By Judy Theis
Copious smoke billowed out from the upstairs windows and attic vents when the squad and engine from Station 51 pulled up to the scene. The men exited the vehicles quickly, already pulling on breathing apparatus as they moved. Cap looked over the situation and immediately called in another alarm, knowing this could get ugly very quickly. Just as he finished the call, he suddenly noticed a young woman come stumbling out of the heavily smoking structure, falling to her knees as she was overcome by coughing.
“Roy! John!” Cap yelled over, motioning to his paramedic team.
As the men turned to grab their equipment, a sharp explosion from an upstairs window interrupted them. Flames shot out as the structure became fully involved. Their attention was torn from the building as they heard a strangled scream from the victim, who was suddenly on her feet again and rushing toward her burning home.
Johnny and Roy were after her like a shot, followed closely by Captain Stanley. They managed to catch up to her just before she made it onto the porch. She fought their holds violently. Finally, Johnny got hold of her upper arms and turned her to face him.
What he saw tore at his heart. Johnny always tried to keep himself aloof from the emotional situations that were unavoidable in their line of work, but it was something he never found easy to do. The woman’s face was black with soot, white trails of tears stood out starkly as they tracked their way down her anguished face. Her eyes were huge; her mouth trembled as she locked gazes with Johnny, suddenly grabbing his turnout coat in a deathlike grip as she spoke in a raspy voice.
“Please, my baby! My baby is still in there! H-help her…please…*cough*…she’s all I have!”
“Okay, ma’am. Calm down. Where is she?” Johnny said calmly. His heart fell. As much as he loved what he did, it tore at his very soul when children were involved. But it also made him more determined than ever to do whatever he could to help: what he was trained to do. That’s why he did what he did to begin with: to make a difference.
Without another word, he handed the terrified woman off to cap and grabbed his mask. Locking eyes with Roy, he nodded to him and they headed inside.
“Be careful! You don’t have much time!” Cap yelled as he hugged the woman to him as he tried to lead her away.
She didn’t want to go. She stared at the retreating backs of the brave firemen, looking again at her burning home. Suddenly, she was as terrified for the firemen as she was for her daughter. How would they ever find her alive in that? And either one could succumb to the same thing that was threatening her child, she thought with horror. The terrified woman remembered how neither one had hesitated, once they knew someone was in the burning structure.
Before she realized it, Cap had led her to the growing crowd of onlookers and entrusted her to their care until the other station paramedics could get here and check her out. He had to get his men working on this fire. It already had a good hold, and it was more dangerous than he liked, but he knew Johnny and Roy had had no choice but to go in. If there was the barest chance the child was still alive in that inferno, they had to take the chance.
“Chet! Marco! Get two inch and a half’s and cover Gage and DeSoto as best you can!” Cap called, seeing his men responding instantly as usual.
Cap knew the situation could deteriorate quickly, and got on the handy talkie again to request the ETA on his backup. Before he had a chance to check, he heard the sirens approaching. Switching frequencies, he contacted the captain of the responding engine and informed them he needed their men to start ventilation, and to inform their squad they had a victim of smoke inhalation to attend to. His eyes darted to the woman in question, worried because they had not had time to get her on oxygen, but she seemed fine as she clung helplessly to her neighbor. Cap was satisfied she was in good hands and turned his attention back to getting this blaze under control. He worried about Johnny and Roy, and watched as Chet and Marco set up in front of the house.
After a few minutes, Cap noticed the signs that the blaze was getting out of hand. He had no choice! It was going to flash. The veteran firefighter felt it, and knew he had to pull his men out now!
Just as he was signaling Mike to blow the evacuate signal, his worst fears were realized. The front of the building exploded outward in a rush of smoke and flames, knocking Kelly and Lopez off their feet. Cap stumbled back, instinctively ducking and covering as the explosion ended, and flames shot out of the once open doorway. The deadly fire crawled its way around the edges of the frame, looking like a living animal as it devoured everything in its path.
Cap’s heart beat rapidly in his chest, his thoughts going immediately to his two men inside, when he suddenly heard a horrendous scream. Looking towards the group of onlookers, Cap saw the woman break away from her protectors and bolt for the house. He barely had time to intercept her as she flew by him. Holding her firmly, Cap tried to gently lead her away. He saw, to his immense relief out of the corner of his eyes, that Chet and Marco were already back on their feet, hoses in hand, trying to slay the beast.
Suddenly, movement inside the home caught his eye, as it did the woman in his arms. Stopping abruptly, both stared at the front door. Apparently Chet and Marco saw it too, because they quickly switched the angle of their respective hoses, and a wall of water began raining down on the burning porch.
The woman gasped in Cap’s arms as she stared at the burning doorway. All she could see was the fire, red and hungry as it curled its way around the doorjamb, undulating and snaking its way up the sides of her home like a thing alive. The events that occurred over the next few seconds seemed to slow to a crawl, as she saw everything as if in a slow motion movie effect.
