By Audrey W.
(this picks up when Roy has just re-established contact with Johnny the first time.)
“Send down the oxygen,” Johnny requested.
“Okay.” Roy set down the HT and picked up the biophone receiver. “Rampart, we’ve re-established contact with Gage and we’re sending the oxygen down now.”
DeSoto watched as Chet and Marco lifted the oxygen equipment up, relieved to know that his partner and the other two victims were okay. The relief was short-lived, as yet another rumble could be heard from underneath the surface of the ground, this time much louder. Kelly and Lopez quickly tried to get the oxygen equipment lowered into the ventilation pipe, but it was to no avail. Before they could get it down to the newly cleared opening, the hole was filled with dirt again.
Roy immediately grabbed the HT and attempted to contact Gage. “HT 51, do you copy? Johnny, can you hear me?”
Hank and Mike’s shoulders sagged as Marco and Chet pulled up the undelivered equipment.
“Cap, the opening’s blocked,” Lopez explained. “Completely.”
Roy wasn’t ready to give up on making contact with his partner, and he keyed the mic on the HT again. “HT 51 . . . Johnny, this is Roy. Do_you_copy?” After thirty seconds of waiting, the blonde paramedic picked up the receiver of the biophone.
“Rampart, this is Squad 51.”
“Go ahead, 51,” came Brackett’s response.
“Rampart, we’ve had an additional cave-in at this location and have lost contact with Gage again.”
“10-4, 51. Did you get the oxygen down to them?”
“Negative, Rampart. It happened just as we were about to.”
Roy glanced around at his shift-mates. No one needed to say a word. The glum expressions said it all.
Johnny set down the HT and waited at the opening of the ventilation pipe for the oxygen to arrive. Suddenly another rumble could be heard in the ground above him.
The paramedic reached for the HT, but before he could key the mic, the rumbling sound grew louder and he instinctively scrambled towards the defenseless unconscious man to help provide some kind of protection from what was coming.
“Look out!” Was all Johnny heard from the other victim as dirt from above came down into the already small chamber. When all had settled, Andy was buried up to his chest; Johnny and Mort were partially covered by a fair amount of dirt where they lay near eachother on the floor of the confines, Johnny being closer to the main part of the cave-in. Gage could feel the weight of the dirt pressing on his hips and belly as he lay on his stomach. He was glad to see that his body had probably prevented more dirt from covering Mort, as the man beside him was only buried up to the knees. The medical supplies that had been sent down earlier were buried as well. The most amount of dirt had fallen in the center and once again where the opening to the pipe had been.
As he lifted his head, the paramedic glanced over at his other patient. “Your leg holding out okay?”
The man nodded.
“Hang on and I’ll be right over to dig you out,” Johnny assured.
“S’okay,” Andy said. “Make sure Mort’s all right first.”
Gage strained to push himself up on his hands and knees. It took a lot of determination, but finally he found himself free, dirt falling off as he moved. The effort left the paramedic somewhat exerted. Ignoring his own discomfort, he quickly went to work on uncovering Mort. Once he had him cleared, Johnny began to check the man’s vitals. It was then that he realized he’d once again lost track of the HT.
Oh man, I thought I had it in my hand. It must be near the vent opening. The thought made him sick. . .if it was buried there, it was going to take a lot of digging to find it.
However, losing the HT was one of his lesser concerns. The fact that they were in an even smaller space was more on his mind.
Captain Stanley and the others listened as the foreman on the tunnel project received an update from one of the men who had started on the efforts to dig the trapped men out.
The foreman shook his head. “Doesn’t look good. They had to clear out in a hurry. More of the tunnel collapsed.”
“What are we looking at in the way of a set back?” Hank asked.
The man shrugged. “About twelve feet of tunnel in addition to the hundred and twenty-five we had before. The section they’re looking at is almost completely closed off. They won’t know how long of a stretch it is for sure until they start digging and making progress forward. . .”
Captain Stanley glanced over at his men. Roy was once again trying to get a response from Gage on the HT. So far it looked like the blonde paramedic wasn’t having any luck.
The captain turned his attention back to the foreman. “My other paramedic can’t raise his partner on the Handie Talkie. Which means his partner either lost it, or he’s unable to respond for another reason.”
The man nodded in understanding. “The men’ll get right back on the rescue efforts.”
Stanley thanked the man, then walked over to where his men were anxiously waiting by the blocked vent shaft.
Roy stood up from his squatted position near the ground. “I can’t believe how close we were to getting the oxygen down to them. If we’d just had a few more seconds. . .”
