Note: Sticking to the simplistic times of the 1970s
Chew on This
By Audrey W.
“You ready to get started?” John Gage asked after roll call at Station 51.
Chet Kelly nodded. “I’ve got the goods to kick it off.”
John’s partner Roy DeSoto eyed the two men warily. “Do I want to know what this is about?”
“Doesn’t matter if you do or not. Someday you’re gonna hear about it, like it or not,” Gage offered, a crooked smile on his face.
“He’s right, you will. When we’re famous. . .sorta.”
Marco Lopez was still in the vicinity and couldn’t help but step over closer to the men involved in the conversation. “This I have to hear.”
Chet and John exchanged knowing glances before the latter explained with a hand splayed on his chest, “We, gentlemen, are gonna be in the Guiness Book of World Records.”
“How’re you going to do that?” Mike Stoker asked, having joined the conversation as well.
Chet pulled two packs of chewing gum out if his right trouser pocket. As he handed one to Gage, he explained, “We’re gonna put together the longest gum wrapper chain___ ever.”
“Gum wrapper chain?” Roy asked incredulously. It certainly wasn’t anything he’d expected to hear. Not even close.
“That’s right,” Chet assured. “We were trying to think of something we could do that was different.” He paused to look at John, who was nodding in agreement. Chet then went on with, “I happened to tell my sister and she suggested it.”
The three listeners glanced at one another warily.
“You sure she wasn’t joking?” The senior paramedic then questioned.
“Look, you can have your doubts, guys. But we have our reasons for doing it and it’s gonna be a piece of cake. Right, Johnny?”
“That’s right. All we gotta do is basically walk and chew gum at the same time so we get enough wrappers and we’re as good as in.”
While he and Chet smiled as they each took a piece of gum from their respective packs, Roy and the others still wore expressions of doubt on their faces.
“Think they’ll make it?” Marco asked off to the side.
“They might, but I’m not so sure about us,” Roy commented.
Though actually, with John and Chet often at odds with each other while on duty, he had to wonder if the two would.
“You know, I forgot how much fun chewing gum is,” John remarked as he and Roy inventoried the supplies in the squad.
“It’s not bubble gum, is it?”
John reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out the pack. After a quick peek, he informed, “Nope. I don’t think any bubble gum wrappers would work. They all gotta be the same kind. . .just different flavors.”
“Like Juicy Fruit?”
“An’ Beechnut. Big Red, Wrigley's Spearmint. . .those kinda gum stick wrappers.”
“Well,” Roy said as he closed the drug box, “At least I won’t have to listen to you popping bubbles all day long.”
The younger man scowled. Roy sure wasn’t very excited about his and Chet’s venture.
Once they were done with checking over the supplies from the squad, the paramedics put them back in their respective compartments on the passenger side.
They then headed for the dorm room on the other side of the engine, which was parked beside the squad in the bay. Captain Stanley had assigned them the chore of sweeping the floor and stripping the sheets from the previous shift off the beds. They then would just need to make their own and leave clean linens out on the other beds for the rest of the crew.
As they rounded the front end of the large vehicle, Gage stumbled slightly, recovering before he could fall.
Roy just gave him a curious glance, rolled his eyes, then continued on with, “Just have to walk and chew gum at the same time, huh?”
John was too preoccupied in looking for whatever it was that tripped him up to hear the comment. However, he couldn’t see anything, thus wore a baffled expression as he followed his partner out of the apparatus bay and into the dorm.
“Hey, Chet!” Mike called down from the hose tower. The curly haired fireman had come out to the back lot to empty the trash can from the kitchen area of the dayroom into a dumpster up against the back of the station. He was in charge of straightening the room up.
He sputtered and coughed as his gum went down his throat unexpectedly when he looked upward and started to answer. Having immediately brought his gaze forward in reaction, he heard Mike yell again.
“What’d you do?”
No way was he admitting he’d just accidentally swallowed his gum. Especially since it didn’t feel like it had gone down all the way yet. He was sure it was still in his throat.
“Nothin’,” he answered a little hoarsely. “Now what’d you want?”
“You wanna lend us a hand?”
“How about it?” Marco chimed in from where he stood at the bottom of the rack. “We could use the help.”
“Not a chance, guys! I’ve got my own stuff to finish yet!”
Not to mention I really need a drink of water right now!
Mike and Marco exchanged glances with a shrug while Chet continued on. It was worth the chance in asking.
Chet then carried the empty trash can back inside through the apparatus bay. When he was in the dayroom again and his hands free, he got his much needed drink. Once he was sure he’d washed down the other, he put another piece of gum in his mouth.
John paused in sweeping when he noticed the small trash can underneath the captain’s desk in the dorm. There were just a few wadded up papers inside. He glanced at Roy, who was busy placing the clean linen on the beds.
Gage held the broom in one hand as he reached in his mouth and pulled out his gum with the other. He quickly deposited it in with the paper. He then rested the broom handle against his inner shoulder as he grabbed another piece of gum from his shirt pocket and soon was chewing on it.
If he and Chet were going to accumulate wrappers, they were going to have to change out their gum frequently. He wondered if Chet realized the same thing.
“What’re you taking a break for?”
Roy’s question brought him out of his thoughts.
John got right back to work. “Nothin’. I was just thinkin’.”
“Don’t tell me you can’t chew gum, sweep and think at the same time.”
The other scowled briefly again and kept on with the chore.
Both the paramedics and the engine crew had to end their assigned duties in a hurry when the klaxons sounded. They were all dispatched out for a structure fire.
John once again found himself tossing his gum into the dorm trash can, while Chet did the same in the dayroom’s. Both immediately trotted into the apparatus bay right afterward, nearly colliding as they met between the two vehicles.
Soon the firemen and paramedics were on their way, lights and sirens in use.
When they arrived on scene, it was evident that whatever fire there was, it hadn’t spread much, if at all. Only a couple of residents were even aware there was a problem. The few that were outside enjoying the warm morning sun amongst a large in-ground swimming pool just looked on in mere curiosity at the fire department’s presence.
The two individuals involved led the crew inside an apartment on the bottom floor. The residence was filled with a smoky haze in the kitchen and livingroom area.