Even if her baby was still alive, there was no way the two brave firefighters could make it back out of that hellhole. The hope began to die within her heart, crushing her, when suddenly, two men burst through the raging fire. The one on the left was bent over as if he were in pain, both arms wrapped around his chest as he ran blindly, guided by his companion who had a firm hold on his turnout coat.
The woman stared in awe, the picture of the two firemen emerging through the flames burned into her memory. She watched as they stumbled through the wall of water that was suddenly dousing them with its icy relief, steam rising from their overheated turnout coats. She watched dumbfounded, things still moving in slow motion, as the one she thought to be in pain slowly straightened. Unwrapping his arms from around his chest, she saw he wasn’t hurt at all, but cradling something protectively to his chest.
The other man helped him to undo his turnout coat, which was charred black with soot, and remove a squirming bundle. The woman gasped as her trembling fingers flew to her mouth in utter disbelief when she realized the squirming bundle was her daughter! Her beautiful daughter, who was even then wrapping tiny arms around her rescuer, was sobbing loudly. The cry was the most beautiful sound in the world to the frightened mother.
Screaming in pure joy, she broke free from Captain Stanley’s grasp and grabbed her child joyously from Johnny’s arms. Smiling softly, Johnny allowed her to take the child as he watched Squad 45’s paramedics approach with blankets and oxygen. They would take over their care.
Johnny, suddenly overcome with fatigue, dropped to one knee and leaned with his hand on his knee, breathing deeply. Feeling a clout on his back, he looked over at Roy who was bent over at the waist, also breathing deeply.
“That was too close, junior.” Roy said to Johnny, grinning at his friend.
“You got that right, pally.” Johnny responded with a tired smile.
Suddenly Cap was there, looking closely at his men. He couldn’t believe they had come out of this unscathed. “You guys all right?” He asked, laying a hand on each of their shoulders.
“Never better, Cap. Never better.” Johnny said. This was why they did the job. The good ones. The saves.
Cap grinned broadly and gave them both friendly clouts on the arm.
“45 have the victims. Go take a breather by the engine. Nice job, guys. Nice job.” Cap said, grinning like a Cheshire cat. That was one for the good guys, he thought as he went back to supervise getting the blaze knocked back. Kelly and Lopez, joined by the men from Engine 45, were making steady headway getting the monster under control.
Johnny and Roy made it tiredly to their feet, their faces black with soot and sweat. They were exhausted and a little singed around the edges, but they hardly noticed. Things had gone right this time, and that’s all they needed or wanted.
Walking over to the engine, Johnny slapped Mike on the back on his way by. Mike looked over, grinning as he nodded to them, keeping his watchful eyes on his gauges and dials at the same time. Bending quickly to a compartment near his post, he took out two bottles of water and whistled at Johnny and Roy.
When they turned to look, he tossed the bottles to them, which they caught deftly. Waving a hand to them in salute, Mike turned his attention back to his engine. Roy and Johnny proceeded to remove their heavy SCBA’s, and began pouring water over their heads. Pausing to drink deeply of the cool refreshing water.
The woman sat on the yellow blanket, still in shock over what she had seen. Her baby was fine. Other than black soot, there was not a mark on her. She looked over at what was once her home, hardly caring that she was now homeless. The precious bundle in her arms was all that she would ever need.
Her eyes traveled to the fire engine—and the two men who had risked their lives to save her baby. The woman knew a thing or two about fires, knowing full well that ordinarily the men would not have been allowed to attempt a rescue. She couldn’t get over their selflessness, their dedication; the unflagging spirit that drove them to save a life at all costs.
She watched for a moment as they rested, pouring water over their heads and drinking deeply from the bottles they held. The woman observed them as they smiled unselfconsciously at one another, as if what they had done was all in a day’s work. How could she ever thank them for what they had done? Mere words would never be enough to express her emotions adequately. Her gift was with the English language, having made a career out of her writing, but for the first time in her life she didn’t know how to express her undying gratitude to these unsung heroes. Everyday men who just happened to risk their lives for the sake of strangers. Off duty, they were no different from the average person she came in contact with on a daily basis. She probably would not be able to pick them out of a crowd if her life depended on it. On duty, well, they glowed with an aura all their own. Why do they do it? Her musings were interrupted and she pulled back to the here and now.
Her attention was drawn back to her baby, as the kind paramedic was saying they had to load her into the ambulance. Nodding and smiling, she allowed him to take her child, running a hand through the wispy blond hair as he rose with her in his arms. The child seemed perfectly happy to be with him, her terror of moments ago forgotten as she played with the man’s shiny badge.
Standing, the woman leaned over and whispered something to the other paramedic who was packing up their equipment. He looked at her for a moment, then smiled gently, nodding his assent. Smiling back, she turned and faced the two men who had given her back her life.
Roy and Johnny were just starting to shrug back into their gear, ready to get back to the business of knocking back the fire, when Johnny felt a gentle hand on his arm. Turning, he was surprised to see the much-improved young mother standing there, staring at him. Johnny noticed her eyes shining brightly with emotion, her mouth was moving, but no sound would emerge at first as she struggled to express her emotions.
She reached up and gently placed her hands on his dirty cheeks.
