A Near Thing
“Get him out of here!” John Gage yelled over the noise of the flames. He immediately turned away, fiddling with the wreckage of the collapsed wall. He didn’t want to see his partner, Roy DeSoto, hesitating and then casting him an apologetic look. Roy had nothing to be sorry for. His priority was the victim, not his partner. It was hard enough being left behind without seeing the guilt his partner was feeling.
As he struggled to free his legs from the wreckage, Johnny wondered what had caused the flames that were now licking along the wall near by. When they had entered the structure a few short minutes before, there had been no sign of flames, nor any indication that there was any danger of a fire. They had been called out for a ‘man down’ rescue at the barn they were now in and the engine wasn’t even with them. Both Roy and Johnny had entered the building without their SCBA equipment, because there had been no sign that it was needed.
But there was no question they needed it now. As they had knelt by the fallen man, Johnny spotted something entangled around his feet. He moved to crouch there, and carefully removed the rope that coiled in loose loops around the man’s ankles. It seemed obvious what had happened. While cleaning out his barn, the man hadn’t noticed the rope lying in the straw and had tripped over it, knocking himself cold in the process. The man’s wife had called it in.
But then, the wall behind them had collapsed, trapping Johnny’s legs, despite his athletic attempts to avoid it. It was then that they heard the whoosh of the fire starting. Ripping the debris from the victim, Johnny looked at Roy. “You’ve got to take him out. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Junior…” Roy’s blue eyes were dark with his concern. He was an experienced rescue man, too. He knew that Johnny was in trouble.
“You have no choice!” Johnny reminded his friend. “Call for the engine.” He looked away, shoving at some of the debris that lay loose on his legs. “I’ll be fine, honest.”
Reluctantly, Roy did as Johnny said. He knew that he had to take care of the victim. He also knew that Johnny was in grave danger and by the time the engine arrived, his partner would most likely be dead. The dry barn was blazing at a fearsome speed. Roy stumbled out through the smoke and carried the victim over to the squad.
To his surprise, the man’s wife was nowhere to be seen. He shrugged and got out the equipment he would need and set to work. Pumping up the blood pressure cuff, Roy struggled to hear the blood returning to the vein. All he could hear was a siren somewhere near by. Exasperated, he pumped the cuff again, deliberately keeping his mind on his patient.
Opening the biophone, Roy paused, gaping in astonishment as Engine 51 barrelled up to the barn, lights flashing. It was closely followed by a police cruiser. A movement on the periphery of his vision made Roy turn his head and he saw the wife hurrying back across the pasture.
Things became rather complicated than. Roy shouted, “Johnny’s in there!” Someone – he wasn’t even sure who – dashed into the blazing barn while someone else got a hose. A policeman emerged from the car and the wife started shouting in semi-hysterical relief.
“I saw someone setting fire to the barn!” she cried, grabbing the policeman’s arm. “You’ve got to arrest him!”
Roy continued the automatic setting up of the biophone, trying to absorb everything that was happening while continuing to function as a paramedic. He couldn’t manage everything and shook his head, concentrating on his patient. “Rampart, this is Squad 51.”
“Roy?” asked a soft voice and Roy glanced up into Mike Stoker’s face.
“Johnny’s in there, Mike,” he replied. Mike nodded and squeezed Roy’s shoulder. It was only then that Roy wondered where Captain Stanley was.
“Go ahead, Squad 51,” came the reply.
“Uh, Rampart, we have two victims. Victim 1 is a male in his 50s. He was trapped in a wall collapse. Vital signs are…” He reeled them off along with the injuries and then took a deep breath. “Victim 2 is a 28 year old firefighter. He has not been extricated at this time.”
In the barn, Johnny gave up the attempt to free himself. The debris was too heavy. Coughing from the smoke, Johnny lay down, trying to keep under it as much as possible. He had always known there was a chance he could die in a fire, but he had never expected it to be like this. A spasm of fear shot through his belly. He didn’t want to die!
“John!” Strong hands gripped his shoulders for a moment before the speaker attacked the mountain of debris that lay over Johnny’s legs.
“Cap?” Johnny stuttered and coughed. Of all the people he might have expected to see in here without an SCBA, Cap was not one of them. “Cap, the fire…”
“I can see it, John,” Cap replied calmly, continuing to dig. “Are you hurt?”
