The Circles of Life

By Audrey W  





Roy DeSoto did a double take as he walked into the dayroom of Station 51.


“He’s been at it since he got here at 7:30,” Tom Dwyer explained.


Dwyer was a paramedic from the station’s C-shift. His duty was ten minutes away from ending. A-shift’s paramedics, Gage and DeSoto, would take over.


Roy watched as John Gage tossed a Cheerio into the air again and caught it in his mouth.


Mike Stoker, the engineer for A-shift, looked up from the paper he was reading across the room on the dark leather couch. He smirked at the bewildered expression on Roy’s face.


“Wouldn’t they be better with milk and some sugar in a bowl?”


Johnny held up a glass of milk, then shook his head about the other.


“Don’t want ‘em too sweet an’ bowls are over-rated.”


He tossed another Cheerio up, caught it in his mouth. Then as if to prove his point, he took a sip of milk and smiled.


Chet Kelly, another member of A-shift’s engine crew, had come in behind Roy and stared at the dark-haired cereal popper.


“What’re you doing?”


“What’s it look like I’m doin’, Chet? Eatin’ breakfast,” he shrugged.


“Bland Cheerios one at a time,” Roy put in.


“Cheerios are what make the world go ‘round.”


“Oh brother,” Chet remarked. He walked past Roy, headed for the coffee pot on the stove.


Mike went back to reading his paper, while Dwyer grabbed for the box of cereal in front of Johnny. But the latter pulled it away.


 Dwyer grinned, then looked at Roy. “I tried.”


“Yep, this is my kinda cereal,” Johnny said as he munched on another O.


“If you ask me,” Chet said. “You’re more in line with Cocoa Puffs . . .you know. . .a little koo koo.”


Johnny rolled his eyes as the others snickered.


“Roll call,” Captain Stanley hollered from just outside the doorway.


Johnny gulped his milk as he pushed back in his chair with his feet, then stood. He set down the empty glass before handing the Cheerio box to Dwyer. He then followed the rest of the crew out of the room.


Dwyer frowned in disappointment when a piece of cereal he tossed up in the air shot right past his chin instead of going into his mouth.




Later in the morning, the engine crew was busy hanging hose on the rack behind the station. Marco Lopez  and Chet were on the top, while Mike worked on the ground level.  


Johnny and Roy were inside cleaning the dayroom. Roy stopped sweeping a moment and bent over to pick something up. He walked over to where his partner was cleaning one of the double ovens and tapped him on the shoulder.


The younger man whacked his head on the oven interior. With a hand on his head afterward, he pulled out and glanced at Roy.


“What’dya do that for?”


The other held one Cheerio in the palm of his hand.  “Your circle of life.”


“Ho, real funny.”


Roy grinned as Johnny went back to work on the stove, clearly annoyed. He returned to his job of sweeping, where he found himself suddenly stuck with the tune Gonna Go ‘Round in Circles stuck in his head.




Before they’d completed their chores, the engine and squad crews were dispatched out for a motor vehicle accident. As they arrived on scene, they saw two cars that had collided in a traffic circle. Apparently one driver had decided to ignore the yield sign as they entered it.  


A full-sized green Chevy pick-up truck with a hot water heater secured in the back was stopped a brief distance from where the traffic circle started. The sixty-five year old driver was a witness to the accident and was in the middle of giving his statement to one of the police officers when the firemen arrived.


“John, you take the green Gremlin,” the captain directed. That left Roy with a red Mazda station wagon whose driver’s side doors were up against the front end of the other vehicle.


“Chet, help Roy. Marco you go with John.”


The two engine crew members complied.




“The woman says her neck hurts,” an officer informed Gage as he approached his assigned vehicle. The driver’s side door was already open, giving him full access to the victim.


“Ma’am,” Johnny began. He stopped as soon as he looked and recognized her face.


Oh man. . .


It was a brunette woman he’d met in a similar situation, while she was learning how to drive from an instructor with Drive Rite Driving School. She and another student driver had a minor head-on collision then, and by the time he and Roy were done trying to help the nearly-uninjured drivers, they’d felt the most unappreciated since becoming paramedics. In fact, this lady’s instructor had referred to Gage as ‘just a fireman’.


Although he did have to give her a little credit then, after all she had thanked him for his help. 


With a sigh he continued, hoping this experience would be better.


At least she’s on her own. . .




