BY Wanda C.



   December in Los Angeles County is not quite like December in Alaska, but the men of Station 51’s A-Shift were well adapted to the “season of good cheer.”  There would be no snow or fur coats, but the accidents around the holiday season were the same whether you were in Alaska, or Los Angeles, and the guys dreaded them.


   This year would be different though.  The station crew had decided to have a party, decorations, and even exchange gifts.  They agreed that they would draw the names of their fellow rescuers, and both Chet and Johnny knew whose name they did not want to draw.


   “Roy,” Johnny skeptically whispered, “Man, I’m hopin’ I don’t draw Chet’s name today.  Can you imagine me havin’ to get him a Christmas present?”


   “That could be interesting.  What gift did you have in mind for him, Junior?”  Roy had the slightest smile on his face, and Johnny failed to see the humor.


   “Look, we’re good friends, right?”


  “I guess so.”


   “Roy, if I get Chester B’s name, will ya trade with me?  I don’t care whose name you have, would ya just do me this favor?”  Johnny had the sad puppy look that the ladies always fell hard for, but he was dealing with his partner now.  Things would be different.


   “Johnny!  I couldn’t do that! That’d be cheatin, and what kind of example would I be settin’ if I did that?”



   “Well, ya don’t need to make an announcement or anything.”  Johnny was getting desperate now.  “It would be just between us.  Just between two good friends; how about it partner?”


   “Not a chance.”  Roy walked away laughing to himself.  Although he wouldn’t admit it, he really hoped that neither Johnny nor Chet got the other’s name.  That could be a disaster in the making.


   As the senior paramedic rounded the corner to get a cup of coffee, the klaxons sounded.


   “Squad 51, child down.  4076 South Wayland, 4076 South Wayland, cross street Wilkee.  Time out 09:00”


   “Squad 51, 10-4, KMG365.”  Captain Stanley and Mike watched as the squad pulled out into the highway.






    The squad rounded the corner and a frantic lady ran toward the paramedics.


   “Hurry, please hurry!”  She was close to hyperventilating herself, so Johnny tried to get her to tell them what had happened and slow her breathing.


   “It wasn’t her fault, but he’s really burned.”


   “Ma’am,” Roy had to calm her.  “Can you tell us what happened while we get this equipment ready to go inside?”


   “Well, Grandma was making some hot apple cider when Mikie, that’s my son, ran into her, and the entire pot of cider spilled on him.  You just have to help him.  He’s only two, and it looks really bad.”


   As they entered the kitchen area, both paramedics quickly noticed that Mikie wasn’t the only patient they had.  Grandma was in the floor cuddling the child, and she had significant burns also.


   “Ma’am, Ma’am!”  Roy knew it wouldn’t be easy to talk her into letting the child go. 


   “Ma’am, we really need to take a look at little Mikie, there.  Would that be okay?”


   Johnny and Roy were like a clock when it came to teamwork; as Roy was talking to the grandma, Johnny was pulling the boy away from her.  Now they each had a patient to look after.


   Roy quickly assessed the lady and got on the biophone to Rampart.  He knew that little Mikie was burned badly and the grandmother needed medical treatment also.


   “Rampart, this is Squad 51, how do you read?”


   “Go ahead 51,” Dixie said as she took the controls and waited to see what Roy and Johnny had.


   “Rampart, we have two victims of burns from hot apple cider.  The first is a female approximately 58 years old.  She is suffering first and second degree burns over her arms and legs.  Vitals are: pulse 110, blood pressure 110/63, respirations are 20.”


   “51, apply sterile bandages to burns and start an IV with ringers.”  Dr. Morton had stepped from the corner in time to hear the stats on the lady.


   Roy handed the biophone to Johnny.


   “Uh, Rampart, we have a second victim.  He is approximately two years of age.  He has second and a few third degree burns over about thirty percent of his body.  He is in extreme pain and very restless.  Vitals are, pulse 125, blood pressure 130/76, and respirations are 33.” 


   “51, wrap burns in sterile bandages and keep plenty of saline solution on them.  Start an IV and give 1mg MS IV.  Transport as soon as possible.”


   “10-4 Rampart, ambulance has just arrived.”


   “Are they going to be okay?  I didn’t even realize Grandma was hurt.  Can I go with them?”


   Johnny was busy taking care of Mikie’s burns, so the lady looked to Roy for an answer.


   “They should be fine, Ma’am, and you can ride in the front of the ambulance.”   Roy could see immediate relief in the woman’s eyes.






   “So, how are they doin’, doc?”  Johnny was curious as Morton walked out of the room.


   “They will be just fine.  Good job guys.”


   “Johnny, you don’t look very happy.  What’s wrong?”  Dixie could read Johnny better than he could read himself.


   “Ya see,” Roy couldn’t let this one by.  “We have decided at the station to draw names for Christmas this year, and Johnny here is afraid that he’s gonna get Chet’s name.”  Roy couldn’t hide it any longer.  A soft laugh slipped out in spite of his attempt to keep it in.


   “We do that here every year.  Johnny, now really, how likely is it that you would draw Chet’s name?  Even if you did, what’s the worst thing that could happen?”


   “I,” Johnny gave his most disgusted Gage look and blurted out, “I’d have to buy him a gift.”


   Everyone laughed at the thought of that.  But realistically they all knew that it wasn’t likely to happen.






   When they got back to the station, the paramedics couldn’t believe that the engine crew hadn’t had a call yet.


   “Everybody ready?”  Hank appeared with a bowl that had folded papers in it.


   “Ready for what, Cap?”  Johnny was dreading the answer.


   “Let’s go ahead and draw names for Christmas.  That way we will have plenty of time to get our gifts.  Also, there’s a sheet on the desk that each of you can list a few things you would like to receive.  I thought that would make it easier on all of us.”


   Each man bravely took their turn drawing out the names, and each man gave no indication of whose name he had drawn.  Everything went very well.  That is until Johnny and Chet were side by side, and both reached in the bowl at the same time.


   “Hey!”  Johnny was sure it was his turn.  “Get out of there, it’s my turn.”


   “I don’t think so, Gage.  It’s my turn, right Cap?”


   “John, grab a piece of paper, then you get the last one, Chet.”


   Johnny smiled that crooked Gage smile and gave Chet his best “gotcha” look as he drew the name out of the bowl, and placed it in his pocket.


   Chet then took his turn, opened his paper and nonchalantly placed it in his pocket.


   “Who’d ya get?”  Johnny had to know as he looked at Chet.


   “The Phantom never tells his secrets.”  Chet gave it right back to him.


   About that time, the klaxons rang out again. 


   “Station 51, suicide attempt.  2218 North Hill, 2218 North Hill, cross street Burnside.  Time out 11:45.”


   “Station 51, 10-4, KMG365.”






   “I hate these calls.”  Johnny meant every word of that as they rounded the corner of the road.


   “Well, they aren’t exactly fun, but don’t ya feel a little, I don’t know, rewarded when we can talk a jumper out of jumping?”


   “I just don’t see how anyone gets to that point, Roy.  I don’t get it.”


   “Consider yourself lucky, Junior.”


   When they got to the address, everything seemed very quiet; actually too quiet.  Cap exited the cab of the engine and he, along with the paramedics had a look around the mansion.  No one answered the door, but on calls like this, they usually don’t.  Johnny climbed up to the balcony and saw a young lady looking like she was about to jump.


   “No!”  Johnny alerted the other firefighters with his plea.  “Just take it easy.  You don’t want to do that.”


   “Why not?  And who are you to tell me what I want?  What do you know about me and my situation?”  They all knew this one was serious.  She also appeared to be drowsy, perhaps from some kind of drug she may have taken. 


   Johnny knew that the other guys would be attempting to get into place in order to save the girl.  They would come down from the roof on ropes, and if he did his job correctly, they would grab her before she could jump.  Johnny had to keep her preoccupied, and he hated that part.  He knew that she could jump at any second and there would be nothing he could do about it.  But he would feel guilty if that happened.  Even though he knew it wouldn’t have been his fault.  That’s just how he was raised.