“Ted forgot he had left a couple of slices of pizza in the oven from last night. So this morning we turned it on a self cleaning cycle,” the lady explained between coughs as she and Ted quickly led them toward the kitchen. The two were just roommates for now, seeing if they could get along living together before committing to marriage.
“Now we can’t get it open,” he added, also with a cough. “It’s too hot and the lock won’t disengage. We’re gonna burn the apartment building down!”
“Did you try turning it off?” Captain Stanley inquired.
Both the man and lady looked at one another in alarm.
Their expressions were answer enough. Hank and the others hurried into the kitchen, where the smoke was escaping into the room from the vent on the cooking surface of the stove top. He reached for the controls and stopped the cleaning cycle.
“John, Roy, take them outside and check them over. We’ll handle it in here.”
He knew all it would take was for the oven to now cool down enough so that the lock could be disengaged. In the meantime, he and the rest of the engine crew would stay till the apartment was aired out and free of smoke.
Having the paramedics tend to the couple was mostly to keep the latter out of the way.
As expected, the couple appeared to be okay, they hadn’t taken in enough smoke to render medical care. Thus Roy and John were clear to return to the station before the rest of the crew.
On the way back, Gage popped another piece of gum in his mouth, then carefully folded the empty wrapper and placed it in his shirt pocket.
“So that makes it three pieces of paper so far?” Roy asked.
“You’re really on your way to setting a record.” The sarcasm was more than evident in his voice.
John turned in his seat in the squad to face the senior paramedic.
“You’re not big on our idea, are ya?”
“Sure,” he shrugged. “I just don’t think it’s going to be quite as simple as you think it is. I also think it’s going to take you guys longer than you expect to do it.”
“Roy, you don’t even know what the latest record is.”
Roy took a quick glance at him, then returned his gaze to the road. “Okay, what is it?”
“A hundred an’ one feet.”
DeSoto briefly jerked his head around in surprise, his eyes wide. “One__ hundred__ feet?”
“And one,” John corrected.
“That’s an awful lot of gum chewing.”
“Yeah, but all we gotta do is a hundred and one point one feet to make it. Of course, we’re gonna go for more than that even.”
Roy shook his head. It wasn’t that he wasn’t big on their idea . .for someone else. He just really doubted it was the right thing for them. Especially now.
When they got back to the station, the squad parked in the apparatus bay, both paramedics opened their doors to climb out.
“Roy, I tell ya--”
But John’s words were cut short when he found himself falling away from the squad when his left foot didn’t clear the frame as expected. He recovered enough on the way down to land on his hands and right knee, his left leg extended as his foot rested just inside the door.
Roy wasn’t all the way out yet, thus scooted right back in. He slid over to see how his partner faired and exactly what had happened to begin with.
“Johnny! Are you okay?”
“Yeah. . .Yeah. . .I think so.”
John pulled his left foot free of the squad and soon was on both hands and knees. Roy quickly climbed out the passenger side.
“Oh man,” he groaned. “I lost my gum. . .”
Well, that wasn’t exactly what Roy had been referring to. But at least his partner couldn’t be too bad off if his biggest worry was his gum.
Roy glanced around for it, then saw it just as John did. It was a couple of feet in front of him, closer to where the engine would normally be.
“Well, look at the bright side. It gives you another chance to get a new one.”
“Hey, good point.” He slowly got to his feet with some assistance from Roy, brushing off the knees of his trousers out of habit.
“You sure you’re okay?”
“Other than losing a little of my dignity and probably having a bruised knee later? I’m sure,” he said with a frown and a nod.
Roy gave him a once over glance before taking a few steps to pick up the chewed wad of gum. He doubted Gage was really as fine as he claimed. After all, the fall had to have been rather jarring, not to mention rough with one foot still in the squad at the time.
“Let’s get some coffee. I could sure use a cup before we get back to our chores.”
Roy followed the younger man into the dayroom kitchen, where he threw away the old gum before grabbing a cup of coffee for himself.
A short time later when the engine crew returned, Chet first checked the dorm room for the paramedics. When he didn’t see John or Roy, he headed for the kitchen area. There he found them seated at the table, each with a cup in front of them.
“Can you believe that couple?” He asked as he grabbed a cup as well. “All they had to do was turn off the self cleaning cycle and everything would’ve been okay. At least we didn’t have to stick around too long.”
“Speaking of stick, Chet, how many pieces of gum have ya had so far?”
The curly haired fireman smiled. “Three. I’m on my third one.”
“Good deal. Maybe make it to a fourth one soon. We’re gonna hafta change out often to get enough wrappers. Real often. ”
“Well, I’ve got--”
Chet stopped in mid sentence when he reached in his pant pocket and pulled out. . . “One! I’ve just got one wrapper!” He stared at it in disbelief.
“How could you just have one?” Gage wondered. But as Chet raced to the trash can, he had it figured out. “You’re throwing them away? Man, are you serious?”
“Look, it’s habit, okay? Just habit to toss my garbage in a can.”
Except he had to admit he may have accidentally dropped the third wrapper on the ground at the apartment complex when he went to put it in his pant pocket.
John looked at Roy with pleading eyes. As often the case, Roy didn’t need to hear what was on his mind to know what he was thinking.
“No, I don’t want to get involved.”
Having returned to their chore, John was just about done with sweeping the dorm room floor when he lost track of where he’d left the dust pan. Roy hadn’t seen it, but was done with the beds, so he decided to help his partner look.
“I don’t see it anywhere. You sure you brought it in?”
“I’m sure, I’m sure. I think. . .”
Well, that didn’t sound like a guy who was so sure to Roy. He headed for the door that led to the bay so as to check the supply closet. In the meantime, Gage got down on the floor to look under the beds. It had to be somewhere, so he didn’t want to leave any place unsearched.
He peered under the captain’s bed, then under Mike’s across the aisle. With no luck he got to his feet and started for the section where Chet and Marco’s beds were, all the while chewing his latest piece of gum.
Nothing. . .
John got to his feet again and started for his and Roy’s beds when the door opened and his partner returned. His partner with a dust pan in hand.
“Oh. . .so I didn’t have it.”
“Must be you can’t chew gum and think at the same time after all.”
“Ha ha,” he said as he took the item from Roy. He could think one thing for sure. . .that that wasn’t a very funny remark.