Officer Vince Howard briefed Roy on the other driver’s apparent condition. She too was complaining of soreness, though he couldn’t get her to pinpoint exactly where.


“Ma’am,” Roy said as he leaned inside the passenger side door. He abruptly stopped for a moment when he saw the familiar face framed by reddish hair looking back at him. Only this time she had her cat-eye shaped glasses on.


He remembered the bad experience with her while she was a student driver involved in a rather minor head-on accident. Her seatbelt then had jammed and she fussed about Roy coming dangerously close to her cashmere sweater with his scissors as he tried to pop open the clasp. He’d ended up leaving a stain on it from the metal surface of the scissors.


It was a circle both paramedics would have preferred not completing.


You again?”


The disgust in her voice made it obvious she wasn’t too thrilled with completing the circle either.


“You’re not going to ruin my blouse,” she firmly stated to the dark-blond paramedic.


Roy glanced at the clasp and saw that, thankfully, this time she’d already been able to pop the seatbelt fastener open.


“No, ma’am.”


“Good, because you ruined my sweater last time. The stain never came out. I couldn’t believe you would just take scissors like that. . .”


Roy averted his gaze before giving an eye roll. He didn’t want her to see it. Afterward, he again looked at the still ranting woman and spoke over her words in an effort to interrupt her so he could get an assessment of her condition. 


“The policeman. . . .Ma’am, the police. . .” When she stopped talking, he tried again, “The officer said you were complaining about some pain. Can you tell me exactly where you hurt?”




Johnny wasn’t faring any better with his charge. As soon as he began to evaluate her condition, the professional model was asking, “Why can’t a doctor be here to do this?  Do you know what you’re doing? Aren’t you still just a fireman?”


Gage just shook his head slightly.


He continued on, soon placing a c-collar around her neck and securing her to a back board as a precaution. Marco had helped him as needed.


“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” the lady asked as they removed her from the wrecked vehicle and placed her on a nearby stretcher.


“Yes,” Johnny assured, the annoyance he felt completely hidden in his voice. No matter what she thought of his abilities as a fireman paramedic, she was still a victim of an accident and deserved the best treatment he could give her, including in attitude. Once she was in the care of a doctor and he was done with his part, he could vent about the situation all he wanted to Roy. 


Speaking of which, he noticed Roy getting an earful from his patient that was now on a stretcher as well. Something told him they’d be venting to each other.  





Both women were placed in an ambulance. Roy made his partner happy when he volunteered to be the one to ride in with them.


As the ambulance pulled away and Gage walked toward the squad, the pickup truck driver caught up to him.


“Are they going to be okay?”


Still in motion, the paramedic gave a nod. “They should be fine. Just pretty sore for awhile.”


“Good. You know, maybe the one should consider taking one of those drivers’ courses if she can’t even figure out the yield rule for traffic circles.”


Johnny gave a wry grin. If  the man only knew.  He glanced at the water heater in the truck bed.  


“Looks like you’ve got a little work ahead for you.”


The man followed his gaze. “That’s my wife’s idea. The old one still heats the water, but we think it’s close to going. So she wanted me to get a new one before it happens. But I’ve gotta wait till I have help getting it out of the truck. I don’t suppose you. . .”


Johnny shook his head. “Sorry.”


When they reached the squad, Captain Stanley was there as well. Johnny climbed inside while the superior officer offered, “We’ll see you back at the station.”


“Okay, Cap.” As he pulled away, Johnny gave a brief wave to the witness. “Good luck!”




Halfway to the hospital, Johnny had a thought on the conversation he’d just left.


I wonder why they think their hot water heater is about to go. . .


Usually it was hard to tell until one actually quit doing its job. He kind of wished he’d asked.




“Well, she sure picked up one thing from that driver’s course she took,” Johnny deadpanned to Roy once they were both at Rampart and the ladies were in the care of doctors. “Too bad it had to be that we’re ‘just firemen’,” he added sarcastically.


Roy smirked as they walked to the nurses’ lounge, where they could sit and have a cup of coffee. With everyone busy, the room was empty of anyone else. The paramedics sat down at the round table in the room, their cups of coffee in front of them. The cups were ceramic ones available for any employee’s use.


Roy took a sip of his brew and set the cup back down, while he leaned back in his chair. “You know, I have to admit, as soon as I saw who was in that car, I started wishing another station had gotten the call.”