   “Okay, that’s fair.  What’s your name?”


   “What?”  She looked at the dark haired paramedic, and for the first time noticed how handsome he was.  “Louise, that’s my name.”


   “Okay, hello Louise, I’m John.  So what happened today?  Why do you want to jump and hurt yourself?”


   “Oh, you’re all wrong, John, I don’t want to hurt myself.  I want to die.  I can’t take this anymore.”


   “Why don’t you tell me what happened?  I really want to know, okay, Louise?”


   “My boyfriend, at least that’s what he called himself and what I thought he was.  Well, he’s a pig.”  Louise muttered through tears.  “He said that he loved me, and he said all the right things, but he doesn’t love me at all.  He was just using me to get work, and what money and medicine he could out of me.  I really thought he loved me, too.  This hurts too much; I can’t take it.”


   “Well, now, wait a minute.”  Johnny had to do some serious thinking about his next statement.  “Tell me what he did to make you so sure that he doesn’t love ya?”


   “How about not contacting me, not keeping in touch, never letting me know where he is, things like that?  If he really cared, he wouldn’t do that, now would he?”


   “Well, Louise, things aren’t always the way they seem.  I mean he could have gotten all tied up doing something or ya just never know what could have happened.  Did he say that he doesn’t love you?”


   “No, he didn’t.  But the last time we talked, he said that his actions spoke for his feelings.  So what do you think of those actions?  We had a really bad fight last night too.”


   “Well, now, Louise, that explains it.  He’s just waiting to cool down a little, so he doesn’t do or say anything stupid when he does talk to ya.” 


   “It’s over, and so is my life.  I loved that man.  I gave him my heart, my soul, everything.  I thought he was the one, ya know?”  Now Louise was so hysterical that Johnny was afraid that she was going to fall before the other guys could get to her.


   “Louise, can I ask ya something?”


   “Sure, you seem to be the only one that cares now anyway.”


   “Have you taken any medications today?  You know some pills before you came up here?”  Johnny could tell she was getting groggier and could pass out before too long.


   “Sure, I took a handful of Xanax, what of it?”


   “Louise, how many pills did you take, can you tell me?”  Johnny was wondering where the crew was.  He knew Louise wasn’t going to be able to hang on much longer.


   “I don’t know; I don’t care. Not enough.”


   Johnny noticed a different look in her eyes, and that look was familiar to him, and everyone else who had ever worked with a jumper.


   “Good bye, John.”


   With that Louise lept from the balcony as Johnny made a dive to catch her, any part of her, before she fell to her death.  He barely made it, grabbing her pants leg, and he could feel her slipping fast.


   “Guys, I need some help!”


   The firemen rushed over as quickly as they could with their ropes.  Roy secured Louise to one as she begged him to let her go.  After pulling her up, Roy could see that Johnny was visibly shaken and asked Chet to man the biophone.  As he took Louise’s vitals, Roy glanced at Johnny and noticed that he was pale and his skin was clammy. 


   “Cap!” Roy nodded his head toward Johnny and Cap and Marco immediately knew what he was indicating.  They rushed to Johnny’s side, just in time to catch him before his head hit the floor.  


   The senior paramedic felt badly for his partner.  He knew that John hated this type of rescue. He actually feared that he would lose a patient while the others were attempting a rescue, so he usually volunteered to man the ropes instead of talk.


   “Is he okay?”  Roy thought that he likely was, but just wanted to be sure.


   “Something isn’t right, but I can’t quite tell what’s wrong either.”  Cap looked puzzled.  Since Roy had Louise stable, he ran over to Johnny.


   His color was horrible, and his breathing very labored.  There was no sign of him coming out of unconsciousness, even after using the smelling salts three times. 


   “Are you guys sure he didn’t hit his head?”  Roy noticed that one pupil seemed sluggish, and normally Johnny would be awake and cracking jokes by now.


   “No way, Roy!”  Marco protested.  “We got here just before his head hit.  Cap and I both reached for his head.”


   “Oh……..God.”  Spoken as if in slow motion, but the color creeping out of Cap’s cheeks was quick.  “Roy, here’s your problem.”


   When Roy went over beside the captain, he noticed drops of blood underneath Johnny’s head.  When he put his hand to the junior partner’s head, he felt what appeared to be a skull fracture.  Roy almost became sick at the thought of his partner getting hurt yet again.


   “Rampart, this is Squad 51.  We have another victim at this location.  How do you read?”


   “Go ahead 51.”  Thank God it’s Brackett.


   “Rampart, we have a male patient, 27 years of age.  He fainted and hit his head on a cement fixture on the awning.”  Roy said as he glanced at what was closest to Johnny when he fell.  “Breathing is labored; skin pale and clammy, and there appears to be a skull fracture.  BP is 100/60; pulse is weak, but rapid.  Pupils are responsive, but the right pupil is sluggish.  Rampart, be advised second patient is John Gage.”


   “51, start an IV with ringers, put on a neck brace, get him onto a backboard, and transport as soon as possible.  Also, keep those vitals monitored.”


   “10-4 Rampart, ambulance is arriving now.”






   Roy was beginning to really worry.  This could be nothing; everyone has soft spots in their skull.  Or it could be really bad.  He just wanted to know which it was.  During the ride into Rampart, Johnny began to drift in and out of consciousness.  The senior paramedic knew that this was a good sign.  Maybe this wouldn’t turn out to be such a bad injury after all.  No one liked to be wrong, but this time Roy actually hoped that he was wrong, and thought that he likely had over reacted when he noticed how alert his partner was becoming.  Johnny wasn’t acting like a man with a skull fracture; he was just being Johnny.

   “Uh, Roy, what happened?  Why am I on a gurney?”


   “You passed out and hit your head.  How many fingers am I holding up?”


   “I what?”


   “Johnny, please cooperate, now how many fingers?”


   “Three, but I don’t remember…”  Oh no, I must have passed out when the jumper took off on me.  Johnny quickly glanced over to his left, and didn’t see the jumper.  I had her, she can’t be….


   Roy knew his partner all too well.  He knew from the panic on Johnny’s face what his junior partner was thinking.


   “She’s fine; don’t worry about it.  We got there in time, and you made the save.”


   “But then if that’s true, why would I pass out?”


   “Johnny, leave that dressing on your head alone, and you know how you get with jumpers.  I guess the adrenaline rush was too much and you passed out.  I saw you falling and Cap and Marco ran over to you.  They thought they caught you in time, but you banged your head up a little, so we’re takin’ you in to Rampart.”


   “But I’m fine!”






   They wheeled Johnny into Rampart, and Louise had already been taken to a room.  She was stable and would get some help.  In all likelihood she would be fine.  Johnny, on the other hand, was not a welcomed sight.


   “Hey, don’t push me around so hard.  Can’t you see I have a head injury?”


   Doctor Brackett and Dixie could tell they were in for a long night if this paramedic was injured badly enough to stay with them.


   “John, how many fingers?”


   “Doc, same as Roy held up, three.  Now if you will just let me out of here, I can go back and do my job.”


   “Not so fast, John, you could have a skull fracture.  I’m the doctor, and I say you stay here until we get some tests done.  Dix, order a head CT, and lets do a CBC just to be sure.”


   “How long am I gonna be in here?”


   “No longer than we can help, John, I promise.”


   Roy couldn’t keep the quiet laugh from slipping out.  He knew that Johnny was a horrible patient.  Anyone who had been working at Rampart for any length of time knew that John Gage wasn’t a good patient.  He was a great paramedic, but just lousy at accepting care from doctors.


   Luckily for everyone, the tests turned out to show the Johnny only had a mild concussion, and would only have to spend the night.  The A-Shift of 51 had the next couple of days off, so he could more than likely go back to work as scheduled.  Everyone was relieved, but no one more than Roy.  He was a patient man, but could only tolerate Craig Brice and his constant reminders of rulebooks for a few hours at a time.