A rescue and couple of hours later, John and Chet sat at the dayroom table, finally starting on their chain. Though they only had six wrappers between them, they’d decided to get the project underway so as not to lose or toss out the papers by mistake.
John narrowed his eyes in thought. “Ya know, Chet. . .”
“We really need to pick up the pace on swappin’ out pieces of gum if we’re gonna get this done before we’re both over fifty-one.”
The fireman grinned at the use of the familiar number.
“So whataya suggest? Two packs a day instead of one?”
“Are you kiddin’ me? More than that! Like a lot more than that!” He shook his head and mumbled, “Two packs a day. Sheesh.”
“Okay, okay. You made your point,” an annoyed Chet quickly stated. “There’s only one thing to do now. . .”
The men put a trip to the store for each of them as a must-do during their next day off.
“Well, good morning.”
Roy watched his partner open the locker next to his with just a low mumble to his greeting. The younger man dropped a small paper bag inside the enclosed space without another sound besides the thud it made on the wooden surface.
“That’s a heavy little sack you got there.”
Again Roy was just given a mumble as the other started to get changed into uniform.
The senior paramedic turned to face his own locker again to finish getting ready for the start of their shift.
“You know, you keep up with all this talking, and I’m going to be exhausted from just listening to you.”
Gage peeked out from behind the open locker door and rolled his eyes.
“Good mornin’. There, now ya happy?”
“Sure,” Roy shrugged, though Gage couldn’t see since he was already back to peering into the locker. “But you’re obviously not. What’s wrong? You and Chet break up?” He couldn’t keep a playful grin off his face with the last comment.
John peeked out from behind his locker door again. “What? No! No. . .Roy. . .look, can we just get ready?”
John had his uniform shirt on and partially buttoned when he made his way over to a trash can near the sinks, spit out a piece of chewed gum, then quickly replaced it with another fresh piece from his denim jean pocket.
Roy wondered how many wrappers John and Chet were up to now. Or maybe Chet had tossed some on accident again, thus why his partner was in the less than happy mood. After all, no one liked to carry a team project on their own. He’d have to ask later if the information wasn’t volunteered soon.
Since he was done, Roy closed his locker and headed for the swinging door that led to the apparatus bay.
“See you in a bit.”
He stood a moment to watch Gage at his locker, then shook his head again as he exited the room.
Hank Stanley stood in front of his crew, a clipboard with paper in his right hand, as he eyed the notes one more time before briefing the men. He then turned his attention to the row of five men in front of him in the apparatus bay behind the engine.
“Okay, let’s get started.”
He paused a moment when he saw Chet’s jaw animatedly in motion.
“Kelly, do you mind?”
“Your mouth. It hasn’t stopped since line-up.”
The curly haired fireman glanced at Gage as he slowed his chewing, making it less obvious. John was already inconspicuous about the new habit, figuring it would probably annoy the captain as well while he was trying to talk to them.
Hank Stanley continued on, wondering in the back of his mind how long it was going to take the pair to accomplish their goal. . .or how long they’d stick with it.
After roll call and time spent on morning chores, the men gathered in the dayroom. The captain remained in his office, busying himself with a game of solitaire after going over some paperwork. The solo card game was a way of relaxing. . .until he lost.
“Damn,” Hank mumbled when he was out of choices and still twelve cards left unused. “So much for that,” he said as he gathered them all together and stuck the deck in the desk drawer. He grabbed his now empty coffee cup and headed out for a refill.
Roy looked at the still sour expression on his partner’s face while they sat at the table in the dayroom. He and John were watching Mike and Marco play a game of checkers at the opposite end of the table, as Gage seemed to be miserably slowly chewing on his fourth piece of gum since arriving at the station. Apparently chewing the stuff wasn’t as much fun as he’d seemed to recall.
Chet was seated on the dark leather couch adjacent to the table, an open, but unread newspaper across his lap. He wore a frown as he animatedly chewed again.
“If you guys are that unhappy about the gum stuff, don’t do it.”
John stopped and looked in surprise at Roy beside him. A hand splayed across his chest, the younger man stated, “I’m not unhappy about it. It’s not that I’m unhappy. It’s just that my mouth is so damn tired! For three days now I’ve done nothin’ but chew. . .in the Rover, at the grocery store, bowlin’ with the guys. It’s a good thing I don’t have a girlfriend right now, ‘cause she’d probably tell me it’s the gum or her.”
“You’d pick the gum?”
“Of course not, Roy. No. That’s not the point. Look. . .oh forget it. . .”
“Actually, that’s the most sense you’ve made in days,” DeSoto mumbled.
“I’m gonna ignore that . . .”
As he entered the dayroom, Hank noted the unhappy expression on Chet’s face, his mouth still in motion. Marco and Mike were both looking thoughtful while fixated on the checker game. Roy was watching the game that wasn’t in motion at the time, while his partner sat nearly sideways in a chair, his back to Roy and his gaze not focused on anything in particular.
He’d seen John and Roy at odds with each other before. It rarely lasted, thus he ignored the two, choosing to address the others.
“So who’s winning?”
“The gum,” Chet blurted out as Mike stated, “Marco.”
The captain smiled.
It wasn’t long before the engine crew was dispatched out for a rubbish fire. That left the paramedics alone at the station with an abandoned checker game and a tossed aside newspaper. Roy got up and headed for the couch for the latter, when he noticed his partner wince slightly as he got up from his chair as well.
John turned to face his questioner.
“Nothin’ really. Let’s just say I felt that fall the other day a day or so after it happened. I’m just not quite done with it is all.”
“You need to be checked out at Rampart?”
The dark-haired paramedic shook his head. “Nah. I’ll probably have any left over soreness worked out by the time we get off, if not sooner.”
That was probably true, Roy surmised. Then he thought of something else.
“This gum thing you and Chet are doing. . .”
John once again turned to face him from where he was pouring himself a second cup of coffee.
“Chain. Gum wrapper chain.”
“Gum wrapper chain,” Roy acknowledged with a nod. “I was just wondering. . .do you have to chew the gum in the process or can you just toss it and use the empty wrappers?”
Gage was speechless. Why hadn’t he thought of that? He and Chet weren’t going for the most pieces of gum chewed. This would change everything!