Johnny snorted a laugh. “You an’ me both.”


They only got to drink a little bit more of their coffee before dispatch contacted them on the HT for a child injured call.


The paramedics left their cups in the sink, then hurried out of the room, Gage following behind DeSoto.




The location of the call was a large lot that was used for various events. For the past couple of weeks and next ten days, it would be the site of the annual Los Angeles County Fair. People came from surrounding areas to attend the event in Carson.


The paramedics climbed out of their squad and after grabbing the trauma and drug boxes, as well as the oxygen and biophone, were led by an official to the area where the large merry-go-round was located.


The usually busy ride was not in use, its assorted horses on poles for seats motionless. A small group of adults was gathered near one of the horses while children walked by the ride with their parents, disappointment on their faces when they realized they wouldn’t get to play on it.


Johnny and Roy had been briefed on what happened as they hurried to the merry-go-round. A five year old girl had slipped off one of the horses as it went in an upward motion on its pole. The strap that was supposed to be holding her securely in place had snapped loose during her fall, a worn section discovered on it afterward. Her mother had been on the horse beside her and couldn’t reach out to stop her fall. It had all happened too suddenly.


“What’ve we got?” Roy asked the on-duty park nurse as he and Johnny set the equipment down and kneeled beside the victim. Right away he noticed a small bump just within the girl’s hairline near her part.


“She hit her head on the horse beside hers. She landed on her right arm. I believe it’s fractured. She’s been somewhat groggy, her pupils are sluggish. I didn’t want to move her very much until you and the ambulance got here.”


The extremely worried mother watched anxiously as Johnny and Roy worked on her daughter, both men explaining ahead of time to the little girl what they were doing so she wouldn’t be too frightened.  


After a brief time and a few exchanges with Rampart via the biophone, she was ready for transport.


“It’s okay, sweetheart,” Johnny assured the small victim while in the ambulance and on the way to the hospital. “You’re gonna be okay. Just hang in there.”


He really hoped she would. Both hang in there and be okay. With a head injury and the symptoms she was experiencing, there were no guarantees.




As soon as the ambulance came to a stop outside of Rampart, and the rear doors of the vehicle were open, one of the attendants climbed out. Next came the stretcher, then Johnny. They rushed the young victim inside.




Roy joined his partner in the treatment room, where he was still doing what he could to assist Doctor Early. After a brief moment, Johnny asked, “Doc, you need me for anything else?”


“No, you can go.”


The dark-haired paramedic glanced down at his little charge one more time.


“I’ve gotta go, sweetheart, but this nice doctor here is gonna take good care of ya.”


She just stared  at him, her eyes somewhat glassy. 


Johnny stepped over to where Roy was waiting near the doorway. The two somberly exited the room. They would need to check in on the child’s status later.




The paramedics no sooner left Rampart when their radio squawked, “Squad 51, possible drowning, 2345 West Gerard Street, two three four five West Gerard Street, time out 11:43.”


Johnny reached for the mic and pressed the transmit button as he brought it up to his mouth. “Squad 51, 10-4.”


He replaced the mic, then reached for his helmet that was hung behind him as Roy grabbed his off the seat.




“Over here! Over here!”


As soon as Johnny and Roy climbed out of the squad, they heard the woman’s voice calling out to them from an open wooden gate between two houses, her arms waving in the air.


“Hurry, over here!”


They grabbed the equipment from the squad and trotted in her direction as she disappeared behind the brown plank fence.




As soon as they were on the other side of the fence, the paramedics saw that they were in the back yard of one of the homes. A soaking wet man in blue jeans and a Steepin Wolf t-shirt lay on his side on the concrete surface not far from a round in-ground swimming pool.


The man was coughing violently as another man, also in soaked street clothes patted him firmly on the back while he kneeled beside him.


The woman they saw, along with another, each had a hand up to their mouths as they watched in stunned shock.


“I jus’ got him out!” The man on his knees explained to the approaching medics.


“Was he under water long?” Roy questioned. “What happened?”


The three adult witnesses looked at one another, no one offering an immediate answer.


“Well, how ‘bout it?” Johnny pressed. He and Roy were now squatted down near the victim.


The women remained silent as the explanation was provided.


“He was kind of. . .kind of . . .high. And he . . .uh. . .he just stumbled out the open door and dropped into the pool. . . .He was only under a short time before we realized he wasn’t playing around.”