   The time had come to decorate the fire station and of course A-Shift would be responsible.  Getting a tree would be no problem, but the real decorations needed a woman’s touch, so after the guys took care of the tree, Joanne, Hank’s wife, and Dixie had all agreed to add a little touch to the decorations.  They called themselves “The Feminine Touch.”  The crew wasn’t thrilled with that, and didn’t understand why a fire station needed a feminine touch, but they would take all the help they could get. 


   Not one member of the crew had told another whose name he had for the gift exchange.  This was unusual, especially with Chet Kelly and John Gage in the gang.  On their first day back, Chet approached Mike.


   “Mike, uh, are ya happy with the name you got?”  Chet had a gleam in his eye; today was going to be his day.


   “What are you talking about, Kelly?”


   “You know, when we drew names, are you happy with the person’s name that you got?  If you’re not, I’ll do you a favor and trade with ya.”


   “You got Johnny’s name, didn’t ya, Chet?  Oh, by the way, I’m really happy with the person’s name that I got.  As a matter of fact, I’ve already bought his present, and he’s gonna love it.”  Mike laughed softly as he went to the engine to check the pressures.


   At about the same time, Johnny and Roy had arrived at the station.  Johnny looked great, well rested, and ready to get to work again.


   “How are ya feelin’?”


   “Huh?”  Johnny was apparently in his own world.  “Oh, terrible.  Roy, do you want the name that you drew a while back?”


   “Sure, I mean, Joanne and I have already bought the gift and he is really gonna like it.”


   “Oh, that’s nice.  Roy, what would you have done if you got somebody’s name that was real hard to buy for?”


   “Well, I don’t know, I might ask someone close to him what he wanted or needed. Or I might even check the sheet up on the bulletin board with the lists that we all made.”


   “Yeah, I guess I could do that.  By the way, Roy, whose name did ya get?”


   “We can’t tell!  You remember the rules.”  Roy walked into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee as Johnny jokingly mocked his partner.


   Just then the klaxons sounded.


   “Station 51, Engine 27, structure fire, 2218 North Hill, 2218 North Hill, cross street Burnside.  Time out 09:17”


   “Station 51, 10-4, KMG365.”


   With those words they were on their way to a fire, and near Christmas, that usually meant that there would be a Christmas tree involved.






   As the Engine and Squad pulled up to the house, flames were shooting out, up, over, everywhere.


   “I sure hope everybody got out.”


   “Me too, Junior, me too.”


   As usual, a crowd had begun to gather at the scene.  Engine 27 was arriving and Hank Stanley told them where to set up their hoses.  All the firemen were equipping themselves with masks and turn out coats.  Each one was doing his job to the best of his ability, but no one had any hope of saving this house.  Just then a man came running from the crowd.


   “Did anybody see if they got out?”


   Roy looked over at an old gentleman who was rather dirty, but very concerned.


   “I don’t know sir, do you think someone is still in there?”


   “Well, there’s a family that lives in there, an’ the man an’ his wife, they can’t hear.  One of their kids can’t see, and the other one is crippled up and in a wheelchair, so I don’t know if they could get out; not by themselves anyhow.”


     Roy called over to his partner, “Johnny, there could be victims inside.”


   “I’m on my way!”


   With Chet, and Marco backing them up, Johnny and Roy began their search, fearing what they might find.  The flames darted through the house; the heat was intense.  They had no idea where the family might be located, and visibility was practically zero.  This however was all part of their jobs, and they were determined to find the family.  The question was how they were going to find them, and what condition would they be in?


   The men looked downstairs first, thinking of the child in the wheelchair, and assuming that at least one victim would be downstairs.  Johnny went to one end of the large house and Roy went to the other; each paramedic being backed by a fireman with a hose.




   Roy could hear something on the other end that sounded like his name being called, but he wasn’t sure, so he had Chet shut off the hose for an instant.


   “Roy, we’ve found ‘em.”


   Yes, that was definitely his partner’s voice, and together, Roy and Chet rushed to the other side of the house.  Just as Johnny said, they were all in the same room.  They say Christmas is a time for miracles, and if such existed, they had found one.  Of all the rooms in the house, this was the only one that wasn’t burning.  There was no logic to it, and all the firefighters were in awe of this room.  The next problem was finding a way to get this family out.  All were unconscious, but all were alive and in relatively good condition, considering the circumstances.  There was a huge double window in the room, but if they knocked it out, surely the flames would engulf the room.  Roy went outside the room to check another exit path.  They were trapped.  John used the HT and told Captain Stanley of their dilemma.   

   Immediately Hank sent the crew of Engine 27 in to try and make an escape route for his crew.  The men rushed into the house with all the hoses and waterpower available, but couldn’t seem to make a path that would stay clear for the men to escape with their victims.  Everyone was beginning to feel helpless.  What else can we do?  Hank Stanley wondered how they could free his men, and unfortunately came to the realization that there was nothing he could do.  

   “John, I’m afraid that we can’t make an escape route for you now.  You said that the room had a big double window, is the room still free of fire?”


   “Cap, this is crazy, but it’s not even that hot in here.  Do you want us to try the windows?  Since we’re on ground level, it shouldn’t be too hard, unless we get a back draft in here.”


   “John, I don’t see that we have any choice; we will find you and be on the outside waiting to help with the victims.  Correction, I will.”


   With that the men just looked at one another.  They were all taught that once those windows were broken, that was it.  The fire would engulf the room quickly, but yet they all had hope because of the lack of heat in the room and the fact that the fire hadn’t reached it yet.


   “Here goes!”  Johnny began to throw a chair at the windows while Chet,and Marco stood with their hoses.  All the men took a deep breath and said a silent prayer to themselves.  The windows broke rather easily and nothing happened.  Hank was standing outside as Roy and John began handing the victims to him, one by one.  Chet,and Marco kept the hoses going outside the room to protect the paramedics and the victims. 


   When all the victims were out of the house, the guys moved out too; all sighing relief.  They could hardly believe what just happened.  It was one of those impossible fires.  Every room in the large house was gutted except for the room that the family was in, and nothing in that particular room had even gotten that hot.  No one said anything; they just all looked at one another, not sure what they should say.


   When the crew from Engine 27 came over they were bringing body bags, thinking that 51 would need extras.  Totally unexpected, all victims were in good condition.  They all had O2 going, and a couple of IV’s had been established, but other than that, they all looked good. 


   “How did this work out so well?”  The captain from 27 could no longer contain his question.


   “You tell me,” was all that Hank, still shocked, managed to utter.


   On the way to the hospital, John was with the parents, and Roy with the children.  The mom awakened and was frantic about her children.


   “Ma’am, they’re all fine, it’s okay; they’re all just fine.”  John placed his hand on hers, and she was quieted quickly.  She wanted to talk to the dark haired paramedic, and he allowed her to.  It was odd, most wouldn’t be able to actually talk yet, but she seemed fine.


   “Are they all really gonna be okay, along with my husband?”


   “Yes, I promise, the house fire was pretty big, but the room that you were in wasn’t damaged.  All of you inhaled some smoke, but that’s about it.” 


   “Oh, thank you so much, sir, I’m sorry, my name is Eunice, Eunice Lucas.  And you are?”


   “John Gage.  Nice to meet ya Eunice.  You must have a very special family.  There were quite a few folks worried about ya.”


   “People are kind.  Some think that the majority is unkind, but that just isn’t true.  They are very kind.  Oh dear, I must get in touch with someone from the church, if they hear about the fire, they will all be so worried.”


   “You can do that at the hospital.  We’re almost there.  Now don’t go gettin’ yourself all upset Eunice.  Everything will be fine.  After what you just made it through, I’d say there’s definitely someone watching out for you.”


   “Yes, dear, there is always someone watching out for all of us.”  Eunice said this with a kind, yet firm tone.  Johnny was beginning to wonder if they were angels or something.  He knew that he had never witnessed anything like this, and in a way, hoped he never did again.  He was happy that they were okay, but it gave him an uncomfortable feeling.