Everything. . .
His face brightened. “Roy! You’re a genius!”
As he picked up the paper, DeSoto shrugged. “Well, I wouldn’t--”
But his words were cut off by his overly enthused and re-inspired partner.
“C’mon. Let’s get to the store!”
He motioned for Roy to follow him as he hurried for the apparatus bay after setting his cup on the table. He’d already forgotten about being a little sore apparently.
The senior paramedic looked longingly at the newspaper now in his hands, then sighed as he put it back on the couch and did as Gage requested.
Me and my big mouth. . .I could’ve had him busy with a wad of gum in his mouth all shift. . .
As Roy drove the squad into the parking lot of a local dime store, he glanced at John.
“So this whole gum thing was really Chet’s idea?”
“His sister’s. Remember? His sister used to make ‘um as a teenager, so she suggested it when he told her we were tryin’ to think of a world record to break.”
“Doesn’t it seem a little. . .oh, maybe out of your league? Like below it, I mean.”
He was still pretty convinced it had to have been intended as a joke.
John turned in his seat with a look of surprise as Roy parked their vehicle.
“That’s exactly what I said to Chet! But then he pointed out that was just why we should do it.” He held up his left hand and counted off finger by finger with his right hand as he explained, “One, it’s so simple, no one else in the department would think of it for a world record. Two, no one would expect us to do it. And three. . .most importantly, I might add. . . his sister’s little girl overheard their conversation and was so excited, Chet just couldn’t say no. Neither could I when he told me. We’re basically doin’ it for her, so I can go along with that. Besides, chics across the country. . .across the world. . .will be diggin’ it when they hear what our motivation was,” he added with a lopsided grin. “Chics eat that kid stuff right up.”
The first part had been a good enough explanation for Roy. In fact, up until his partner had mentioned ‘chics digging it’, he’d thought he might find himself drug into it somehow after all. Still, despite whichever was the real motivation, one fact remained. Johnny was truly committed to getting the task done.
Roy opened the driver’s side door to climb out.
“Let’s go, you’ve got gum to buy.”
“Remind me to keep the receipt. Chet’s gonna hafta reimburse me for some of it.”
“That’ll be six dollars and thirty-two cents.”
John pulled out his wallet once the young female cashier announced his total cost. He rummaged through it, only finding two one dollar bills. A small amount of change in his trouser pocket brought his whole cash fund to two dollars and twenty-three cents.
The low on money paramedic looked at his partner.
“Uh. . .”
“Somehow I knew I was gonna be more a part of this than I wanted,” Roy said as he reached for his wallet. He handed Gage a five.
“Keep the change. It’ll make it easier to remember the amount when you pay me back.”
The younger man smiled. “Thanks!”
Soon they were on their way back to the station, John with a large brown paper sack full of packs of gum on his lap, everything from Big Red to Juicy Fruit, Wrigley’s Spearmint, and Beechnut gum. ‘To give the chain character’, he’d offered to Roy’s eye roll response.
Just as Roy was backing the squad into the driveway of the station, the paramedics were dispatched out for a child down at a local elementary school.
John set his bag of gum on the floor between his feet before acknowledging the call over the radio while Roy headed back into the street, lights and siren in use.
The paramedics were immediately led to the playground of Carson Elementary, which was located directly behind the school building, out of view from the street.
“He’s over there, by the swing sets,” the assistant principal explained as the three hurried across the grounds. “Apparently Jeffrey bailed out as soon as he got pretty high in the swing. He’s skinned up pretty bad. The school nurse is with him, but we were afraid to move the kid.”
“How old is he?” John asked.
“Eight. And at the rate he’s going, he’ll be lucky if he makes it to nine. This is his fourth accident on the playground this year.”
Gage and DeSoto just gave knowing nods. They had certainly seen their fair share of other youngsters who could fall into the same category over their time of first being rescue men then paramedics.
“Have his parents been notified?” Roy wondered.
As they arrived at the two swing sets where several students and a few teachers were gathered, the assistant shook his head. “I’ve got someone still trying, but so far his dad hasn’t returned our calls to his job and his mom isn’t answering the home phone. We don’t have a work number for her, so I think she just must be out on an errand or visiting someone.”
The paramedics carefully checked the boy out, the school nurse informing them that in addition to having skinned up arms, a split chin and remnants of gravel in his mouth, Jeffrey was complaining that his right side hurt. She also explained that he’d landed on his stomach, then rolled over on his own before help arrived.
Roy gently palpated the boy’s ribs.
After contact with Rampart, John and Roy prepared to transport Jeffrey to Rampart for further assessment of his injuries.
As they and the ambulance attendants headed for the emergency vehicles, a barrage of questions from children following along flew.
“Is he gonna be okay, Misters?” “Can he play baseball Saturday?” “Is he gonna get ta stay home from school tomorrow?” “Can I turn on the siren?”
The last question drew a smirk from Gage.
The priorities of kids. . .
Roy opted to ride in with Jeffrey while his partner would follow behind in the squad. Once inside the red truck, John glanced at his bag of gum. A lopsided grin spread across his face as he got an idea.
“Where’ve you been?”
Gage eyed his watch. He was only about five minutes later than he would have been if he hadn’t stayed to check about one more thing at the school. Apparently it felt longer than that to Roy. Time usually did on the waiting end.
He returned his gaze to his partner, who’d been standing near the base station at Rampart, the biophone and drug box at his feet.
“I needed to see about taking care of something before I left. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out like I’d hoped.”
“What was it?”
“I was hoping to give the gum to the kids there an’ just get the wrappers back. You know. . .instead of just throwin’ it all away. But I guess it would cause too many problems, ‘least that’s what the assistant principal said. . .kids fightin’ over flavors, stickin’ wads of it up under desks later. . .that sorta stuff.” He looked beyond Roy toward the treatment rooms. “How’s Jeffrey?”
Roy followed his partner’s line of sight. “He’s okay. They finally got a hold of his father. He’s on his way over. His mom is out shopping, so there’s no way of getting her yet.”
“Well, at least he’ll have one parent with him for now. That’ll be good.”
Roy picked both boxes up off the floor and handed the biophone to Gage.
“Let’s get going. You’ve got some unwrapping to do.”