“What’d he take? What’s he high on?”


The man kneeling on the ground looked at Roy. “No drugs! Glue. ..model airplane glue…”


Johnny and Roy were disgusted that these adults didn’t have the common sense to consider sniffing glue as drug abuse. They made sure to set them straight on the subject while they treated the victim, Rampart on the other end of the line via the biophone.


Luckily for the injured man, his companions hadn’t taken their turns in sniffing the glue-dampened rag. It was balled up on the floor of the livingroom just inside the still-open glass sliding doors. If they had, chances were he would’ve been on his own and drowned. 


Before long the paramedics were once again on their way to the hospital. This time Roy rode in with the victim and Johnny followed behind in the squad.




Dixie McCall came out of Treatment Room Three, and joined Johnny and Roy who were near her desk at the base station.


“Hey, Dix,” Johnny greeted. “Any word on Melissa Gray, the little girl we brought in earlier?”


“Some,” she said as she walked around to the other side of the desk. As she took a seat on a stool, she explained, “Joe said she’s got a moderate concussion. He doesn’t think there’ll be any complications from it, the CT-Scan looked good. But we’re going to keep her here at least until tomorrow afternoon for observation in case. She’s getting her arm casted now.”


The news was a relief to the men, although they realized things could always change. However, Doctor Early was one of the best in his field of expertise and the fact he felt confident she was going to be okay was more than reassuring.


After a brief visit with Dixie, the paramedics were on their way out of the hospital and to the squad.




When Johnny and Roy got back to the station, the two climbed out of their red rescue truck, then headed for the dayroom.


“Smells like lunch might be ready,” Johnny said as he came around the front of the squad to join his partner.


“I hope so. I’m starved.”


Johnny led the way into the next room.


“Is that Mike’s infamous spaghetti we smell?”




He sniffed again. “You sure?”


Chet nodded as he carried a sauce pan toward the table, where the rest of the engine crew was already seated, saucers and forks in front of each of them. A plate with slices of Italian bread was in the center of the table.


He took a quick detour and waved the pot under Johnny’s nose.


“It’s Chef Boyardee’s infamous Spaghetti-Os.”




“No, John. Spaghetti –Os.”


Gage rolled his eyes as he gently pushed Chet away.


“Campbells,” Mike suddenly chimed in.


Chet and Johnny both looked at the engineer at the far end of the table with a puzzled “What?”


“It’s not Chef Bayardee. Spaghetti-Os belong to Campbells. If you look at the three cans you tossed in the trash,” he directed their ‘cook’, “you’ll see they say Campbells on ‘em.”


Chet was the first to speak.


“Hey, thanks for pointing that out. You just ruined my line.”


Mike shrugged with a grin, while the others snickered.


“I’d like to see you try to toss one of those up in the air and catch it in your mouth,” Marco challenged Johnny.


Roy smirked at the thought. He could imagine little circles of tomato sauce on his partner’s face if he missed many of the little limp circles. Of course, Gage knew better than to give it a try. . .he hoped.


He wouldn’t get to find out yet. Just as they had taken a seat at the table as well, the tones sounded. The station was dispatched out for another motor vehicle accident, this one on the 405 Freeway.




Their hunger momentarily forgotten, the paramedics led the way to the scene, the engine immediately behind the squad. Once they were within a few miles of the accident, they had to travel on the shoulder of the freeway to get past the backed up traffic. All but one lane had been blocked up ahead, and that lane was to slowly filter the civilian vehicles through until the accident scene could be cleared.


As soon as they reached the five vehicles involved, it became clear to the firemen some of what had happened. One clue was that a car had a circular design, often what would be referred to as a ‘donut’ in the racing world, ground into the driver’s side door, and it was the circumference of a tire on a semi truck stopped a short distance further down the freeway. The damaged door nearly had an open hole cut into it. 


Two other wrecked cars and a badly damaged pickup truck were all stopped close to each other in a hap-hazard way, obviously they’d had contact with each other.


They soon were told that the driver of the semi, who was unhurt, had tried to do a lane change before he realized there was a car beside him near the back. Though he immediately returned to his original lane, the damage to the car was already done by the huge rear tire.


The other vehicles had collided as a reaction to the mishap. 