   When they got back to the station, everything was quiet, too quiet.  The paramedics gave each other a quick look and moved into the kitchen where the engine crew was having a discussion.


   “Were they really as okay as they seemed?”  Hank just had to know.


   “Not a scratch, although Rampart is gonna keep them overnight for observation.  They are all doing just great.”  Roy couldn’t help but smile when he said that.


   “Okay, what do you guys think it was?”  Marco was ready to get another opinion.


   “What do ya mean?”  Johnny was getting some milk from the refrigerator.  “What was what?”


   “Come on, Gage,” Chet could no longer stand it.  “You know exactly what he means. How did that one room stay cool while the rest of the house was totally gutted, and how were those people all okay?”


   “The Lucas family,” Roy added.  “That’s their name.”


   “Well whatever their names, they have defied every law of fire.”  Mike was even in on this conversation.


   “Ya know,” Roy said, “Christmas is supposed to be a time for miracles.  Maybe we just witnessed one.”


   “Sounds good to me, it’s about as good an explanation as anyone has come up with.  As a matter of fact, it’s the only explanation.”  Hank was ready to stop this conversation; the crew was dwelling on it too much, although it was one of the strangest runs he ever had been on, if not the strangest.


   Just as they were preparing to eat, the klaxons rang out.


  “Station 51, electrical accident, possible electrocution, Rotunda Drive, Rotunda Drive, cross street Capital, ambulance is responding.”


   “Station 51, 10-4, KMG365.”






     The guys could almost guess what this one would be, and as they rolled to the scene of the accident, they got word that there was a man in full cardiac arrest.  Roy and Johnny looked at each other and just hoped that they could get to the scene in time to save the man’s life.


   When they arrived, the power had not yet been cut off, and Hank got on the radio and asked that the power company take care of that immediately.  Johnny and Roy could do nothing.  The victim, now victims, lay underneath a ladder, which had touched a power line and still posed a threat.  Apparently, Vince had arrived on the scene, and in the midst of a screaming wife and an unconscious man, didn’t think about the electricity going into the ladder.  He had begun to attempt to treat the victim.  In the process, he too was electrocuted.  Hank Stanley was very concerned about the wife of the initial accident victim.  She was hysterical, and he didn’t know if he could make her realize that she had to stay in the house and not go near her husband or Vince.


   “This is Engine 51.  Respond another ambulance to the scene, and another paramedic unit.  Be advised that we have an officer down also.”  Hank hated making these contacts, but did what had to be done.  He knew that chances were both victims could be in full arrest and his paramedics only had one defibulator, so calling another unit in made the most sense.  In the meantime his other crewmembers could do CPR on one of the victims, if necessary, until the other unit arrived.  He was watching the police officer and citizen closely for signs of movement, but neither had showed any.  After what seemed to be an eternity, but was in reality only a few minutes, Hank Stanley got word from the power company that the power had been turned off in the area.  Chet and Marco checked to make sure the wire was no longer “hot” as Johnny and Roy started toward the victims.  About the same time, Squad 7 and the ambulances arrived.  Johnny and Roy took the husband while the other squad took Vince.


   “How long have they been down?”


   “Not real sure,” Roy replied.  “We’ve been here for seven minutes and the wife is so upset, I’m not sure that I’d trust her judgment.”


   The first victim was in dire need of the defubulator right away.  Vince, however, had just gone into cardiac arrest as the rescuers were assessing his condition.  All the men knew that he had been down for a shorter period of time than the husband.  As Johnny was using the defibulator on her husband, Mrs. Watkins came over to him, screaming.


   “What are you doing to my husband?  Charlie?  Can you hear me?”


   “Ma’am?”  Roy had to try to get some information from her.  “Do you have any idea how long your husband has been down?”


   “Oh dear, let me see, you came real quick, I just don’t know.”


   “It’s okay, ma’am.  It’s just helpful if we know how long a patient has been unconscious, but if you aren’t sure, it’s understandable.”  Roy gave her an assuring grin.






   Roy and Johnny were glad to have the extra squad.  I’ll need to remember to thank Cap for that later.  Roy had his mind on what they were doing now, but at the same time he had been in the business long enough to know what a difference two pair of experienced hands made in a case like this.


   The guys from 7 got Vince back with one shock.  He was going to do well.  The paramedic team from 51 wasn’t having such good luck with their patient.  After the third shock they finally got him back. 


   “Rampart, this is Squad 51, how do you read?”


   “Go ahead 51.”  Dixie always had pen and paper at hand to have the information for the doctors.


   “Uh, Rampart, we have a male approximately 35 years old.  He suffered a shock from an electrical wire while putting Christmas lights on his house.  When we arrived, patient was unconscious and was not breathing.  He also was flat line.  We shocked him, uh, three times, and got him back.  He is now stable.  Vitals are: Pulse 80, Respiration 15, Blood Pressure 110/68.”


   “51, how long was he down?”  Dr. Brackett was concerned about lack of oxygen to the brain, as were the paramedics.


   “Uh, Rampart, we aren’t sure about that.  Approximately ten minutes, but that’s a guess on our part.”

   “51, use O2 and establish an IV with ringers.  Transport as soon as you can.”


   “10-4, Rampart, O2 is established and an IV with ringers.  Ambulance is already here.  Rampart, Squad 7 also has a victim at this location.  Will reestablish communication in the ambulance.”


   “10-4, 51.”






   The ride to Rampart was uneventful and Johnny was glad.  It seemed that every year during the holidays there were more and more victims.  It appeared that people just went brain dead during the holiday season.  The dark haired paramedic looked at the patient and thought how easily this entire trauma could have been prevented.  It seemed that both Vince and Charlie were going to be okay, and for that everyone was thankful, but Johnny couldn’t help but wonder why Vince went over to Charlie.  Vince knew better, so what could he have been thinking, or what could have been so distracting that he would act without thinking?  Johnny would have to ask him that when he was feeling better.


   Charlie was on the monitor and Johnny noticed that his heart rhythms were off.  The patient hadn’t been conscious the entire time they had been with him, but John knew that something could go very wrong, very quickly.


   “Rampart, this is Squad 51.”


   “Go ahead, 51.”


   “Rampart, the patient is throwing PVC’s, uh, Rampart, patient is flatline.”


   Without realizing it, Johnny had once again left the line open.


   “Pull the ambulance over!”


   Roy was following behind, and knew what had likely happened when he saw the other vehicle pull to the side of the road.  When he ran up to the ambulance, Johnny was already in action.


   “Charging….clear.”  Johnny sighed heavily and gave Roy the look of helplessness that every paramedic hates to feel.  “Uh, Rampart, we’ve shocked the patient three times and no response.”


   “51, let’s go with sodium bicarb and epi.”


   “10-4, Rampart, administering now, esophageal airway is also established.”




   Johnny tried shocking him twice more and nothing.  Roy knew that the younger paramedic had done all that he technically could do, but also that Johnny would not stop until told to do so, and Dr. Brackett would not utter those words.


   “Rampart, we have shocked twice more after administering the meds, and no response.”


   “10-4, 51, keep CPR going and get him in here as soon as possible.”


   “You got it, Johnny?”  Roy knew that the hospital was about 10 minutes away, but if he needed relief, the attendant could always help John with the CPR.


   “Yea, I got it.”


   Soon after they got to Rampart and the doctors had done all they could do, Charlie was pronounced dead.  The guys, especially Johnny,didn’t take the loss very well.


   “Roy, ya know, all of this didn’t need to happen.  It really didn’t.  I mean, it could have been prevented so easily.”


   “I know.  If ya think about it, most of the accidents that we’re called to could have been prevented, but that’s just life.”


   “Yea, well, I’m not so sure I’m all that crazy about life now.”






   As they returned to the station, the engine crew could tell that something had gone terribly wrong.  People outside the department often believed that death didn’t bother the paramedics and doctors, but everyone who worked with them knew better.


   “Vince?” Cap had the most concerned look on his face Roy had noticed in a long time.