As they headed for the exit, John asked, “You sure you don’t wanna help?”
The younger man shrugged as he followed the other out the automatic door. It had been worth another try to ask.
Chet couldn’t hide the dumbfound expression on his face. He’d never given it thought that they didn’t have to chew all the gum too. When John had told him, he didn’t know what to say anymore than John did when Roy had pointed it out to him.
Still standing near the squad in the apparatus bay, where he’d gotten the news, he rubbed at his tired-from-chewing jaw. He then realized he still had a wad of gum in his mouth.
“I guess I don’t need this then,” Chet said as he pulled the gum from his mouth.
“Man, why’d we think we had to chew it all?” John wondered.
“’Cause you never said we didn’t.”
Gage splayed a hand on his chest. “Me? You’re the one who came up with the whole idea.”
“Yeah, the idea for the gum wrapper chain thanks to my sister. But the rest was supposed to have your input.”
John looked to Roy for support on his side of the argument. The senior paramedic just rolled his eyes, shrugged and turned away from the front left fender of the squad. He hoped to be able to escape to the dayroom without having to add anything to his shiftmates’ conversation.
Not long after the paramedics had returned to the station, the men had all gathered in the dayroom. They sat around the kitchen table while John and Chet unwrapped the sticks of gum, tossing each into a trash can they’d pulled over nearby. They then piled the empty papers in front of them on the table.
Chet had paid John back for his half of the cost, who in turn handed the money to Roy after noticing the expectant look on his partner’s face.
With everything settled, the two record-setter-wanna-bes were back on track and forging ahead with the project at a much faster pace.
“I think we have enough to start on the chain again,” Chet said as he looked at the overflowing mound of colorful papers.
“Yeah, I think you’re right”
Fifteen minutes later Captain Stanley came into the room and stopped about a foot inside the doorway. He eyed the work going on at the table. . .the table they would need for their next meal, which wasn’t that far off.
“I hope you have a plan for all that when it’s time for lunch.”
John and Chet were relieved that lunch arrived with no interruptions to their endeavor. The two were able to keep focused on folding gum wrappers and linking them together for a couple of hours. The result was six feet of a paper chain resembling ric rac.
There were no worries on clearing the table of anything else. Chet and John had run out of wrappers and would need to open up more packs of gum that were in the not-so-full-anymore bag.
The dark-haired paramedic pulled out his wallet to peruse its contents again.
“Man, how much is this thing gonna cost us? There’s no way we’ve got enough to even get close to a hundred and one feet.”
“You mean me,” Roy said, recalling his partner’s nearly empty wallet. About all Johnny could be looking at was the lining of it, he surmised.
Gage shot him a quick glare as DeSoto got to his feet.
“Remember, it’s for my niece, John; to make her happy. Can ya really put a price on that? Besides, my sister’ll kill me if I let’er down.”
Roy patted John on the shoulder. “It’s the price of fame,” he smirked. “No one said it was going to come easy.”
John just slouched in the chair. He decided now wasn’t the time to add how tired his fingers were from folding so many small pieces of paper. Being how Chet was flexing his fingers at the moment, he had a feeling he wasn’t the only one.
The men of A-shift no sooner sat down to eat, when the klaxons sounded. Squad 51 was sent out for a dog bite victim.
“Apparently we aren’t the only ones who’re hungry,” John quipped as he and Roy slid into their seats in their truck.
Roy handed him the slip of paper with the address on it without comment after Captain Stanley had given it to him.
They headed out of the station, lights and sirens in use.
As they came upon the scene, the paramedics could see a mail truck parked by the curb.
“You don’t suppose. . .”
Roy shrugged. “Well, it’s kind of a cliché, but some dogs do hate the mail man.”
Gage furrowed his brow as his partner brought the squad to a stop just behind the other vehicle. Right away, the postal employee dressed in dark blue shorts and a light blue button down shirt climbed out and limped toward them.
“Look, I’m sorry to call you guys all the way out here for a dog bite. I know I could’ve just gone to my doctor. But I wanted to get this on the record here.”
“That’s okay,” Roy assured, having joined Gage on the passenger side to grab supplies from the squad compartments.
“Why don’t you come back this way,” John said, motioning for him to follow him to the rear of the squad. “Just have a seat there on the bumper.”
The man did as directed. He stretched out his left leg, showing them the puncture marks on his calf and shin.
“That was a pretty large dog that got ya,” John stated.
“Tell me about it. And it’s not the first time.” He stretched out his right leg and showed them more puncture wounds, though healing, almost in the same area as the other. “This is the third time that damn dog has gotten me.”
As the paramedics worked on him, he explained, “The first time, the lady was apologetic, ya know? She seemed sincerely upset, offered to pay my doctor bill, which being a gentleman and all, of course I turned her down.” A nod from John and an ‘uh huh’ had him continuing. “So I didn’t even report it. I lied to the doctor and said a friend’s dog got a little carried away. Then a few weeks later, she lets the dog run loose again. And what happens? I come along and bam, next thing I know, I’ve got his teeth in me again.”
“So did you report it?” Roy wondered.
“I tried. I drove myself right to the doctor, mail and all. . .almost got suspended for that. I told the doctor what happened, they notified the police. She denied it was her dog. Said he was in her house all morning, so it couldn’t have been him. Without proof, they just wished her a good day and told her to continue to keep her dog under control.”
“You know we aren’t exactly witnesses.”
He shook his head yes at Gage’s statement, then winced as the paramedic sprayed antiseptic on the puncture wounds after having cleaned them up.
“The police should be here any minute. I just want it on record I was treated here. . . at this address. . . for a dog bite. Then she can’t deny it.”
Roy looked around as the police squad could be seen coming around the corner further down the street.
“Where’s the dog now?”
“Where do you think? Back in her house.”
He pointed to the white one-story home they were parked in front of.
When the officer arrived, Roy explained the situation to him while John bandaged the victim’s leg.
“You still should go to your doctor,” Gage advised.
“Don’t worry, I will. Even if you didn’t say to I would, just so I could send her the bill!”
The police officer got his statement, then walked up to the home. He knocked on the front door while the other three waited near the rescue squad.
As soon as the lady who lived there opened the door, her large white mutt shot past her and the surprised policeman. The mail man was immediately on his feet and scrambled up onto the back of the red truck in seconds.