Luckily there was no life threatening injuries. However some involved would still need to be seen and treated by a doctor, a couple likely staying at the hospital a day or two.  Before long, Johnny and Roy had the four victims on their way to Rampart. Since they needed two ambulances, thus a paramedic in each, Marco followed behind in the squad.




“Have you seen Johnny?” Roy asked as he met up with Marco in the doctors’ lounge, where he’d been offered a place to wait.   


The fireman sat forward on the couch and shook his head. “No, I sure haven’t. I thought he was with you by now.”


“Well, we’d better go find him. I’m sure Cap won’t be very happy if we hold things up at the station much longer.”


Marco agreed and the two headed out in search of Gage. Not long after they left, Johnny peeked his head into the lounge, looking for Roy and Marco. When he didn’t see them he closed the door and startled when they were nearly right behind him. 


“Where were you guys?”


“We were wondering the same thing about you,” Roy informed.


“Oh. I went up to see if I could find out how little Melissa was doin’. By luck I met into her dad near the coffee machine up there.”


“How is she?”


“Resting comfortably in a room.  Ya know, I was thinkin’ we ought to get her a teddy bear or somethin’.”




“So are we ready to head back to the station?” Marco wondered. “Or are you going to get the bear here?”


“We can get it after lunch,” Roy said. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m starving.”


“Me too,” Johnny admitted. “Trouble is, I’m not so sure Spaghetti-Os is gonna be enough, even with the bread.”


“Wanna grab a burger on the way back?”


“Yeah, only let’s skip fries. That way we can still eat Chet’s lunch.”


Marco was glad he got to drive the squad to Rampart. He wasn’t too sure Chet’s idea for lunch was going to be enough for him either. But he hadn’t wanted to hurt their shiftmate’s feelings. Now he could get a burger as well.


None of them let on to the others that they’d snacked on the way back.




After their late lunch, Johnny and Roy went in search of a teddy bear for Melissa. Soon they found themselves going full circle by delivering it to her in the hospital and then returning to Station 51, where Chet and Marco had just finished cleaning up the dirty dishes after a bit of a delay.




Late in the afternoon, the squad was toned out again, this time for an unknown type rescue. The two paramedics rushed from where they were updating the log book in the captain’s office. They climbed into their vehicle and after Captain Stanley handed Roy the call slip through the open driver’s window, were on their way, taking a left turn as they left the driveway.




“Take a right at this next intersection and a left a block after that,” Johnny directed his partner.


Roy complied and soon they were in front of a one-story brick home in a cul-de-sac.  A teenaged girl came running from the front doorway of the home.


“Hurry up! We haven’t got all day ya know!”


The paramedics exchanged a glance as Roy hurried around the front of the squad.


“Somethin’ tells me this is gonna be one of those calls. . .,” Johnny mumbled to DeSoto.


As he turned to open the compartment doors on the passenger side of the squad, he did a double take when he noticed a familiar truck in the driveway next door. A hot water heater was secured in the back.


What were the odds of that?


Maybe he’d get that explanation he missed earlier.


Gage would soon be reminded  that the saying ‘be careful what you wish for’ often could come to play a part in real life.    




With the basic supplies they’d likely need in hand, the two paramedics quickly followed the teen through the house, all the while she explained to them how one of her friends fell off the trampoline after first hitting the edge of the bars on the frame 


“Kathy was going to do a belly flop-seat drop combo and Donna dared her to do a forward flip. She’d never tried before and, well you know how it is. You can’t pass on a dare and still be cool.”


“How cool is she now that she’s laid out on the ground?” Johnny asked.


“Okay, so it didn’t exactly go like she wanted it to. . .”


They emerged out the back door, where they saw three other teen girls. One was seated on the ground with her back against a leg of the round trampoline, cradling her right arm.


Another girl sat on the bars, her legs dangling over the side as she swung her feet back and forth. The fourth teenager was standing near the others, her arms folded across her chest. She looked up and her eyes widened as Johnny and Roy approached.


 “Far out! They’re here!”


“She broke her arm!” The blonde on the bars explained, unaware they knew that possibility already.


“Yeah,” the other friend added. She popped a bubble she’d made with her gum.


“What’d I tell ya,” Johnny mumbled to his partner.


“Okay, let’s see what you got here,” Roy said to the victim as he squatted down in front of her.