   “He’s gonna be fine, Cap.”


   “Good!” Hank noticed that Johnny seemed particularly shaken up.  He went over to the couch where the junior paramedic had sat down by Henry.


   “John, you did all you could, Pal.  Sometimes these things just happen; when you’ve done all you can, then you can look at yourself in the mirror and be proud.”


   “Thanks, Cap.”  Johnny really did appreciate the boss’s efforts, but he still had to wonder why, especially this time of year that’s supposed to be so happy, people weren’t more careful.  Charlie should still be alive.  It was all so pointless.


   Chet thought that he could take everyone’s mind off the loss.


   “Does anyone, and I mean anyone want to trade names with me?”


   As usual Chet’s brilliant idea wasn’t so brilliant.  Mike, Marco, Cap and Roy just looked at him.


   “I will.”  Johnny had heard what Chet said after all.


   “Well, John, ole pal, you might not want this name.”


   “Nah, it’s okay, Chet.  I’ve been trying to trade mine all day.”


   “Go ahead, Chet, you offered, now accept John’s reply.”  When Cap used that tone, Chet knew that he had better hop to it.


   Sheepishly the curly haired man went over to the waiting paramedic and they traded names.


   “What?”  John disgustedly yelled out.  “Chet, this is MY name.  I can’t have my own name.”


   “Chet!” even Mike couldn’t hold back any longer.


   “Well, I tried to get out of it.”


   All at once Johnny began to laugh, and his laughter filled the kitchen area. 


   “Check out your name, Chester B!”


   “Hey!  This is MY name.” 


   Now the entire station was roaring with laughter.  Marco hoped that the klaxons didn’t sound.  He wasn’t sure that they could hear them.  Now what were they going to do?


   “Beautiful, Chet, how do you always manage to mess up?”  Hank Stanley was getting irritated.  “Now we are all gonna have to redraw names.”


   “Cap, we can’t!” Roy had already bought his gift.


  “No, Cap, please, I’ve already made my purchase.”  Mike had planned ahead also.


   “Well in all fairness, I’ve already picked mine out, but haven’t bought it yet.  Tell ya what, John, Chet, exchange the names that you have now and things will be like they were originally.  That’s gonna be the fairest thing for everyone.”


   “But he will not get me anything good.”  Chet had to protest.


   “Quit your whinning, Chester B, I’ll get ya something good.”




   “Give me a little credit, Chet, for cryin’ out loud, it’s Christmas!”


   Although the others were getting a charge out of their exchange, they tried not to laugh because they knew that both firefighters were taking this very seriously.






   Just then the klaxons interrupted the fun. 


   “Station 51, vehicle accident with injuries.  1145 Del Mar Drive, 1145 Del Mar Drive, cross street Wentworth.  Time out 13:56.”


   “Station 51, 10-4 KMG365.”


   Usually on the way to a call, Johnny thought about all the things that could be happening that he needed to be prepared for, but not today.  Roy glanced at his partner and could tell that something was really bothering him this time.


   “Johnny, what’s wrong?”


   “Uh, well, now I gotta get Chet something really good, and I don’t even know where to begin.”


   “Well, that can wait, this could be a pretty bad accident.  Did you just hear that they dispatched a helicopter?”


   “Oh man, I gotta get this off my mind.”


   “Yes you do, Junior.”


   As they pulled up to the scene, it was obvious that there would be multiple injuries.  It looked as if one car had ran a stoplight and hit the other head on.  Those accidents were always bad.


   Johnny and Roy began to get their gear while Chet and Marco began to hose down the spilled gasoline, and see if they could get into the cars without more equipment.


   “I’m gonna get the jaws for this one guys,” Marco informed the paramedics.  “She’s jammed tight and that will be the only way to get to the victims.”


   “Thanks, Marco.”


   Roy automatically went to the other vehicle, which Cap already had managed to open.  Johnny stayed by the other vehicle, peering into the windows to see if he could get any assessment on the victims at all.  From what he could see, there were three passengers, and none were moving.  When he went over to the driver’s side, he knew that there would be at least one DOA.  The man was nearly decapitated.  Marco and Mike were coming with some equipment to free the passengers.  Johnny knew that he could do nothing until that happened, so he joined Roy to see if he could help.  Approaching the car, Johnny could smell the alcohol. 


   “Oh man!”


   “I know,” Roy was just as disgusted.  “It’s not even that late in the day, and they are already at it.”


   “Need any help?”


   “Yes, you can get Rampart and take the vitals on the girl in the back seat.”


   When John looked into the back seat, he couldn’t believe his eyes.


   “Uh, Roy, we need to keep Chet away from here.”


   “Now listen, I know that you hate getting him a present, but Johnny, you have to work with him.”


   “Roy, this girl,”  John took a deep breath and paused.  “She’s Chet’s sister.”


   “How did I miss that?  You’re right, she is.  How bad is she, Johnny?”


   “Well, I can’t get a pulse or respiration on her.  She’s got a bad cut on her head, and there’s gray matter coming from the back of her head.”


   “Oh no, Johnny, I’ll get Rampart, will you go and tell Cap?”


   “Sure, I’ll be back in a sec.”


   Johnny looked around to find Hank, and when he finally saw him, he was standing right by Chet.  Finally the dark haired paramedic managed to get their leader’s attention.


   “What is it, John?”


   “Uh, Cap, there’s a girl in the other vehicle that’s, uh, well, she’s dead.”


   Hank frowned and nodded in acknowledgment, “Okay…..what about any survivors?”


   “We’re getting’ to them, but, uh, this girl….”


   “John, just say it, we don’t have a lot of time here.  These folks are seriously injured.”


   “She’s Chet’s sister, Cap.”


   Hank Stanley lowered his head and let out a sigh.  He closed his eyes and made a decision to wait until Chet was done with his work before telling him.  He looked back up at the shocked paramedic, and knew that he was hurting for Chet.


   “John, go back and help the others, Pal, okay?”


   “Sure Cap.”


   Hank looked over at the group of men working to free the passengers from the other car.  His men.  He knew there was always the possibility of a loved one of his or his men being involved in an accident, but he always hoped it would never happen, not to his shift.  These were good, hard working, dedicated men, and with Christmas so close, what would this do to the usually witty Chet?  He didn’t know what she looked like, or how badly she was disfigured, but it must be bad since Johnny already knew she was dead, so he didn’t want Chet to see her.  The Captain glanced over to the other car and noticed that Roy was covering the body with a blanket and he was thankful for that.


   “We need some help over here!”  Mike called out, knowing that Hank would help them get the top off the mangled car.  Hank ran over and they had the top off in no time at all.


   “John, we need you over here.”  He glanced at Roy and went over to the other car.


   “Do ya think Roy could use a hand over there?” Chet knew very well how to operate the biophone.


   “Nah, Cap said that he would help Roy out, I’m gonna need you guys here.”  Johnny never looked Chet in the eye.


   “Hey, Johnny, this guy looks pretty bad.”  Marco noticed the driver.


   “See if you can get a pulse or respiration on him, Marco, I think he’s already dead.”


   “Well what do you need me to do?”


   “Chet, I’m gonna need a backboard.  When you get back with it, I’ll get you to help me get him outta here.”


   “What’s up Johnny?”  Mike usually stayed with the engine, but was needed since they were the only station available on this call.


   “What do you mean?”


   “Well, something’s wrong.  I know this is a bad one, but I can tell it’s more than that.”


   “Yea, it is, oh, Chet hand me that backboard and be sure to keep his legs straight as we get him out.”


   Johnny just looked up at Mike and now the engineer was even more certain that something really bad had happened that involved someone from A-Shift.  He had to know. 




   “Uh, Mike, I think I heard Cap callin’ for ya.”


   “Boy, you must have robotic ears, Gage, I didn’t hear Cap call for anyone, and I’m closer to him than you are.”  Chet began to sense that something was up too.