John and Roy had instinctively scattered, not sure they were even safe. But the dog remained stationary, barking at his ‘treed’ victim.
The paramedics slowly took steps until they were beside each other in the street.
“I guess his plan worked,” John commented. “She can’t say her dog couldn’ta hurt the mailman now.”
Roy nodded in agreement, still a bit rattled by the animal’s quick actions.
Once John and Roy got to eat, the table at the station was cleared again. While Roy and Marco washed the dishes, Chet and John resumed work on their project.
“So why didn’t you just growl back at the dog? I read somewhere that’ll stop one from attacking.”
“Somehow I doubt antagonizing an angry dog more is gonna help, Chet.”
John was about to put another stick of gum in the trash, when he noticed Mike Stoker reach for another out of their bag.
“Hey, if you’re gonna reap the benefits of our endeavor, pay up first.”
“Pay up? Roy said you were going to give all of it away for free to a bunch of kids you didn’t even know.”
“Yeah. . .so?”
Marco turned from the sink area with a towel in hand and chimed in with, “I thought you didn’t want it all to go to waste?”
John and Chet exchanged glances, then the latter stated, “We didn’t. But that was before we had to spend our life savings on the stuff,” he exaggerated.
Gage sighed. “Ah, go ahead. Just let me take the paper off it. This has to be our efforts, not bystanders who aren’t a part of the project.”
Mike handed him the stick of gum, at the same time rolling his eyes at the insistence. It seemed the two co-workers were taking the whole thing a little too far. After all, who was going to know the difference besides them?
That thought had the engineer wondering something.
“What is it, Mikey?” John asked, his focus still on wrappers.
“Isn’t someone from the Guinness World Record place supposed to observe you while you do this?”
Both the dish washing and the wrapper folding stopped.
After several seconds, John broke the silence in the room with, “Chet handled it. We’re good to go. Right, Chet?”
An ill expression on the mustached fireman’s face had Gage looking a little queasy himself.
“You did contact them. . .”
Kelly shifted slightly in his seat. “I . . .uh. . .I might’ve gotten ahead of myself. You know, in all the excitement for my niece. I guess I forgot.”
Before John or anyone could say more, the room filled with the sound of the klaxons.
“Station 51, Engine 18, Engine 36, Truck 127, structure fire . . .”
The men scrambled for their respective vehicles, the latest development in the gum chain project shoved aside, though the dark-haired paramedic did manage to give his paper chain partner a sideways glance with narrowed eyes before both were out of the dayroom.
The fire was a major one. As soon as they arrived near the large burning building containing construction supplies, Captain Stanley called for a second alarm.
In the meantime, the paramedics scrambled out of their squad just as a man in grey coveralls came running toward them.
“There’s still one person inside! One of our guys didn’t get out!”
The two grabbed their turnout coats and SCBA gear from their squad, already knowing what lie ahead. Captain Stanley trotted over, having already directed his other men. Two other engine crews were coordinating with them via the other captains and the truck from Station 127 was just arriving on scene.
“What’ve we got?”
John glanced toward the building as he replied while putting on his turnout coat, “Cap, there’s a victim inside. One of the employees didn’t get out.”
The captain noted the man standing with them. He’d anxiously nodded in support of Gage’s words. Hank noticed the name ‘Brinkman’ embroidered on a label stitched to the grey overalls.
“Mr. Brinkman, do you have any idea where the person’s location might be?”
“Well, Dan was upstairs in an office last I saw him. Going over invoices. I don’t know why he didn’t make it out, though, if everyone else did. I think somethin’ might be wrong besides the fire, ya know?”
Captain Stanley briefed the other captains over the radio right after giving the ‘okay’ for his paramedics to go in.
While John and Roy trotted toward the building, Hank asked Brinkman, “Any idea what started this?”
“I’m not positive, but our newest hire could’ve been the cause. He’s already been caught three times in the past month sneaking a smoke break inside. All I know for sure is that he was the first one to yell ‘fire’. And with all the lumber in there and the saw dust around the machinery, it got out of hand quick! I mean, it was like ‘woosh’ when it hit that dust!” He exclaimed with a wide sweep of his arms upward. “Next thing I knew we were all running for the exits. Or I thought we all were.”
“Did anyone out here get hurt?”
“Doesn’t look like it. But if it turns out he was the one who started it, that could change.”
The captain gave a knowing nod. Obviously the man was exaggerating, but he couldn’t blame him for having the thought. It was possible, though, that the new employee was actually the one who saved some lives and wasn’t the cause of the fire. He wondered what Mr. Brinkman’s reaction would be if so.
Chet and Marco had been covering the fire from the outside of the building, the interior on the ground floor being considered too dangerous to fight from within. However, with the rescue involved, it became necessary for them to take the risk and cover the fire threatening the upstairs floor from below.
John and Roy quickly made it to the second floor via outside steps at the west end of the building after donning their air masks and helmets, flashlights in hand. The two trotted up alongside a hose that led inside from Engine 36.
Thick dark smoke inside made it difficult to see their surroundings and rendered their flashlights as useless. The paramedics could barely make out a railing that ran along the upper floor to their right. Had visibility been better, they would have noticed that the ‘upstairs’ was actually a large loft that spanned the width of the structure with the sturdy steel railing along an edge that overlooked about half of the main floor below. Two sections of the railing were open about ten feet from one another, one where a conveyor belt connected the top and bottom floors. The other was to a flight of open-backed steel steps that did the same. A portion of the lower floor was divided by metal shelving, creating aisles. A section of the loft was open space used for storage of miscellaneous items and supplies, thus the need for the conveyor.
Until they were further in, it was also a struggle to make out the silhouettes of two of Engine 36’s crew members ahead. They were set up with water trained on a portion of the fire below where they’d cover for Marco and Chet.
The paramedics eyed bright flames visible within the rows of lumber in racks through the dark smoke, along with other construction supplies below.
The sound of a couple of small explosions likely involving chemicals stored within was a reminder to all of the men just how volatile the situation could get. The two paramedics carefully continued on, hunched down and feeling their way as they went, both with hopes nothing would cause a larger explosion.