“I know.” The captain stared at the tube and shook his head. He only hoped he would still have five men on his crew when they left this disaster.
After making sure there was no change in the first victim, Johnny crawled over the mound of newly fallen dirt, to Andy. As he neared, he could see the pain in the man’s eyes.
“Your leg hurting more under the pressure from the dirt?”
“Yeah,” the man gasped as he wiped a band of sweat off his forehead.
“I’m gonna get you unburied. The change in pressure may cause more pain, but it’s not doing you or your leg any good to be like this, either.”
“It’s okay. . .go for it.”
“Alright. Just take it easy and let me do all the work.”
The man nodded, then glanced around at the small space they were enclosed in.
“We’re in trouble here if they don’t get to us soon.”
“Yeah, well. . .let’s hold good thoughts that they will, huh?” Johnny said, as he tried to force a smile.
“I just hope nothing caved in where they were digging. They may have even more men to rescue.”
Gage didn’t know what to say. His job was to keep the victims with him calm and upbeat, along with stable and as comfortable as possible. Now wasn’t the time to demonstrate that he was a bit nervous about the situation, himself. The paramedic wished he had the HT so they could know the status outside their confines, and everyone above would know how they were fairing as well.
Roy set the biophone receiver down firmly in frustration. He’d been on the horn with Rampart again, explaining that it was going to be much longer before Johnny and the others were rescued, due to the tunnel collapsing where the rescue efforts had been started. The man sighed. It was going to be a long night.
Johnny finally cleared most of the dirt off of Andy. Wiping sweat off his face, the paramedic began to check the man’s vital signs.
“How ya doin?”
“Okay,” the injured man bit his lower lip. “I’ll. . .I’ll be. . .okay.”
“As soon as I can, I’ll try to get you the IV Rampart ordered.” He glanced over at the still buried supplies. “It may take a few minutes. After that I’ll work on digging access to the pipe again. Mort really needs that oxygen.”
Gage wrote down Andy’s current vitals. So far both injured men were fairing okay. But with the oxygen level in the hole decreasing, things were going to get worse before they got better.
“You got your radio handy?”
Johnny shook his head. “I thought I had it in my hand. I must’ve let go when I tried to shield Mort.”
“You. . .you want me to dig. . .for it?”
“Nah, it could be anywhere. And you’re gonna need your energy.” The paramedic looked at the enormous amount of dirt blocking his previously cleared path to the ventilation tube. “Let’s make getting the tube open for more oxygen in here our only priority. Then we’ll worry about the HT.”
Andy laid back and nodded. “Take it easy. You may need your energy, too, you know.”
“Yeah, that I do. . .” Johnny said as he moved toward the mound of dirt, a frown on his face. “That I do,” he repeated quietly to himself.
Roy paced restlessly near the ventilation tube, feeling helpless in the situation once again. He knew that just like with the earlier cave-in, there was nothing they could do but wait and hope Johnny would be back on the HT soon. The fact that they hadn’t heard anything from Gage concerned him. Roy knew it was unlikely that his partner would let go of the HT in light of how unstable the tunnel was, so why wasn’t he answering Roy’s calls?
As if reading his senior paramedic’s thoughts, Hank Stanley voiced his own feelings on the situation below.
“I’ve gotta admit, the lack of another response from John has me worried,” Stanley said in a low voice.
“I know. If he had the HT when it hit, I don’t think he’d let go.”
The captain quietly surveyed his other men who were still sitting around the ventilation tube, their eyes angled towards the ground as if in silent prayer, then turned his attention back to DeSoto.
“No, he wouldn’t. You know, I have to keep asking myself if I did the right thing in letting him go down there.” The captain put his hands on his hips. “But then I remember what John said. That one of ya had to go, and I know he was right. There was no other way to handle this.”
Roy nodded in agreement and sighed. “It’s just part of the risk we take and Johnny knows that.” The blonde paramedic gazed at the ventilation tube. He wished like hell that there had been an alternative choice in the situation.
Johnny wiped at the sweat on his face, as he continued to dig away at the dirt with his right hand. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been at it, but however long it was, he could tell he hadn’t gotten very far. The mound of dirt was unending and the paramedic wasn’t even sure he was digging in the correct place. He sat back on his heels and sighed, wiping away more sweat that gathered on his upper lip.
Gage glanced over at Andy. The man was watching, but looked about ready to go out on him. Johnny climbed over towards the medical supplies he’d uncovered a short time earlier. After first checking on Mort, he gathered up the items he needed to start an IV, then made his way over to the other injured man.