Johnny noticed the girl on the trampoline bars and her friend Donna close by staring at him. It wasn’t exactly in distaste either.  Uncomfortable, he set the biophone down on the ground.


“Uh, I’ll get a holda Rampart,” he told Roy. As he attempted to contact a doctor on the other end of the line, the dark-haired paramedic glanced up and smiled uneasily at the two girls still eyeing him, almost dreamy expressions now on their faces.


Roy gently palpated Kathy’s collarbone and right shoulder, before checking her arm, especially her wrist.


“Go ahead, 51,” Doctor Brackett’s voice sounded as it came over the biophone receiver.


“Rampart, we have a female, approximately seventeen--”


Fourteen,” the girl who’d led them in corrected. “We’re all fourteen.”


That was a surprise. With their make-up, they all looked older to the paramedics.


“Correction, Rampart. The victim is fourteen years old.”


After filling Brackett in on the basics of the situation, including that Roy suspected a fractured collarbone and wrist along with a separated shoulder, he ended with, “Stand by for vital signs.”


Johnny glanced at the friends, who all had their attention still on him. “We can’t treat Kathy without her parents’ permission. Anyone know how to get a hold of them?”


“You mean, like call ‘um?” The blonde asked.


Johnny nodded slightly. Did she really have to ask?  “Uh__yeah.”


“Mister and Missus Garrett,” Kathy gritted out.




“The neighbors,” she answered Roy with an ever so slight nod toward the home with the pickup truck. The movement, as small as it was, elicited a gasp, grimace and a few tears from her. “Missus Garrett used to babysit. . .my brother and I. . .when we were kids. Well, younger kids,” she added when she saw two sets of eyebrows raise. “Mom always said if there was ever. . .an emergency when she and dad weren’t home. . . Missus Garrett could take care of it.”


That was all they needed to hear.


“I’ll go get her,” Johnny said as he got to his feet.


“I’ll go with you!” Donna and the girl on the edge of the trampoline anxiously offered in unison, the trampoline girl hopping down as she spoke.


Erin, the girl who’d first led the paramedics to the scene, looked in both surprise and resentment at the two. How could either of them try for more time alongside the dark-haired cute guy without her getting a chance to try?


“That’s okay,” Johnny said with a sight grin. “I got it.”


Erin smiled at their disappointment.




Johnny hurried through the house, not looking for a gate to exit the back yard first since Erin hadn’t led them through one.


He hopped off the front porch and darted across the lawn to the Garretts’.




After having given Kathy’s vital signs and a detailed summary of her injuries to Doctor Brackett and received instructions for treating her in return, Roy explained, “Rampart, we can’t treat the victim yet. We don’t have an authorized adult on the scene. Johnny just went to get someone who can give us permission, and he should be back in a few minutes.”


“10-4, 51. Let us know when you’re able to treat her and transport.”




As he replaced the hand-held device of the biophone where it was normally stowed, Roy noticed Donna and the other two girls all eyeing the back door rather intently. He rolled his eyes. Chet would have a field day with these girls liking Johnny so much. The snarky remarks would probably last through a few shifts.


Johnny was fortunate it was just the two of them there.




Johnny rang the doorbell of the home and waited. When the door opened not much later, he didn’t have a chance to speak before the familiar man assumed he understood the situation.


“Wow, you guys are better’n Sherlock Holmes. What’d you do, have my license plate number traced?”




“If you’re here to help me with the water heater,” he interrupted, “it’s okay. I don’t need to replace it after all. I just fixed the leak not too long ago.”




Johnny felt a sudden sense of uneasiness. Sometimes it was necessary for a water heater to ‘leak’. It was usually from the relief valve and to close that off could have catastrophic results.


He didn’t get a chance to ask before the house and ground were rocked by a huge explosion from within.




As they heard a loud ‘boom!’, the ground shaking with it, the girls screamed and huddled around Roy. He and they then watched in disbelief as a large cylinder object shot up into the sky. Debris from the roof next door was carried with it by the momentum.


“What is that?” Donna asked, fear in her voice.


Roy watched as it climbed higher. It looked like. . .


A hot water heater?




Gage lay flat on his back on the grass, several feet from where he’d been standing. Small and large chunks of roofing material rained down on and around him, pummeling his legs and body as he shielded his face with his arms. He’d been thrown off the covered porch when the structure violently lurched forward, jarred partially off its foundation.