“This must be one of the offices,” Roy stated when his left hand dropped into an open doorway from where he’d run it along the wall. “He could be in here!”
They could see the engine crew slightly better. The paramedics had yet to reach where they were, which meant there was more area to cover.
“I’ll check ahead,” John offered, motioning in the direction of the far end of the loft. “In case he’s in another room further down!”
Roy headed into the blackness as his partner continued on, feeling his way along the wall.
Chet and Marco had entered through a large garage style door near the rear side of the structure. It was one of two of the same style doorways where the building supplies were brought in when delivered and taken out when purchased. Another crew was still working from just outside the other entrance closer to the front.
The two firemen kept their hose trained on the flames licking at the underside of the upstairs as they spread, where the firemen from above couldn’t attack and were certainly in danger from.
Hank glanced toward the street leading to the parking lot when he heard sirens from the additional help coming to the scene. With a little luck, they would have this fire out and everyone safe within the hour.
Roy had slowly but efficiently made his way into the room to search.
“Dan! Dan, are you in here?”
There was no response, but he didn’t give up. With the visibility just as bad where he was now, the victim could be unconscious and nearly within reach for all he knew.
John had just found and gone into the other room. He called out for the victim, garnering the same result as his partner. He kept a hand outstretched in front of him as he continued in further, still hunched over slightly.
Roy discovered a large metal desk a ways into the office. He kept a hand on it as he made his way along the front to the side. It was then he came upon Dan. The man was lying unconscious on the floor.
The paramedic knelt down and felt for a pulse, noting a discolored lump forming on Dan’s right temple.
Gage was surprised that the room he’d entered seemed to be empty except for a high-backed office chair and a stack of coardboard boxes against a wall. He still hadn’t located Dan, but discovered a closed door to his right.
A closet? Another office?
He held a hand on it checking for a sign of excessive heat behind it. After detecting none, he opened it.
John had only made it a few steps in when he heard a loud pop, much like the sound of gunfire. In the same instance he felt the surface beneath his feet give way.
Weak and thready. . .
Roy had no sooner discovered the man was still alive when he heard the ‘pop’ sound diminished by walls, followed by a crashing noise. He managed to get the victim up enough to lean under him. With expertise, he draped Dan over his shoulders and hurried in the direction he’d come in.
He was immediately met by one of the fire fighters who’d been on the hose.
“Your partner went through the floor! Get your guy out, we’ll help with Gage!”
Roy’s first instinct was to go to Johnny’s aid. But just as the others were aware, he knew that instinct had to be ignored. The victim on his back was his first priority. Like it or not, he’d have to leave Gage’s situation in others’ hands.
With one brief glance as he turned to leave, Roy felt a knot in his stomach. He barely heard one of the firemen report the incident over a handie talkie.
John lay on his left side, a pile of rubble around, under and partially on him. He’d landed hard on his left foot after the ten foot drop when a floor joist and boards gave way. The paramedic immediately fell to the floor when a sharp pain shot up his leg, his right foot barely planted beforehand. Another sharp pain jolted his left arm when he hit the hard surface partially on his backside. To add to the suffering, his air tank shoved roughly into his back at an angle when he landed.
Gage remained still a moment, his breathing labored, as he tried to take in what had just happened and his immediate surroundings.
His air mask just slightly askew and helmet miraculously still in place thanks to a rarely tightened chin strap, he looked up through the haze. With the smoke not as thick on the ground floor, he could see a jagged large hole. Part of a charred broken floor joist still hung downward, suspended from where it was still attached to the frame, in what was now the ceiling from his perspective. Another had snapped completely.
On his current level, he had six foot high steel shelving on either side with an assortment of tools and small construction supplies in plastic bins on them. He’d ended up within one of the aisles.
He could hear the crackling of fire and feel the immense heat the flames had created inside. None were threatening him directly yet, but
he knew that could change in a matter of seconds.
“Roy?” He painfully called out, his voice muffled by the mask.
There was no sign of Roy, but a familiar voice called down, “Gage, you alright?”
“Yeah!. . .Yeah, I’m. . .I’m okay!”
Okay probably wasn’t accurate, he surmised, but at least they’d be assured he was still alive.
“Hang on! We’ll cover you till help gets to you!”
John gritted his teeth as he carefully worked his way to a seated position, a couple of pieces of broken floor boards falling off to the sides as he did so. He made sure to keep his left arm tucked against his chest and left leg from moving more than it had to.
The paramedic panted from the effort. He once again looked up at the hole his weight on the weakened structure had created. Water sprayed down on him through the opening as the firemen followed through on the plan.
A couple of more small explosions sounded from somewhere toward the front of the building.
“Man. . .”
John’s rapid descent didn’t go without notice. Though the accident was immediately reported to Chet and Marco, they’d been at a point they could tell someone suddenly fell, along with hearing the sounds.
The shiftmates kept the hose spray on other flames here and there within as they hurried in the direction where Gage had dropped through.
Roy had to remain with his charge outside, but the newly arrived crew from Engine 116 were immediately assigned to assist with John, to get him out. Another unit just on scene covered for an exit route for the men. 127’s crew was preparing to vent the main roof. They were holding off so as not to draw the fire upward with the men still inside.
After a very brief period of time, John heard something he’d really hoped not to; ominous creaking and groaning noises from above. The dark-haired paramedic slowly shifted his gaze upward.
There was no mistaking the sound. Almost every seasoned fire fighter knew it all too well. At least a portion of the floor above was going to give way again. The only question was. . .
“We can’t stay up here much longer!”
The other crew member from 36 agreed with his partner. They too had heard the sounds the surface around them was making. They would have to evacuate soon. Their weight on the unstable flooring could even create more of the threat to the others directly below.
One radioed outside with an update. Their captain directed them to pull out.
Roy adjusted the oxygen flow to Dan, who’d apparently tripped in the office and hit his head on the edge of the desk as he fell.
The victim had also suffered smoke inhalation, but was coming around, his vital signs already improving but not quite stable.
“Wha. . .?” He began as he started to lift his shoulders off the yellow safety blanket on the ground. The effort left him coughing.
Roy gently pushed him back down.
“Just take it easy.”
He briefly explained to the man where he was and why. He then glanced at the structure with concern for his partner, who was still inside somewhere. He wished even more so with each passing second that he’d been able to play a role in Johnny’s rescue.
