-law had joined the others. He and Johnny waited eagerly for the Wadells to accept, trying very hard not to jump in and speak for them.
With things winding down, Hank Stanley approached the paramedics while the captain from Engine 116 directed the other men. He motioned them over, away from the two families.
“How’re they doing?”
“Physically. . .fine.”
“They’re hangin’ in there emotionally so far, too,” Johnny added. “I think they realize how lucky they are that no one got seriously hurt or killed. But once it sinks in that they’ve really lost everything. . .””
The captain nodded knowingly. “The Red Cross should have a hotel rooms for them to go to soon.”
Johnny glanced at the group in time to see Ken Wadell agree to the neighbor’s offer, then returned his attention to Roy and Hank. “Looks like they’ll have a place to stay in the meantime. And a Thanksgiving dinner after all.”
Roy chewed his bottom lip in thought. Sure, things had worked out as well as could be expected, considering. But maybe there was a way to help out a little. . .
“Hey, Cap. . .”
Johnny took a bite of his burger and dipped a couple of fries in a puddle of ketchup on his plate, holding them until he could swallow the other.
“Taking our Thanksgiving dinner to those guys was a great idea,” Marco stated as he picked up his remaining hamburger.
Johnny pushed the food in his mouth to the side, and with his left cheek bulging from it, agreed. “I’ve gotta hand it to ya, Roy. You really came up with a good idea.”
“Did you see the look on everyone’s faces when we carried all that food in?” Chet wondered.
“I’ve always been told not to get too involved with victims,” Hank said as he set down his coffee cup. “But I think there’re times it does us as much good as it does them.”
“I know Joanne’ll understand,” Roy offered. “She’ll be happy to know she played a part, even if it was inadvertent.”
Johnny swallowed his bite of burger and stuffed the fires in his mouth. Once again shoving it to the inside of his cheek, he wore a slight grin on his face. “You know, hamburgers and fries taste pretty good on Thanksgiving. I think we oughta start a new tradition.”
The others agreed. After all, it wasn’t the turkey and other fixings that made the holiday so special. It was being thankful for all they had and helping out others who were less fortunate.
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