“I’m gonna get you hooked up here,” Johnny began to explain as he tore open the protective plastic coverings on the supplies. “Then I’ll get back to digging. It’s gonna take longer than I thought.”
“You can’t find your way to the vent tube, can you. . .” Andy stated, more than asked.
Johnny once again found himself having to force a smile of reassurance. “It’s just more dirt to dig through. It’ll take time is all.”
The paramedic swabbed a small portion of the man’s left forearm with an alcohol wipe. Andy watched as the Gage got him set up on the IV that was previously ordered by Rampart.
“He’s hanging in there. You worry about yourself, I’ll take care of your partner.” Johnny figured his words fell on deaf ears . . . he knew he’d be worried, too, if it were he and Roy in Andy and Mort’s situation. “Just take it easy, man.”
The paramedic handed the IV bag to his patient. “Here, hang on to this. If it gets to be too much on your arm to hold it, let me know and I’ll tuck it up under your shoulder on the ground.”
“Okay. Just take care of Mort.”
Johnny patted Andy’s shoulder as he turned to the enormous mound of dirt that still blocked their source of ventilation.
Chet took his gaze from the ground to Roy, who was once again trying to contact Gage below. The stocky fireman thought back to when they were still at the station just prior to receiving this call. He had accused Gage of having no heart after Johnny claimed that he and Roy couldn’t diagnose what could be wrong the new dog that had started hanging around. Kelly hoped now that the dark-haired paramedic knew he was only joking. Although he enjoyed tormenting Gage, it was always in fun. Times when Johnny’s life had been on the line, Chet realized just how close he and Johnny had become as crewmates.
Kelly’s thoughts traveled to the oxygen he and Lopez tried to get down to Gage. If they just had a couple of more seconds, they would have been successful. There was no guarantee it would have made a difference, given the fact the three men below could be completely buried at the moment. But what if it had?
Chet glanced at Marco beside him. He wondered if his friend was thinking about the same thing. A minute later, when Lopez returned the stocky fireman’s stare, Chet could see by the grim expression on his face that he probably was.
As time passed, Hank Stanley couldn’t help but to keep checking his watch. It had been longer than he hoped and still there was no word of the rescuers getting through to the men below.
Roy had backed off on calling Johnny on the HT, and now sat on the ground near the biophone; he occasionally would give updates to Rampart. The captain could tell his senior paramedic was beside himself with concern for his partner. But no amount of assurances was going to help. Neither one had any idea what the conditions were directly below them, thus neither could sound convincing that everything was going to turn out okay in the end. . .
Memory of a rescue they had all been on earlier in the day came rushing back to mind. When it was possible a victim was trapped in a burning building in a secret room, one of the men there had discouraged them from going right in. Hank had firmly told him that a man without oxygen could be brain dead in four minutes. He hoped that wasn’t the case now.
Hank leaned with his hands on the lip of the ventilation tube and peered inside. He remained that way, almost trying to will the dirt below to make some sort of movement, as a sign that John was possibly alive and okay.
Johnny had succeeded in digging aside some of the dirt, but there was still no sign of the opening to the ventilation tube, or the HT. He’d taken a couple of breaks to check on the victims trapped with him, and although Mort was still having a difficult time breathing on the right side, he was holding his own. The injured man was beginning to show signs of consciousness, though he wasn’t coherent enough to know what was going on around him.
Andy had given up on holding his IV bag, and Gage got it set to where it was placed under the man’s left shoulder while Andy lay on the ground. The victim was complaining of fatigue, a possible result of the oxygen level within the chamber dropping, or just the fact he’d been through so much. Johnny hadn’t been certain which it was just yet.
The dark-haired paramedic once again took a break from digging and sat back on his heels, wiping sweat off of his face. His blue shirt was soaked with perspiration. The decrease in the level of oxygen and dehydration beginning to set in, Gage was beginning to feel weak. The man sighed. If he kept up the digging, he was going to continue to use up oxygen quicker with his exertion. But if he stopped, there would be no chance of getting more air until the other rescuers broke through. It was a no-win situation, but he opted for the one that would benefit the other two victims more. Johnny decided he would sit it out, just keeping tabs on Andy and Mort, and wait for help to arrive.
Mike Stoker wandered over to Hank, joining him in his stare into the blackness below.
“Any sound of movement?” Stoker asked.
The captain shook his head, frowning. “No.”
“If anyone can get through something like this, it’s Johnny.”
Captain Stanley looked back into the tube. “I hope so, Mike. I hope so.”