Dazed and the wind knocked out of him, he blinked hard as the shower of debris stopped. Johnny stared upward at a large projectile climbing at an alarming rate into the sky. Suddenly something peeled away from it and tumbled downward as the other continued to soar.  


It only took a second to register, and seconds was all he would have.




The water heater was airborne. Its outer skin was in a freefall to the ground. From his view, it was headed directly for him. There was no time to waste. He immediately rolled onto his belly, the assorted scattered pieces of debris on him falling off when he moved. He scrambled as he struggled to get to his feet. 




Mr. Garrett got up from the wood surface of his porch, stunned by the event. He had no idea yet what had happened, except that he’d been thrown against the doorframe before falling out of his house. Had he been near the laundry room, where the water heater was kept, he would’ve seen the massive amount of billowing steam that burst out of the bottom of the appliance as it launched like a rocket. It went through the roof, blowing out an outer and inner wall of the room in the process despite not being a fiery explosion.


He could see neighbors running and hear their shouts, though words overlapped one another. The man wondered if perhaps an earthquake had hit.


His wife Judy was out and about, shopping with her sister. He hoped she was okay.




“Stay put,” Roy directed the girls, already in stride. He was nearly to the back door of the home when one of the girls shouted, “Look!”


He turned to see that something had peeled away from the heater and now tumbled downward while the other still continued to climb in altitude. It had to be the sleeve of the appliance that had come off.


He hurried inside.




People in the surrounding area were all out of their houses, wondering what had just happened. Only one other home near the end of the house where the heater had launched from suffered any damage, though minor. The majority in the immediate area had just been shaken.


The words ‘earthquake’ and ‘explosion’ were initially heard here and there from the frightened and curious bystanders.


In seconds it became clear what had happened. Now many watched in wonder or concern as the hot water heater made its way back to earth.




Johnny heard the crash behind him and turned to see the sleeve on the ground about ten feet away. He’d narrowly escaped being underneath it.


But it wasn’t over yet. The old adage ‘what goes up must come down’ came to mind. He took a glance upward and saw that the water heater had already reached its maximum climb of a few hundred yards and now was headed straight down like a missile.


In that instant, Mr. Garrett stumbled off of his porch.


Once again, there was no time to do anything but react. Adrenaline on his side, Johnny ignored any pain he felt in his body and raced toward the older man.






Roy heard his partner’s yell as he came out of the front door. Well, at least he was still alive and apparently coherent.








Gage grabbed Garrett and tried to pull him in a direction away from the path of the water heater.


When he heard Roy’s voice, he yelled, “Here!”


In the meantime, the still dazed Mr. Garrett wasn’t being the most cooperative. There was only one thing to do. Johnny shoved him back toward the house just as the cylinder crashed hard into the ground’s surface a mere two feet from them.   


Mr. Garrett looked at the dark-haired paramedic, a baffled expression on his face.


With a sigh, Johnny semi-breathlessly explained, “I think you just created the first rocket . . . ever to launch from LA County.”


Roy eyed the damaged hot water heater as he approached. He’d seen how close it came to taking both men out, too far away at the time to do anything more than pray it did miss. It was an incredibly helpless feeling he didn’t like. At all.


With the immediate danger obviously over with, he wondered how it had gotten airborne to begin with. It had all happened in such a short span of time, there hadn’t been much speculation allowed.   


“Mrs. Garrett’s not here,” Johnny offered to his partner, to let him know they didn’t need to worry about her. “I’ve got him.”


Roy noted some scrapes and contusions on his partner’s battered forearms, a couple of bloody marks on his forehead. He also noticed him uncomfortably shift his stance.


“What about you?”


Gage wondered where he would start. Now that things had calmed down for the most part, he realized he hurt just about everywhere.




“Good Lord, what in the hell happened?” Captain Stanley wondered when Engine 51 arrived on the scene. The incident had been called into the fire department by witnesses.  Engine 51 had been dispatched, along with Squad 18.


The paramedics from 18 were already with Gage and Mr. Garrett, who were both seated on the rear bumper of their squad. Roy was once again with Kathy next door. An officer who’d come for the call made himself a temporary guardian of the minor to assure there would be no repercussions if the girl was treated.


The captain made his way over to the two victims, still eyeing the house and damaged water heater in the front yard with a look of amazement. The engine crew followed along with him.