“Thank you.” She managed to whisper. “You will never know what you have done for me. For her. She will never forget. I won’t let her. You are my heroes. Both of you. I…I…” Suddenly, she couldn’t speak over the lump that had formed in her throat.
Standing on tiptoe she planted a gentle kiss on Johnny’s sooty cheek and released her hold on him. Turning to Roy, she grabbed him and hugged him to her, whispering her thanks in a choked voice as she kissed him, too. Turning abruptly, she hurried away towards the ambulance. The men watched her climb aboard, and the ambulance left with its precious cargo.
Roy and Johnny exchanged glances, their own eyes shining with emotion. Smiling happily, they both turned to join the others hard at work battling the beast. It was times like this that made all the heartache and hard work worth it. Their step was jaunty as they rejoined the crew and resumed doing the job they loved so much.
~ * ~ * ~
Two days had passed and the men of Station 51 were starting another shift. Roy was walking into the kitchen after roll call, prepared to start his day with a cup of coffee as usual.
Mike sat at the table and opened the newspaper he had just retrieved from the front of the building. Suddenly, all were startled by his excited shout. “Hey, guys! Check it out!” He said, as he turned the paper for all to see.
On the front page, a large color picture could be seen of two men running from a burning building. They were framed in the burning doorway, the flames surrounding them with its deadly ambiance. An amateur photographer that had been in the group of neighbors who had gathered had taken the picture. The man knew Mary well, and was more than happy to give her a copy of his picture, knowing full well how she intended to use it and heartily agreeing.
The crew were mesmerized by
the awesome picture, but finally turned their attention to the accompanying
article. Roy and Johnny blushed happily at the headline.
“Everyday Heroes” was the title. It was by a woman reporter named Mary Jones; the mother of the child they had rescued! It turned out she had lost her husband recently in a car accident, leaving her alone to raise their handicapped daughter. The child, Emily, was five years old and had Down’s syndrome.
“Five? But that baby was tiny! She couldn’t have been that old!”
“She looks younger than she is because of her condition.”
They all jerked around at the sound of the feminine voice. Standing in the kitchen doorway was Mary Jones and Emily. They couldn’t help but stare at the beautiful child. Hair of spun gold reached down past her shoulders with the biggest bluest eyes any of them had ever seen. She locked eyes with Johnny and unhesitantly reached her chubby arms out to the startled man, giggling happily.
“She remembers you!” Mary said, with tears in her eyes.
All watched with similar grins as Johnny gently took the little girl in his arms where she snuggled happily. Chet walked over and started cooing at the child, holding his hands out to see if she would come to him.
Johnny turned away from Chet as the child laughed happily. “I’ve got her, Chet. Go away.” He said as he bounced the child on his hip, eliciting more laughter.
“Aw come on, Gage. Give someone else a chance.” Chet said trying to get the child’s attention. Suddenly Johnny was surrounded by firefighters, namely Chet, Marco and Mike, all wanting a chance to hold the little girl.
Captain Stanley stood with Roy and Mary and watched his men’s antics, noticing how much the little girl was loving the attention. “Bunch of overgrown twits!” He said shaking his head, smiling happily.
“Roy, I just wanted to thank you again for what you and Johnny did. I can never thank you, or repay you.”
“We don’t expect that. We were just…”
“Don’t you dare say you were just doing your jobs!” she turned on him angrily. Locking eyes with him. “That was more than just a job. Both of you could have been killed. I’ve done pieces on The LA Fire Department before. I do my homework. I know darn well that house was too far-gone for you to safely attempt that rescue. I know what you did, and believe me I will never forget it.” She said, her tone softening. “Ever since Kyle died, she has become my life. She is so sweet and innocent. She looks a lot like her daddy. He was never disappointed in her, not ever. Never regretted that she wasn’t a normal baby. She is so special, so precious. I can’t tell you what you’ve done for me. Thank you again.” She said as she hugged Roy, then turned and hugged the surprised Captain.
They went to join in the commotion that raged around the little girl. Mary laughed at the sounds of protest as Cap swooped in and plucked the tiny child from Johnny’s arms, holding her above his head and smiling broadly. Bringing her down, he settled her into the crook of his arm as he poked her round belly, making her laugh.
The guys once again started to protest, and Cap shot them his best ‘that’s enough look.’ They instantly desisted and he nodded his head once, smiling again.
“Rank do have its privileges!” Cap said to no one in particular, as he walked to the couch with his bundle.
The others grumbled but followed Cap meekly, hoping to have a chance to hold and play with Emily. Roy laughed as he turned to invite the two for lunch, which Mary gladly accepted.
It wasn’t often that they got the thanks they so readily deserved, but never sought, for what they did. The satisfaction in a job well done was all they needed or wanted. Meeting Emily, though, had its rewards. Roy thought of his own children as he watched his partner finally manage to get the little girl back in his arms, Johnny’s eyes alight with delight. They saw a lot of tragedy and heartache in their line of work, at times making the men wonder if it was worth it.
Looking into the startling blue eyes of the happy child and the look on Mary’s face, Roy had his answer. Yes, sometimes it was all very much worth it.