Although the temptation to say ‘no’ was almost overwhelming, Johnny knew that he had to tell Cap the truth. Their survival might depend on it. “My knee hurts,” he admitted and coughed again. “And my ankle.”
Flashing his downed man a tight smile, Cap kept digging. “Don’t worry, John, we’ll get out of this.”
It was getting hotter, Johnny reflected, as he sagged back. The smoke was really bothering him now and he coughed helplessly. Cap was coughing, too. Johnny closed his eyes. He was sure he wasn’t going to make it and he hated to think Cap might be injured because of him.
Suddenly, there was a deluge of cool, refreshing water. Two figures emerged from the smoke to spray water on the encroaching flames. Chet and Marco! Johnny couldn’t think when he had last been so pleased to see anyone. At least now, Cap had a chance to get out.
Checking that Marco could handle the hose alone, Chet hurried over and helped Cap. He was wearing his breathing apparatus and shouted at Cap, “I’ll get him.”
“Nearly done,” Cap replied, and sure enough, Johnny felt the weight come off his legs.
Moving quickly, Chet and Cap hauled Johnny to his feet and supported him out of the door. Johnny couldn’t make his legs take his weight and both legs throbbed painfully. Marco followed behind them, keeping the flames at bay.
Outside, Johnny was laid beside the squad. Another engine was there and an ambulance. As Johnny coughed painfully, a second squad pulled up and Brice and Bellingham hopped out. “Oh no!” he groaned.
Relieved that Johnny was out, Roy grinned at him. “I can’t do everything, Junior.” However, his grin faded as both Johnny and Cap started coughing. He caught up the biophone again. “Rampart, the second victim has been extricated. Stand by for vital signs.”
“We’ll take over here, Roy,” Bellingham said, as he knelt by Cap. “You go on in with your patient.” He started fitting an oxygen mask onto Cap Stanley.
For a moment, Roy hesitated. He didn’t want to leave Johnny and Cap. He knew that Brice and Bellingham were good paramedics and that his friends were in good hands, but he hated to leave without knowing the extent of their injuries. But he knew his duty and slowly nodded. “All right.” He signalled to the ambulance attendants and rose to his feet.
“I’ll see you at Rampart,” he called to Johnny, who nodded. Johnny’s eyes were glazed as he worked hard on his breathing. Worry spike through Roy’s gut. “Go on,” Bellingham urged, picking up his biophone. “They’ll be fine.”
Reluctantly, Roy climbed into the ambulance.
The waiting was always the worst. Roy delivered his patient to Dr Morton and then went to wait by the base station. He would at least hear the transmissions if any were made enroute. “Any word?” he asked Dixie.
“They’re on the way,” Dixie replied noncommittally. Roy gave her a frustrated look, but Dixie wouldn’t say any more.
Roy didn’t have long to wait – a few minutes later, the two gurneys bearing Johnny and Cap whisked through the doors. “Johnny to treatment One,” Dixie directed. “Captain Stanley to Three.” She put her hand up to stop Roy from joining them. “Roy, I’ll come and let you know how they are in a few minutes.” She slipped into the room with Johnny and shut the door in Roy’s face.
Frustrated once more, Roy joined Brice and Bellingham at the base station. “How were they?” he asked.
“Captain Stanley was coughing a lot,” Brice replied. “His lungs didn’t sound too congested. I really can’t understand why he went into the structure without adequate protection,” he went on disapprovingly. “I thought he would know better.”
“And Johnny?” Roy enquired, blunting Brice’s remark by not acknowledging it.
“He’s taken in a fair bit of smoke,” Bellingham replied. “I could hear rales bilaterally and he was working pretty hard to breathe.” Bellingham patted Roy’s arm. “But Johnny’s tough.”
“Sure,” Roy agreed. “What about his legs?”
“His left knee’s pretty messed up,” ‘Animal’ allowed. “So’s his right ankle. I don’t think it’s broken, but the x-rays will say for sure.”
“Thanks,” Roy nodded. He looked around aimlessly, but he wasn’t seeing the busy waiting room. His mind was in the treatment room with his partner.
“Get the portable x-ray down here,” Brackett ordered. He looked at the paramedic and saw how exhausted Johnny was becoming. “Johnny, I’m going to get you started on steroids to help ease your breathing.” He smiled. “It should become easier soon.” He patted Johnny’s arm and saw the young man nod.
