“An All Consuming Task”

By Ross


L.A. County Fire Station 51’s A-Shift Captain, Hank Stanley, completed morning roll and lowered his clipboard. “All right. Chores will have to wait. The station has been stood down. For the next few hours, we will be conducting our mandatory, semi-annual ‘Air Consumption Drill’.”

It wasn’t lost on the fire officer that his youngest paramedic was the only member of his crew who wasn’t tremendously displeased to hear his little announcement.

“The purpose of this drill is three-fold,” Hank calmly continued. “First, it will give you an idea of the amount of physical exertion it takes for you to drain a bottle of air. Second, it will serve as a reminder for you to concentrate on regulating your breathing while you work. And third, it will leave you better prepared to deal with an actual ‘out of air’ emergency.”

“Gage’ll win,” Chet Kelly grumbled beneath his breath. “Gage always wins.”

The Captain caught Kelly’s quiet comment and saw the others nodding in agreement. ‘Defeatists,’ he thought. But then added this little reminder, aloud, “Everyone comes out of this a winner. You are only competing with yourselves, trying to improve on the previous drill’s times. As usual, the person with the most improved score will be exempt from latrine duty for the next five shifts.”

Four of his guys frowned.

The fifth ‘person’ grinned outright.

“Gage’ll win,” Kelly glumly re-griped. “Gage always wins.”

‘Not always,’ Hank mused. “Okay, everybody gear up!”

While his crew was donning their turnout coats and helmets, and checking out their face masks, air bottles and regulators, the Captain busied himself with setting up the Consumption Drill’s obstacle course.

Hank rolled the heavy, roped truck tire out of the corner of the back parking lot and placed it at the base of their hose tower.

Next, he took a sledge hammer and an exhaust fan from Big Red’s side compartments and placed them beside the truck tire.

Lastly, he removed a very life-like drill dummy from the back seat of his car and carried it over to the base of the hose tower, too.

Satisfied, Stanley stepped back into the parking bay.

The Captain crossed over to where his geared up guys had gathered—which was just outside his office. “As always, mark your starting time on the board in the rec’ room. Then, go ‘on air’ and begin the course.

Station 1: Crawl under the Squad.

Station 2: Climb up over the hose bed on the Engine and then proceed to the hose tower.

Station 3: Drag the tire once across the lot and back up to the hose tower.

Station 4: Pick up the sledge hammer at the base of the tower and pound on the tire 10 times.

Station 5: Climb the tower, touch the top rung on the ladder and climb back down.

Station 6: Carry the smoke ejector fan once around the building and return it to the base of the tower.

Station 7: Drag the tire across the lot and back again.

Station 8: Climb back up over the hose bed on the Engine.

Station 9: Crawl back under the Squad.

Station 10: Take another lap around the building. Record your time on the board in the rec’ room, and then start the 10 stations all over again. Keep doing this until your low air alarm goes off, or until you are too exhausted to continue.

When your low air alarm goes off, finish whatever station you’re working on and then start walking around the building.

When your low air alarm stops going off, note the time. Then, sit back against the wall of the building and start counting. I want you to see how many breaths you can squeeze out of whatever air you have remaining in your tank. Once your tank has been completely breathed down, return to the rec’ room and record your drill completion time. Be sure to give a shout out when you’re done with the drill so I can tally up the times, the number of laps you were able to make and the number of breaths you were able to take. Any questions?”

“Yeah,” Kelly piped up. “Can’t we give Gage, here, a handicap, Cap?”

Stanley suppressed a smile. “Funny you should mention that, Kelly. Because I swung by headquarters this morning and picked up an ‘equalizer’—a teen-aged drill dummy. They make the lightest jockeys carry extra weight, so our ‘hose jockey’, here, gets to tote an extra 110 lbs., along with the fan, on Station Six.” It wasn’t lost on the fire officer that his youngest paramedic was the only member of his crew who wasn’t tremendously pleased to hear his little announcement.

“Ah, Ca-ap…” Gage groaned. “Give me a break.”

“I did give you a break,” Hank assured him. “I could a’ grabbed the 150 lb. guy…”

The handicapped paramedic drew very little comfort from his ‘kind’ Captain’s little assurance.

The unhappy hose jockey’s shiftmates exchanged grins and hopeful glances.

Stanley saw the competitive gleam in the other four guys’ eyes and smiled, inwardly. ‘Leveling the playing field was just the morale booster this drill’s been needing.’ “John, why don’t you go first, there, pal,” Hank ordered, more than asked. “The rest of you guys can follow him, at five-minute intervals.”

Gage begrudgingly donned his SCBA.

He hitched the heavy device’s contoured metal frame into a comfortable weight-bearing position and snugged its height-adjustment straps up, to keep his air bottle in place. The spring-loaded clips on the pack’s shoulder harness rigging were connected, right smack dab in the center of his chest. The pack’s broad, black nylon waist belt was both buckled and pulled taught. The handicapped fireman then snatched his face mask up by its dangling hose and went mumbling off, to record his starting time.