Gage sat against the dirt wall near Mort. It was getting more difficult to concentrate as he grew light headed, so the paramedic thought it was best to be near the most severely injured victim in the event the man took a turn for the worst.
Mort was having more difficulty with his breathing, but there was nothing Johnny could do. He hoped their rescuers were close to getting through.
"You think . . . they'll find us . . . in time?"
The weak voice broke into Gage's thoughts. He looked over at Andy and nodded. "Yeah. . .they will."
The dark-haired paramedic blinked hard to clear his vision, as the interior of the dimly lit chamber began to fade to a pinpoint. The dehydration was starting to have an effect on him. As he brought his surroundings back into focus, he could tell the light provided by the large flashlight was wavering. It wouldn’t be much longer and they’d be left in total darkness.
After finishing another update with Rampart, Roy set the biophone receiver down and picked up the HT. He didn’t expect to make contact with his partner, but there was no way he was giving up on the man. Even if Johnny couldn’t get to the HT below, it was possible he could hear Roy’s voice and maybe that was just as important under the circumstances. DeSoto refused to believe Gage was anything but alive.
Johnny was feeling dizzy and his fatigue was increasing. Hindsight being 20/20, he wasn’t berating himself for trying to dig an opening to the ventilation tube. He knew he’d done what he thought was best for the three of them at the time. But now it was evident, the better choice would have been to sit it out and wait, reserving as much oxygen in the small confines as possible.
The exhaustion taking over, Johnny’s eyelids drooped slightly as he fought to stay awake. The paramedic knew determination was everything now. He would have to try to keep himself from giving in to the lethargic feeling that was enveloping him.
The foreman of the tunnel project came rushing up to where the crew from 51 were waiting.
Hank trotted over to meet the man. “What’s up?”
“They broke through, but we’re gonna need you guys. All three men need medical attention ASAP.”
Captain Stanley didn’t waste a second. He got his men set with the equipment required and the remaining crew of A-Shift quickly hurried down to where the rescue efforts had been underway for hours.
Mike and Marco helped Roy with Andy and Mort, while Chet placed an oxygen mask on Johnny. Roy would have preferred to take care of his partner, but he knew the more seriously injured men were where his priorities should be. As the senior paramedic followed instructions from Joe Early, who had taken over for Brackett at Rampart, he glanced at Gage.
“Hang in there, Junior. We’ll have you out of here soon.”
Johnny pulled the oxygen mask down off his face. “Man, next time . . .you go . . .down,” he spoke quietly.
Roy grinned as he reached over and placed the mask back in place.
“You’ve got a deal. You can be on the waiting and wondering end.”
The younger man smiled underneath the mask. He could only imagine what Roy had been going through. Maybe he had the easier half of the deal, afterall.
The men who had been in on digging out the three victims, helped with bringing the injured men up out of the tunnel and to emergency transportation. Mort’s condition was the only one classified as urgent, thus he was whisked into a waiting helicopter. Roy climbed in to take care of the man on the way to Rampart, leaving Andy and his partner in the care of the paramedics from Squad 45, who had arrived at the scene just as the victims were brought topside.
Chet held Gage’s IV bag as the dark-haired paramedic was carried on a stretcher to an ambulance. After a quick briefing on the two men’s conditions, the ambulance was on its way with FF/PM Mike Donovan monitoring Johnny and Andy’s condition.
As they watched the vehicle leave the scene, Hank patted Chet on the back. It was times like this that the captain could tell Kelly respected Gage more than he normally let on.
“He’ll be okay. Take the squad in, and pick up Roy at the hospital. Tell him I’ll try to have a replacement for Gage by the time you two get back to the station. I’m sure John’ll have a bed at Rampart for the rest of the night, if not more.”
Chet nodded. “Sure, Cap.”
As he walked towards the squad, he heard Hank call out, “And when you see John, tell him I said to take it easy!”
Chet cracked a smile. The captain knew his men too well. The stocky fireman and Roy would both make sure they saw Gage before they left Rampart.
Chet met up with Roy in the corridor near Dixie’s desk. DeSoto gave a wan smile as he watched the fireman approach.
“Any word on Johnny yet?” Kelly wondered.
“No, but he’s in room three. Brackett came back on shift after a break, and is in there with him now.”
“You know, I thought Johnny had finally lost the odds this time.”
“Yeah, I kept telling myself he was okay. But that’s just it. . .I had to keep reminding myself over and over that he could be alright.”
“With his kind of luck, remind me never to play poker with ‘im, huh?”