A now very wet John Gage suspected a fracture to his left foot and lower leg, which was going to make it impossible to go anywhere on his own.
The left backside of his body was already feeling sore from the air tank being driven partially into it, but he didn’t suspect any further injury there.
Suddenly he heard another familiar sound. Footsteps of someone rushing in his direction.
Though that brought some relief, another loud creak and groan from above was a reminder time was running out. The water stopped raining down on him, which told him the men upstairs were likely evacuating for safety reasons.
Chet was the first to see his shiftmate as he and Marco came around the end of the aisle. He shut off the hose before the two dropped it, then rushed toward the paramedic, who remained down.
“I’m alright,” John assured, despite appearing anything but that. “The second floor’s gonna go!”
However, he didn’t have to warn them of the impending danger. Just like him, they were aware of the familiar sounds. They were also aware Gage might not be as alright as he implied.
“Can you stand?” Chet asked.
“Yeah. . .yeah. Just help me. . .get up.”
“Is your left arm fractured?”
“’m no,” he shook his head. “Don’t think so. . .”
They tried to help him up with support. But it was clear, even assisted, Gage wasn’t going to make it out on foot.
“We’re gonna need a stokes!”
With Gage once again seated, Marco radioed for the equipment. The firemen from 116’s brought it in.
“It’s not that bad, Chet” John again assured while his help got him situated.
“Yeah? How about we let Roy check you over outside and see what he says about that.”
Roy. . .John thought. Man, I hope he got the victim out okay. . .
Chet and Marco carried John out in the stokes after quickly but carefully securing him in it. Due to the threatening situation from above and around them, anything else would be done outside.
He held his left arm against his chest again once they’d removed his helmet and SCBA prior to him being lifted. One of the captains on scene would be taking the gear over to Squad 51. In the meantime, that senior officer remained alongside the stokes, so that the wounded paramedic could still have his airmask over his face while the captain carried the tank.
The men from Engine 116 took over for Marco and Chet on the hose to help cover for the exit from the dangerous interior. All those involved with the incident on the ground floor had no sooner gotten to the large rear door leading out, when another section of loft gave way.
Once his other charge was stable and ready to transport, Roy addressed his partner’s condition. John had been placed nearby on the blanket, still in the stokes. Captain Stanley got him on oxygen, then gathered his vital signs to assist.
“You had to take the easy way down, huh, pal?” The captain kidded to ease his own tension.
“Yeah, next time. . .I think I’ll stick. . .to the steps.”
“Good idea,” Roy put in. “You know you had me worried there. I was beginning to think I was going to have to finish that gum wrapper chain with Chet.”
John forced a lopsided grin under the oxygen mask. “Gee. . .thanks. . .”
Soon both John and Dan were ready for transport and in the ambulance, Roy with them. Marco followed behind in the squad to Rampart.
As Roy and Chet headed up to the room John would remain in for awhile at Rampart General, the former thought back to when he saw his partner brought around the front corner of the construction warehouse in the stokes the previous day. It had been a huge relief to see him, but he knew it wasn’t going to be all good since Gage had to be carried out.
His partner had faired okay, considering, and he was grateful. But with a hairline fracture of the left tibia and fractured bone in the left foot confirmed at Rampart, along with a badly bruised elbow and back, Roy was going to be without John for at least eight weeks. Possibly more.
Chet knocked lightly on the door to Gage’s room with a knuckle.
The two visitors were greeted with a wide grin.
John sat propped up against the raised head of the bed, a pillow behind him. His casted left leg and foot were supported with two pillows underneath them. His left arm was in a sling.
The sore paramedic grimaced as he shifted his position slightly, his right hand on the mattress for support.
“How’re you doing?” Roy wondered.
“Okay, but I’ll be glad when I’m outta here.”
“Oh, c’mon, Johnny,” Chet teased. “Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by a bunch of nurses all day and night?”
“Surrounded?” Gage looked around. “Chet, do you see one nurse in here right now?”
“At least you can work on your chain now without much interruption,” Roy playfully reminded him.
“Oh, hey, speaking of. . .Did ya find out if the work we did on the chain’ll count toward the world record?”
Chet shook his head. “There’s no need to anymore.”
Johnny scrunched his face up in puzzlement. He glanced at Roy, who just shrugged, then returned his gaze to Kelly.
“Whataya mean there’s no need? After all that chewin’, unwrappin’ and folding, I’m not ready to give up.”
Chet sighed. “It was on the Tonight Show last night. You know how Johnny Carson likes to have kids on as guests for fun human interest stories and all.”
Johnny nodded and waited for more, though he had a feeling he may not want to hear the rest.
“So a new world record for the longest gum wrapper chain ever was just set by a group of kids. They finished it a couple of weeks ago and he had ‘um on last night.”
“Well, we’ll just top theirs.”
“I don’t think so, Johnny. The record was set by a girl scout troop in Pasadena.”
“But what about your niece? What’re we gonna tell her?”
“She’s five years old. We buy her a Barbie, she’ll be over it,” he shrugged. Chet folded his arms across his chest and shook his head. “Nope. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Station 51 to be famous for the two firemen who shot down Troop Four Thirty-Five’s world record and made a group of girl scouts sad.”
John leaned back against his pillow with a frown. Unfortunately, Chet was right. Then another thought crossed his mind. With renewed frustration evident in his voice, he questioned, “Chet, if all we had to do to make your niece happy was give ‘er a Barbie doll, why didn’t we instead of going for a stupid gum chain record a group of little girls could beat us out on?”
Chet shifted uncomfortably on his feet as he felt the stares of both his shiftmates locked on him, waiting for an answer. He furrowed his brow as he gave the question consideration under the close scrutiny. After a few quiet moments, he glanced from one paramedic to the other, then reached in his pocket and pulled out a pack of Juicy Fruit.
There was really only one thing to say. “Gum, anyone?”
This was inspired by a gum wrapper chain my sister and I made as kids. We found it a couple of years ago while going through some stuff after both our parents had passed away.
My thanks to my great friend Ross for some help with a few details on the last fire scene. Any errors are mine alone. Also, many thanks to my husband for some technical assistance on some things I asked him about. :o)
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