The rest of the guys followed the grumbler into the rec’ room, grinning all the while.

John stepped up to the chalk board, checked the wall clock, and scribbled down his start time.

He made sure his regulator was on ‘pressure-demand’. Then he reached behind his back, shoved his air bottle’s control valve in and cranked it all the way open.

Before donning his mask, he pressed it to his face and took a tentative breath. Satisfied that everything was working properly, John pulled the mask’s rubber head harness into place and snugged up its stretchy straps.

After testing the mask’s seal, he tossed his helmet on his head, tightened its chin strap and disappeared back out the door.

His still-grinning firemen friends continued to trail along in his wake.


Gage stepped into the garage and immediately dropped to his knees. The straps on his SCBA were un-snugged and its air bottle was slipped to his side, so he could pass beneath the Squad unhindered. John pressed his chest down onto the pavement and slithered out of sight.’

The paramedic reappeared, just a few moments later, on the other side of the truck. John popped back up onto his feet and repositioned and re-secured his air-pack before tackling Station Two.

A chrome folding step was flipped down into place and he climbed up onto—and over—Big Red’s hose bed, at a sure and steady pace.

After all, the point of the drill wasn’t to finish the course the fastest.

The object was to get your air bottle to last a little longer than the last consumption drill.

And, in order to do that, the fireman had to pace himself.

He climbed carefully down—and off of—the back of the Engine and stepped out into the sunlight, en route to the hose tower.


Gage reached Station 3, snatched up a ten foot length of extremely thick rope and started towing the heavy truck tire, it was tied to, off across the station’s paved back parking area. The tire tugger reached the lot’s far wall, in no time at all, and promptly reversed course.

Upon returning to the tower, the paramedic picked up the designated sledge hammer and began pounding away on the tire. Not with little taps, either, but with full, overhead swings. The fireman finished his tenth pound, and the 4th Station, and set the heavy hammer aside.


By maintaining 3 points of contact with their hose tower’s ladder—at all times—John carefully completed Station 5’s climb.


The hose jockey’s boots hit the pavement. His gaze immediately locked upon his benevolent boss’ little ‘equalizer’.

The 110 lb. drill dummy turned out to be a very life-like teen-aged girl.

Through years of practice, the paramedic had mastered the art of regulating his breathing while ‘on air’. There was no way he was going to allow a mere 110 lbs. of additional weight to ‘handicap’ him. A few minor ‘adjustments’ would just have to be made.

The hose jockey locked onto the dead weight’s realistic wrists and hauled it up off the pavement. The dang heavy dummy was carefully draped over his left shoulder. His free right hand latched onto the exhaust fan’s handle and he headed back off across the parking lot, at an even surer and steadier pace.

One of John’s adjustments was to add brief intervals of ‘skip-breathing’—only one exhalation for every two inhalations. ‘Inhale through your nose…2…3…4. Inhale through your nose…2…3…4. Exhale through pursed lips…2…3…4,’ he rounded the back of the building and disappeared down the alley, repeating his silent mantra all the while.


As Gage rounded the front of their fire station and started heading for the parking bay’s open front doors, his mantra changed. ‘Inhale through your nose and remain calm…2…3…4. Exhale through pursed lips and stay focused…2…3…4.’

Twenty-five minutes later…

All five firefighters were ‘on air’ and working their way through the various stations.

John, who had begun the consumption drill treating his handicap—er, the realistic young lady—with tender-loving-care, had taken to pulling her—er, it—up by its hair, flinging the fake female back over his left shoulder by an arm or a leg, carrying the 110 lb. body belly-up, dropping the department’s drill dummy on its head—all within clear view of the rest of the crew.

Gage’s ungallant actions caused his Captain to wince, and his fellow firefighters to chuckle.

Ninety minutes later, Hank’s crew was seated around the Station’s dinner table, steaming coffee cups in hand, anxiously awaiting the results of the drill…

At long last, their Supreme Commander completed his calculations and stepped into the day room.

Stanley just stood there, staring down at his clipboard in confusion. “I don’t get it,” the Captain confessed, finally finding his voice. “Each of you improved over the last drill and are to be commended. However, even with the handicap, John is still the most improved.” It wasn’t lost on the fire officer that the ‘handicapped hose jockey’ was the only member of his crew who wasn’t stunned by the news.

“How’s that even possible, Cap’?” Kelly incredulously inquired.

Hank reflected for a moment and then dryly, and wryly, surmised, “Apparently, laughing consumes a great deal of air.”

Stoker aimed an accusing glare at the pursed-lipped paramedic seated beside him. “Looks like the hose jockey did a little ‘handicapping’ of his own.”

The entire crew found the Engineer’s light-hearted observation most amusing, and a great deal more air was consumed.


The End

*Click above to send Ross feedback


Guest Dispatchers       Stories by Ross