“What happened?” He asked. Before anyone could answer, he also questioned with sincere concern, “You okay, pal?”


Gage sure didn’t look ‘okay’.  More like he’d taken a bit of a beating.


“He’s going to be sore for awhile,” one of the medics answered instead. He dabbed at one of the cuts on Johnny arm with an anticipative wipe, eliciting a look of displeasure from his patient. “But I think he’ll live.”


Gage smirked at the comment.


“I’ve been worse,” Johnny added in both reassurance to his captain and an attempt to ward guilt away from Mr. Garrett. The guy had made a serious mistake; one Johnny was sure he’d already learned a pricey lesson from, and that he’d already apologized emphatically for. It was bad enough the man had lost his house; it would have to be condemned, torn down and rebuilt. He didn’t need anymore guilt piled on top.


Not to mention he still has to face his *wife*, the paramedic thought to himself.


He sure didn’t envy him trying to explain it all to her, although she was part of the cause by thinking the water heater was malfunctioning as well.


“Well, what happened?”


Johnny glanced beyond the shoulder of the paramedic treating his many wounds.


“Cap, you aren’t gonna believe it.” He then went on to explain the whole thing, as well as where Roy was at, while Mr. Garrett again stared at his house.


While they were on the scene, the engine crew took a look inside and around the Garretts’ home.  


Very soon Chet came away from the rubble at the badly damaged end of the house carrying the convexed bottom from the heater that had blown off. “Look at this. It was left on the floor.”


The men all shook their heads in wonder.


“Who would have thought a hot water heater could do all this?’ Marco lamented.  


“Well, if the pressure builds high enough with no relief, all that steam has to go somewhere,” Hank stated. “No telling how high it got, but I’d say between 300 and 400 psi would do the trick.”


Hank glanced toward Mr. Garrett.


“Sir, you’re very lucky you or your wife weren’t near the room when that thing blew.”


He knew the steam that shot out had to have been phenomenal and beyond dangerous.


“Just tell me one thing,” Chet said to the battered paramedic.


“What’s that?”


“Tell me you didn’t try to catch it.”


Johnny rolled his eyes.




Soon the three victims were on their way to Rampart. Gage wasn’t thrilled with the idea of going, but as much as he hurt, he knew it was inevitable. He’d soon find out his left shin had a small hairline fracture and he’d cracked two ribs.  Later, deeper bruises would show up here and there on his torso and legs.


He also took advantage of the situation of being there to inquire as to how Melissa Gray was doing again. He was glad to hear that although his condition was worse than earlier in the day, hers had already markedly improved.




After a brief extra time off to heal, Johnny was back on duty. Most of the scrapes, cuts and nicks had almost healed, and the bruises were faded and yellowish.


When he came into the dayroom a few minutes before roll call, he stopped and did a double take.


There at the table were Tom Dwyer and Roy, the former with a bowl of dry Cheerios in front of him. He tossed a piece into the air, then caught it in his mouth.


“He’s been at it since 7:30,” Roy informed his partner.  “I got here early, came in for coffee and here he was.”


Dwyer nodded and grinned. “I heard you were coming back today. I’ve been practicing while you were out.”


Johnny smirked as he snatched a handful of Cheerios from Dwyer’s bowl.




But he ignored the call of protest and just tossed one of the pieces up in the air while the rest stayed secure in his closed fist.


Both Tom and Roy stared in disbelief when Johnny missed.  The dark-haired paramedic was just as shocked.


He tossed another up and missed it again.


“Oh man! I’m already outta practice!”


Dwyer flung another up for himself and caught it in his mouth.


Roy pushed back his chair and got to his feet. After putting his coffee cup in the sink, he stepped over to his disappointed partner and patted him on the shoulder.


“I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Sometimes life has a way of coming around full circle, you know. I’m sure you’ll be the champ again before long.”  He then suggested, “Let’s go line up for roll call.”


Johnny dumped the remaining cereal in his hand on the table and followed behind Roy. As he neared the doorway, he heard Dwyer call out in a poorly done British accent, “Cheerio!”


Gage made a sour face and grumbled his way out of the room





I learned about what a hot water heater can do when we watched an episode of Mythbusters. I then researched online and saw that it has happened a few times. I hope this story helps to make others aware of the dangers if either the gauge of a hot water heater isn’t working properly or if the relief valve is closed off.





*Click above to send Audrey feedback


Stories Page