   “Okay, Chet, let’s get him on this backboard securely, then on the gurney.  He’s stable and I can radio that from the ambulance.  I guess Cap will have you bring the squad to the hospital.


   “Gage, do you really hate getting me a gift that badly?  I mean I’ll let ya slide if it’s botherin’ you that much.”


   “No Chet, it’s fine.  I’ll get your gift, no problem.  I just need to get this patient to the hospital.”


   Johnny got into the ambulance and was pale as a ghost.  He should have told Chet.  He knew about his sister, and he would want to know if he were in Chet’s shoes.  Why didn’t he just tell him?  Now Chet would never forgive him.  The young paramedic was so glad that this patient was stable because his concentration wasn’t near where it should be to do his job right now.  Why didn’t I just tell him?






   Chet went over to the car that contained his sister.  He saw the blanket immediately and felt sadness because he could smell the alcohol right away. 


“Ya know, there were two dead in the other vehicle.  Johnny said the other one was stable though, so maybe he will be all right.  Cap do you want me to drive the squad on in to Rampart?”


   “No, Pal, Marco can do that.” 


   “Oh, Cap, I don’t mind.  You know that.  They’re kinda used to seeing me over there now, anyhow.”


   “Marco, take the squad to Rampart.”


   Now Marco was certain that something was really wrong and Mike was convinced that it involved Chet.  Mike pretended to be on his way back to the engine, but stopped Marco instead.


   “Any idea what’s going on?”


   “Nothing, I was hoping you would know.”  Marco looked really worried.  He could see the concern on Hank’s face.


   “Well whatever it is, Johnny knows all about it.  He was acting weird, even for Johnny, over at the car.”


   “Guess we’ll find out soon.”  Marco shrugged as he got into the squad.  The ambulances with Roy and John were long gone by now, so he needed to get it to Rampart. 


   Mike went back to the engine to check everything out and heard Chet let out the most horrible scream that he ever heard.  He ran back to Hank and Chet.


   “No, damn it, Cap, why would you tell me somethin’ like that?  I don’t believe it.  No, if that was true I’d know it.”


   Mike stood like a deer in headlights, not knowing what to do.


   “Chet, I wouldn’t tell you something like that if it wasn’t true.  Please, Pal, come on over here and sit down.  You’re shaking and pale.  Mike, see if the squad is at Rampart yet and if they are, have them come back.”


   “Sure, Cap.”  Mike still had no idea what was going on.  He knew it was bad and that it had something to do with Chet.  Maybe he could find out something from Johnny or Roy.


   “Squad 51, what is your status?”


   “Mike?”  Roy, Johnny, and Marco all looked puzzled.


   “Yea, Cap wants to know your status and if you can come back here.  Something’s got Chet really upset.  Guys, he doesn’t look good.  I’d say shock.”


   Roy and Johnny looked at each other.  Shock would be putting it lightly.

   “We’ll be right there, Mike.  Tell Cap to hang on, and Chet too.”  Roy began to run out of Rampart with Johnny and Marco not far behind.


   “Okay, we knew something was going down back there, but we couldn’t find out what, so what’s up?”


   “Uh, Marco, you remember that covered body in the back seat where Roy was workin’?”


   “Sure, Chet remarked that two had died in the car that we were handling and now another.”


   “Well, that other one was Chet’s sister.”  Roy had a huge lump form in his throat as the words came from his mouth.


   “What?”  Marco was stunned.


   “You okay, Marco?”  Johnny knew that they all needed to be there for Chet.


   “But it’s almost Christmas and they were so close.”  Marco couldn’t help himself.  He was visibly shaken.


   “We know, but Chet’s gonna need all of us.”  John suddenly had sternness to his voice.


   “Yes, I’m okay.  I’ll be there for Chet.”


   They rode in silence the rest of the way.






   When they arrived, they could tell that Chet was having problems and going into shock.  As soon as Johnny got out of the squad, he began to gather the equipment, while Roy radioed in their location, and Marco went toward Chet and the others.  As soon as he caught sight of Johnny, Chet managed to get up from Hank’s grip and run over to the unsuspecting paramedic.  Before Johnny knew what was happening, Chet had punched him right in the face.  Chet hit him hard enough that he rammed back into the squad.


   “Why didn’t you tell me?  You knew.  Gage, why didn’t you have the decency to tell me about my sister?  WHY?”


   Johnny was speechless.  He just looked at Chet as if he didn’t know the fireman.  He knew as soon as the ambulance pulled away that he had done something terribly wrong by not telling Chet.  Now he would have to deal with his decision.


   “Chet!” Hank’s tone was that of a leader, not a buddy.  “I told John that I would tell you.  That’s why he didn’t say anything.  If you want to take this anger out on anyone, I’m your man.”


   Chet gave John a look filled with hatred and took another punch at him.  The handsome paramedic just took the punch without attempting to dodge it or to defend himself.  He felt that he had let his friend down, and he would take all the punches Chet wanted to dish out.  He deserved them, after all.  Roy could tell what his partner was feeling.  What a mess, all because someone had to drink and drive.






   Roy took Chet’s vitals while John relayed them to Rampart.  Dr. Brackett advised them to bring him in.  Kel knew that Chet would never get any rest unless he was sedated.  So Roy rode in the ambulance with Chet while Johnny brought in the squad.  Roy wasn’t really worried about Chet; they would take care of him at the hospital.  It was Johnny that he was worried about.  When John thought he had done something really wrong, he didn’t let it go easily.  He beat himself up badly.  Roy knew that the junior paramedic would be beating himself up for a long time over this one.






  When they arrived at the hospital, Chet told Dr. Brackett immediately that he wanted to see his sister.  While Kel didn’t have a good reason for Chet not to make this visit, he knew it wasn’t a good idea.  If only his vitals weren’t stable.  The handsome doctor couldn’t believe that he was thinking in this manner, but he really didn’t want Chet to see his sister.  The doctor had already visited the morgue and she was injured very badly.  He knew it would add to Chet’s trauma.


   After stating his intentions, Chet turned to Johnny and glared at him again.


   “And Gage, you’re goin’ with me.”


   Johnny didn’t really know what to say.  He didn’t say anything in the end, and followed his fellow firefighter down to the morgue.  Chet was in a wheelchair, and when they got close to the morgue, he told the orderly that Johnny would wheel him the rest of the way.  Gage will pay for not telling me.  Once again, Johnny simply swallowed hard, nodded to the orderly, and wheeled Chet into the morgue.


   When they opened the door, both were taken aback by the coldness of the room.  It was odd because they had both been inside this place before, but neither ever had this particular feeling when they entered.  Chet told the attendant that he wanted to see his sister, and gave her name.


   “Are you sure?”  The attendant remembered this particular young lady and wasn’t sure it would be best for him to see her.  She hadn’t been cleaned up properly, and he knew it would be very traumatic.  He also saw the uniforms and realized that these were firemen.


   “Could you leave us alone please?”   Chet’s request came after the man had opened the drawer containing the lifeless body of his sister.  Right away both Chet and Johnny noticed the blood on the covering.  Chet reached up and wiped a tear from his eye.


  “Do it, Gage.  Take the cover off her.”


   Johnny reached for the blanketed body bag with a look of sheer pain in his brown eyes.  This was the hardest thing that he had ever done, and he knew why he was doing it.  Chet was obviously punishing him for not telling him about his sister earlier.  As John was about to pull back the blanket, Chet stopped him…


    “Why did you do it, Gage?  Why in the hell didn’t you tell me that was my sister, my own flesh and blood covered up in the back seat of that car?  I know you knew, man, why didn’t you just tell me?”  By now Chet was yelling.


   Johnny let go of the blanket and moved over to Chet, got down on one knee and began an attempt at an explanation.


   “Chet, I had talked it over with Cap as soon as I saw who she was.  Cap thought it best if you kept working and didn’t see her like this.  Now you’re determined to see her anyway, and I’ll pull off the blanket, unzip the body bag, and I’ll stay here with ya as long as you want me to, but man, I’m tellin’ ya, this is a mistake.  Is this really the way you want to remember your sister?  All bloody, in this godforsaken room?  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t.  That’s what Cap thought and that’s what I still think, but the call is yours.  I’ll do whatever you want me to do.”