“Cap?” Johnny panted, his voice muffled by the oxygen mask.
“Joe’s looking after him,” Brackett replied.
“The victim?” Johnny demanded
“He’s got a concussion, but he’s going to be okay. You lie there and behave and I’ll see how Cap’s doing, all right?” Johnny nodded. Brackett looked at the x-ray technician. “Chest series, left knee and right ankle, please,” he requested. “I’ll be back in a minute,” he promised and slipped from the room.
“Doc?” Roy was at Brackett’s elbow. “How’s Johnny?”
“He’s going to be fine, Roy,” Brackett assured him. “I’ll keep him overnight for observation. He’s having x-rays right now and I’ll know more after that. I’m just going in to see Captain Stanley. I’ll be back in a minute.” He crossed the corridor and entered the room where Stanley was. “How’s he doing, Joe?” he asked.
“He’ll be fine,” Joe Early replied. He smiled at the chagrined captain. “Once he gets over the embarrassment of doing something he constantly tells his crew not to do.” Joe smiled gently.
“And what would that be?” Brackett wondered aloud.
Stanley flushed and muttered something into the oxygen mask. When Brackett’s expectant eyes didn’t leave him, he repeated it slightly louder, the flush deepening. “I went into a burning building without my SCBA,” he admitted.
That wasn’t quite what Brackett had expected and he started to laugh. “I never thought I’d hear the day you did something like that,” he laughed.
Smiling, too, Joe asked, “How’s Johnny?”
“He’s getting x-rays, but he’ll be fine,” Brackett replied. “He’ll be staying until his lungs clear up and after that depends on the damage done to his knee and ankle.”
“Good,” Stanley commented.
“I’m sending Captain Stanley to a room for observation,” Early mentioned. “I’ll tell Dixie which one and perhaps they could room together?”
“Isn’t that rather hard on Captain Stanley?” Brackett teased. He left the room before Stanley could find the breath to say anything.
About an hour later, Roy slipped into a room and smiled at the occupants. “Chief McConnikee has found replacements for both of you,” he told them. Stanley groaned. Roy grinned. “Don’t worry, Cap, none of us told him what you did.”
“But I bet Brice did,” Johnny wheezed. Roy nodded.
“The Perfect Paramedic,” Stanley muttered. “Let’s hope it’s a long time before he’s posted at my station again, the little weasel.”
A round of coughing from Johnny made both Cap and Roy look at him with concern. Johnny waved a hand at them, indicating he was all right, and sure enough, he soon got his breathing under control again. “Sorry, I shouldn’t laugh,” he explained.
“How do you feel otherwise?” Roy asked.
“A bit sore, but the meds are working,” Johnny admitted. His knee was sprained, as was his ankle. Brackett was going to keep him until his chest cleared, then he would be going to Roy’s for a few days until he was able to get about more easily.
“Cap?” Roy asked.
“I’m fine, Roy,” Cap replied. “I’ll be back next shift.”
“I’m sorry you ended up in here because of me,” Johnny told him.
“Johnny, that was a near thing today.” Cap looked thoughtful. “This was one occasion when I think it was justified to do what I did. I knew Chet and Marco had to get the hose. Mike had to man the pump. Roy was busy and someone had to get you out.” He shrugged. “We’ve all done stupid things, but I don’t regret it.”
“Thanks, Cap,” Johnny replied. A yawn shook him and he looked rather startled.
“Get some sleep, both of you,” Roy advised, for Stanley looked almost as tired as Johnny. “I’ve got to get back to the station.” He opened the door and something he saw in the hall caused him to pause. “Cap, I don’t think you need to worry too much about what the chief is going to say to you,” he remarked.
“Why’s that?” Cap asked, bemused.
Grinning, Roy replied, “Because I think your wife has first dibs on that and judging by the look on her face, there isn’t going to be much left for the chief to chew on!” He laughed at the expression on his superior’s face and made a hasty exit.
As Mrs Stanley came into the room, Johnny slunk down beneath the covers. He wished that he had fallen asleep before the Cap’s good lady arrived, for he was sure that he wasn’t going to be able to sleep till she had gone.
“Hi, honey,” Cap offered weakly.
“Don’t ‘honey’ me!” Mrs Stanley started.
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Stories by Rona December Picture Stories