Roy smiled wider and shook his head. So much for Chet staying sentimental. The door to Treatment Room Three opened and Kel Brackett stepped out. The two firemen waited as the doctor approached them.
“How is he, Doc?”
“He’s fine, Roy. Just dehydrated and he has a headache from being in the thinner oxygen. But he’s going to be okay.” The doctor watched as the two men each breathed a sigh of relief. “We’re gonna keep him for observation the rest of the night and leave him on an IV awhile to replace the fluids he lost. But I’m sure he’ll be released in the morning.”
“Can we see ‘im?” Chet asked.
“Sure. Just keep it brief. We’ll need to get him settled in a room soon.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Roy said as both he and Chet nodded in understanding. They stepped away from the doctor and headed for room three.
Johnny watched as the door opened. When he saw that it was Chet and Roy, he grinned and pulled down the oxygen mask that had been over his nose and mouth..
“Don’t you guys have work to do?” His voice was unusually quiet and the younger paramedic sounded tired.
“Hey, don’t be so quick to get rid of us,” Kelly said, jokingly. “We might be the only visitors you get.”
Roy smiled at the banter between the two men, then looked at his still filthy partner. “So how ya feel?”
“Like I just spent the day in a gopher hole.”
Roy snickered. “You look like it, too.” He continued on as Johnny held up his own dirt-covered hands and studied them. “Brackett says you should be released by tomorrow morning.”
Chet shook his head. “You have to be nuts, Gage. You’re all set for a night with nurses . . .you’re not hurt bad, but just enough to get a lot of attention from them. Man, you’ve got it made!”
“Yeah, I know. But it’s still a hospital. No one likes to stay in a hospital if they don’t have to.”
“Look at the bright side,” Roy added, “the Hubbards are still here somewhere. Or at least he is. Maybe you’ll get a room with him.”
Johnny rubbed at his throbbing forehead. “Oh thanks,” he said, his voice still sounding weak. “Like I needed a reminder of them. No wonder this day turned out like it did.” He shook his head slightly, being careful not to cause his already aching head to hurt more. “No way, man. If they even try to room me with him, I’m outta here. Even if I have to get Dix to plead my case.”
The senior paramedic glanced at his watch. “Well, I guess we’d better get back to the station.”
“’Kay. Oh, hey. . .how’re Mort and Andy?”
“They’re gonna be okay. We got Mort here in record time, once he was out, and Doctor Early took care of him. He won’t be working anytime soon . . .but at least he’s gonna be on the road to recovery.”
“Yeah, thanks. That’s good to hear.”
“See ya next shift, Johnny,” Chet said as he left the room.
Roy stood in the doorway a moment, eyeing his partner. “Take it easy.”
The younger paramedic watched as the door shut behind his friends, then put the oxygen mask back in place, closing his eyes to rest.
The following shift, Johnny came wandering into the dayroom minutes before roll call. After giving a good morning greeting to the other A-Shift members gathered around the table and near the counter, he noticed the new Bassett Hound was still hanging around on the couch.
“Well, hey there!” Gage said, walking over to the dog. As he petted the animal, he glanced over his shoulder at the others. “So, anyone think of a name for this guy yet?”
Chet got up from his seat at the table and started towards Gage. “Yeah, we named him Henry.”
“Henry? Hmmm.” Johnny looked at the dog. “Well, I guess you could be a ‘Henry’.”
Hank Stanley walked into the dayroom just in time to hear Johnny’s comment. The captain folded his arms across his chest and addressed the man still by the dog. “There is a stipulation on calling him ‘Henry’ that you may not be aware of. I--”
“Never want to hear him called Hank.” Came the answer from the other four men in unison.
Johnny smiled and nodded. He could just imagine the captain’s reaction when someone had come up with the name for the dog. “Sure, Cap.”
“So,” Stanley said, clapping his hands together, “now that we’ve got that out of the way, are we ready for roll call?”
As the men followed the captain out of the dayroom, Johnny looked over his shoulder at Henry and paused.
“Despite what Cap says, you do kinda look like a Hank,” the paramedic said softly.
“Better not let Cap hear you say that,” Roy warned his partner, “or the time you spent trapped by that cave-in, will seem like a day at the beach when you compare it to the week's worth of latrine duty he'll probably assign you.”
“Good point,” Johnny agreed, as he and Roy hurried to catch up with their shift-mates, and Henry snuggled deeper into the sofa at his new home - Los Angeles County Fire Station 51.
My thanks to Kenda for the beta read and help in coming up with the last few lines of this story! I got stuck. lol Thanks to Jane for the encouragement! :o) Any errors are mine alone. :o)