   “Is it really that bad, Johnny?”  Chet now sounded more like a scared school child than the demanding man who came into this room.


   “It’s bad, Chet.  I knew she was dead before I even checked for a pulse.  I know how you are.  It’s tough for you to see this with a total stranger, okay, it’s tough for all of us, but man, I’m beggin’ ya, don’t do this.  Take it all out on me.  I can handle that.  You couldn’t do or say anything more than I’ve done or said to myself, but Chet, you do NOT want to see your sister, NOT now.”


   With those words the mustached man had his friend wheel him out of the morgue and upstairs where Roy, Dixie, and Kel were waiting for them.  As soon as they got off the elevator, they could all tell that Chet had not looked at his sister and all breathed a sigh of relief.


   “Chet, we’re gonna keep you overnight, and even give you the presidential suite.”  Dixie was wonderful, but nothing could cheer up the normally jovial man now. 


   “Do you need anything?”  Johnny asked before he and his partner departed.


   “No,” Chet mumbled, and then he had Dixie stop the wheelchair, and yelled to the paramedic.  “Thanks, Johnny.”  With those words, Dixie wheeled him into the elevator to go up to his room, where he would be given some meds and get a good night of rest.






   “Are you okay?”  Roy knew this was a stupid question now, but he had to ask anyway.


   “Roy, that’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I don’t know how I talked him out of it, but I’m so glad that I did.”


   “Yea, me too.  How about we go back to the station and get some rest?”


   “Okay.”  John knew that he wouldn’t rest at all and their shift was almost over anyway.  Now he had to work on getting Chet’s present together.  He knew what he was getting him; it was just a matter of doing it.


   By the time the paramedics got back to the station, their shift was over and Cap reminded them all that they needed to bring their gifts when they had their next shift in three days.






   The funeral was tough.  They always are when someone young dies so unexpectedly.  All of 51 A-Shift was there and they all sat together.  They wanted Chet to know that he had their full support.  He looked back toward them several times during the service, as if reaching out for some extra strength. 


   After the graveside service, the guys all went to a local restaurant.  None of them felt like going home, and of course Hank and Roy’s wives joined them.  It was odd.  Mike was usually the quiet one.  That day, they all became Mikes.  The ladies were worried about them, but knew that they would each have to deal with this in their own way.  They tried to brighten the mood a bit by telling the guys that they were getting together with Dixie after her shift to put the last decorating touches on and do some baking.  They got a few nods and that was it.






   When they assembled for roll call, the guys from A-Shift were quieter than they normally would be, and no jokes were going on between John and Chet.  Cap went on with roll call, noticing each man as he called his name and assessing how he was doing.  Hank really dreaded today and he hoped that it would be busy.  That would make everything easier.  He had gone by the Christmas tree on his way to his office and noticed that the packages were underneath.  Normally, he would have picked out his package and given it a good shake if no one was looking, but today he just wasn’t in the mood to even do that.

   After roll call, Captain Stanley noticed that the klaxons were abnormally quiet.  He knew that it would be a while before the ladies came with the food, and he also knew that he was responsible for getting his crew back into working order.


   “Okay, guys, I’m calling a meeting and I want you all in the kitchen, seated at the table in five minutes.”


   The men looked at each other, wondering what could be going on now.


   “Any idea what’s up?”  Marco asked before anyone else had a chance.


   “Well, you can bet it ain’t openin’ presents.”  They had to all smile at Johnny’s reply.  That was the first normal response from any of them since they all arrived for their shift.


   They all walked into the kitchen except for Johnny.  He seemed to have disappeared, but that wasn’t too unusual for the paramedic.  Right at the five-minute mark, he grabbed a seat at the table.


    Hank had dreaded this moment for days, but thought it important.


   “Chet, I’m very sorry for your loss.  I’m also sorry for the communication problems that we had, but Pal, if I had it to do over, I would make the same decisions that I made that day.  I would just communicate them a little better.  Now we’ve all experienced a loss to some degree.  We go out there every shift and see carnage.  We never expect that one of our loved ones will be involved, and thank God, they usually aren’t.  But from time to time this will happen.  It’s tragic, and it’s traumatic.  I can only guess about the rest of you, but I can tell you that I’ve not slept well since our last day here.  Does anyone have anything they would like to say?”


   All the men looked around at each other.  Chet and Johnny both seemed to be staring into space; not making eye contact with anyone.  Hank knew it would be hard to get the men to open up, thus telling his own story in the beginning.  He set his eyes on his engineer.  Hopefully the quiet one would be the outspoken one today.


   “Chet,” Mike began, “I’m real sorry about your sister.  I didn’t know for a long time out there, but I knew something was wrong.  It was a horrible feelin’.  I could tell by the way Johnny, Cap, and Roy were acting that something was wrong and that it had something to do with one of us.  I was afraid it was me.”  He stopped and regained his composure.  Reliving that day was tougher than he ever thought it would be.  “Then after a while Marco and I talked and we finally figured out that it had something to do with you.  We didn’t know what, but we at least knew whom.  I’m sorry about this Chet, but I was relieved when I knew that the tragedy wasn’t involving someone that I knew or loved.  Don’t get me wrong, I hated that something was goin’ on for you, but I was relieved that it wasn’t me.”  Mike then just looked down at the floor and Chet remained in his trancelike state.


   “Chet, it was tough on us.”  Roy thought that he could go next.  “We knew that was your sister in the back of that car.  Well, actually I didn’t know until Johnny told me.  I hadn’t really gotten back there at the time.  I had no idea what to do.  Cap, that’s another reason I’m thankful for you.  I don’t think I could have made a wise decision at that point.  It was hard knowing and not being able to warn you, but I knew Cap’s idea was best.  Think about it Chet, has he ever steered us wrong?”  With Roy’s words, Chet still remained stone faced.


   “Chet,” Marco finally felt ready.  “I didn’t know for a long time.  I was with Mike, we were wonderin’ if it was some of our relatives or somethin’.  We’re all pretty tight here; it’s almost like a barrio.  When one hurts, we all hurt.  Chet, I’m sorry about your sister.”  That’s all he could manage, and still, Chet sat without expression.


   Hank looked at Johnny, who had been avoiding eye contact with anyone.  Hank cleared his throat and the young man looked up at his captain.  When they made eye contact, Johnny just nodded negatively and looked back down at the floor again.  Captain Stanley was disappointed, but could relate somewhat to the paramedic’s dilemma.  After all, they all knew that Chet had blamed Johnny for not telling him all along.






   Hank looked up at the clock in the kitchen, and noticed it was nearly noon.  He also caught a glimpse of the girls on their way with the food.  “Since things are slow, how about an early lunch, guys?”  Dixie, Mrs. Stanley, and Mrs. Desoto were a welcomed sight.  They had all sorts of goodies that they were able to carry in. Mike, Roy, and Marco went to their vehicle and helped with the rest.


   Mrs. Stanley knew what her husband had planned for today and how hard it was going to be for him, and gave him an enquiring glance to which he just nodded.  She realized that it didn’t go as well as he had hoped. 


   They all ate well, even Chet.  The ladies had made so much food that the next shift would likely reap their fair share, too.  There was ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, carrots, string beans, peas and pearl onions, squash casserole, rolls.  They spared nothing for these men.  The dessert table was covered with everything from chocolate to coconut to strawberry.  What a meal!  Everyone was filled and they could not believe that they hadn’t gotten a single call.  Some of the other stations had, but it was by no means a busy day for anyone.


   “Okay, since we’re all full and feel like taking a nap, we need to get energized.  How about we exchange gifts now?  Who wants to go first?”  Hank Stanley was feeling more like shaking presents now, but he couldn’t help but notice that Chet and John were still both very bleak.  Hopefully this will help out.


   “I will!” Mike was obviously excited about the gift that he had to give.  He went over to the tree and picked up a gift that looked to be professionally wrapped.  He walked around the room, teasing as to whom this gift would be given.  Finally he stopped at Hank.  


   “Merry Christmas, Cap!”


   “Thanks, Pal, this is very nicely wrapped.”  Hank began to open the package and the guys noticed that Mike just stood there.  Roy thought it odd until Mike turned around and winked at the guys.  This got both John’s and Chet’s attention.  They knew that something odd was about to happen, but from Mike?


   “YUCK!  Mike, what were you thinkin’?”  Hank Stanley had the most disgusting look on his face that they guys had ever seen and Mike was laughing harder than they had ever witnessed. 


   They couldn’t stand it any longer, they all moved in closer….there it was….a fish!  Laughter rang out through the station.  Everyone knew that Cap hated fish and this one was fresh from the market.  Finally Mike took the present back and reached into his pocket.  He had deposited the fish in the refrigerator.  He handed Hank Stanley a pocketknife.  It was a nice brand.  Everyone knew it was expensive and then Mike asked the captain to open the blades.  Inscribed on the blades were the words to the best captain an engineer could ask for.  Thanks for everything, Mike.  He also had the date on the back of one of the blades.  It seemed that this gift made up for the practical joke.  Hank Stanley was speechless and just shook his engineer’s hand.


   “I’ll go next.”  Roy seemed more than happy to give out his gift and it wasn’t likely to be a practical joke, but it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for; Hank learned this the hard way.  Instead of teasing, Roy walked right over to Mike and handed him a small box.


   “Merry Christmas, Mike.  Hope you like it.”


   Mike opened the box and looked puzzled.  It contained a note.  On the piece of paper was written go to the hose bay.  This was becoming an adventure for the guys, and even Chet and Johnny were joining in.  So they all went to the hose bay and there they were, the car mats that Mike had talked about, coveted, and dreamed of for months.


   “Oh wow, Roy, this is GREAT!”  Mike picked up one of them, and his smile lit the entire area.  Now this was more like it.  All the guys were laughing.


   “I’m the Captain around here and I say it’s my turn!”  Hank got up and picked up the largest present under the tree.  Everyone had their eye on that one from the beginning and now they were going to find out who was getting it.


   “Merry Christmas, Roy!” 


   “Wow, thanks, Cap.  I wondered who was getting this one.”  Roy thought that the box seemed awfully lightweight to be so big, but you never know what will happen during Christmas.  Sometimes people put lots of paper or something in boxes to make them seem like big presents, when they are actually small.  Roy tore into the box.  Inside was another box, which was also neatly wrapped. 


   “Oh, another one!”  Roy didn’t know what to say, but tore into this box also.  He pulled out the contents, which happened to be another box.  By this time the guys and gals were laughing hysterically while Roy just rolled those baby blues and grinned.  He tore into this box, which, of course led to another box.  After all was said and done, Roy had opened ten boxes.  The guys had laughed so hard that some of them thought they were going to be sick.  When Roy got to the tiniest box, there was a note that read look in the refrigerator.  Relieved, Roy took a peek to find another box, unwrapped with another note, which read, have John open his locker for ya.  They were having too much fun at this point.  They just knew the klaxons would sound any second.  So they all went to Johnny’s locker and above Smokey the Bear’s hat was a note that read, look in your car for your present.  So they all went out to Roy’s car where there was a beautiful new fishing rod and reel.


   “Oh thanks, Cap.  You made me work for this one, but it was worth it!”


   “Well, Captains are supposed to make you work.  It’s good for ya.”  Hank smiled, as he was glad Roy enjoyed his little practical joke.


   They all went back into the kitchen area and noticed there was only one package under the tree.  Marco, Johnny, nor Chet had gotten presents, and everyone knew that Chet and Johnny had each other’s names. 


   “Well, I suppose it’s my turn!”  Marco went over to the tree just as if everything was perfectly innocent and normal.


   “Hold on a minute, Pal, you got your own name?”


   “Sure, Cap and that way I knew that I would get what I wanted!”  The Hispanic smiled widely as he had pulled off the best joke of all.  He carefully opened his gift, taking his time.


   “Oh for cryin’ out loud, Marco, open it already, you know what’s in there!”  Johnny finally uttered some authentic Gage words.  As he did, everyone laughed.


   “Let me enjoy this.  Guys, I’ve wanted one of these for ages, so just give me my time here!” 


   No one could imagine what Marco had given himself.  When he finally got it unwrapped, they were all gathered around him looking over his shoulders, and in front of him peering into the box.  Marco had purchased one of those hand held games that all the kids wanted, and practically none had.  His was a football game, and everyone sighed at once.  It seemed Marco wasn’t the only one who wanted one of these.  The ladies giggled at the big boys!  They all stood around, amazed at the game and each one had to at least hold it.  They were indeed like boys.


   “Well, I guess that’s it for this year anyway.” Hank was about to officially close the gift exchange and not bother to mention the Chet and John situation.  It had been mentioned too much anyway.


   “Not yet, Cap!”  Those were the first words that Chester B. Kelly had uttered.  “Johnny, I’m sorry.  With all that’s happened, I didn’t get a chance to get your gift yet, but I’ll have it for ya next shift, I promise.”


   “Well, ya better!”  Johnny got up and went back into their sleeping area.  When he returned, he had a box that anyone could tell he had wrapped.


   “Merry Christmas, Chester B.”


   Chet could hardly believe his eyes.


   “You mean you actually got me a gift after the way I treated you?”  Johnny smiled that crooked smile that lured everyone in.  The ladies were all wiping tears from their eyes.


   “Well, are ya gonna open it, or just look at it all day?”  Now that was something that Johnny would say to Chet on a normal day and everyone was so glad that the two men were coming around.


   “Okay, but it better not be a box of rocks.”  They all laughed.  No one crowded around Chet.  They all knew that he needed space and they all respected that.  Chet carefully opened the package.  He thought it felt delicate and he certainly didn’t want to break anything.  He doubted that Johnny would give him a gag gift at this time, so he took opening this one very seriously.  When he opened the box, only Chet could see what was inside.  He sat there in his chair, tears welling up in his eyes, speechless.


   Johnny got up and patted his friend on the shoulder.


   “How did you?  Where did you?  When did you?”  Chet couldn’t get anything out. 


   By now suspense was killing the guys and even the ladies came over to see what Chet had gotten from the messily wrapped box.


   “Oh Johnny,” Dixie gasped as she wiped a tear from her cheek.  Dixie saw the most beautiful, thoughtful gift that she had ever seen in her life.  She always knew that John Gage was special, not just because of his good looks or charisma, but she never realized how big his heart was until today.  None of them did.  Dixie saw a collage of photos beautifully and professionally matted and framed.  Photos of Chet and his sister through the years, every major event that they had attended or that happened to them was captured somewhere in this collage.


   “I visited your family and got the negatives.  You know that I like workin’ with pictures, so I put the collage together for ya and just had it mounted and framed.  It was the very least I could do, Chet.” 


   “Thanks, really, thank you, John.”  That was all Chet could get out at this point.  It was the most thoughtful gift anyone had ever given him and he felt horrible knowing that he had tried to torture his friend as if Johnny had been at fault for his sister’s death.  He looked at each photo.  They ranged from their first days of school to their proms to their double dates, and even the last photo of them together that had been taken only a week before the accident.  Chet felt in an odd way that he had his sister back.  Then, for the first time, he realized that she never really left.  For when our loved ones leave the earth, we still have them in our hearts, and there they will remain.


   “Merry Christmas, everyone.”  Chet finally was sounding more like the old Chet Kelly that got on everyone’s nerves, but that everyone loved just the same.


   With that the klaxons sounded and they guys realized that their Christmas rush was just beginning.


   “Station 51, house fire, 1913 West Vermont, 1913 West Vermont, cross street Wichita.  Time out 14:45.”


   “Station 51, 10-4, KMG365.”





Stories By Wanda C      Christmas stories