Disclaimer: The characters from Emergency! don’t belong to me. Just having more holiday fun.
From the Ashes
By: Vanessa Sgroi
Fireman Chet Kelly watched as the last spark of life left in the fire winked out. He and his partner, Marco Lopez, continued to douse the area with water for long minutes to make sure the flames were well and truly gone before finally shutting down the hose. Steam and the acrid scent of char rose from what was left of the structure, a single-family home. Now reduced to a pile of rubble.
Chet yelled out to Mike Stoker, Station 51’s engineer, and then removed his helmet to run his hands through his sweat-soaked hair. His gaze wandered over to the family whose home had just gone up in flames. The father sat on the ground, a dazed look on his face. Three little children huddled around him. One held an empty leash. All had tears running down their sooty faces. Nearby, Station 51’s paramedics, Roy DeSoto and John Gage, worked diligently to save the man’s wife . . . and his unborn child. The paramedics had rescued her mere moments before the structure had collapsed.
“Sure was a bear to put out,” Marco commented.
Kelly turned away with regret in his eyes. “What?”
“I said this sure was a bear to put out.”
“Yeah. A real bitch to put out,” anger coated the firefighter’s words, “Two days before Christmas and someone burns down your house. With you and your wife and kids inside.” Chet took another angry swipe at his unruly hair.
The stocky firefighter felt a tug on his turnout coat. He looked down to see one of the children gazing back at him.
“Mister, do you . . . do you know where Pepper is?”
The little boy held up the leash he was holding in a tight grip. “Pepper. My dog.”
Chet swallowed hard and glanced over at the ruined house. Squatting down, he drew the little boy close. “Son, I don’t think Pepper made it out.”
Big tears tracked down the boy’s cheeks.
In a voice old beyond its years, he whispered, “I . . . I d-d-didn’t think so. Is . . . is my m-m-mommy going to die too? Like Pepper?”
Chet felt a lump form in the back of his throat. Throwing an arm around the boy’s shoulders, he pointed toward the paramedics.
“You see those guys there? The guys helping your mom? Well, they’re the best two guys in the world, and they’re going to do everything they can.”
“O-o-okay.” The little guy sniffled and rubbed hard at his wet cheeks.
“Let’s get you back to your dad.”
He walked the child over to his father and said a few words before rejoining Marco. There was a lot more work for them to do.
* * *
Chet was quiet when they returned to the station. The mustached man showered and changed then disappeared into the dorm to complete his task as earlier assigned. He was almost done when he heard the squad back into the apparatus bay. The firefighter went out to greet them.
“Hey you guys, how’s that lady going to be? The wife?”
Johnny and Roy both offered small smiles, but it was Johnny who spoke first.
“It looks like she’s gonna make it, Chet. Her and the baby! It was tricky there for a while but . . .”
“Good. That’s good.” Kelly watched as the two men headed for the kitchen, presumably for coffee. He turned and headed back to the dorm. After making up the last bunk, Chet returned to his and sat down, lost in thought.
* * *
Roy poured two cups of coffee and handed one to his partner. They both wearily sat down at the table with Marco and Mike and shared their good news.
“Hey,” Marco said, “did you guys see Chet and tell him?”
The dark-haired paramedic shot Lopez a puzzled look. “Yeah, we just saw him. Why?”
“He’s been acting strange since that fire. Real quiet.”
“Maybe he’s just tired like the rest of us.”
“Nah, I don’t think that’s it. I even tried to talk about one of his favorite movies on TV tonight, but he wasn’t listening. He hasn’t said two words to any of us since we got back. I thought your news might cheer him up.”
“I’ll go check on him.” Despite the usual bickering and trading of practical jokes, Johnny and Chet were still friends underneath it all.
* * *
“Hey, Chester B.”
“What do you want, Gage? I’m not in the mood to be bugged.”
“What? You’re only in the mood if you get to do the bugging, huh?” Seeing that his little joke fell flat, Johnny continued on, “I’m not here to bug you. Marco says you’ve been real quiet since that fire, and I wanted to know if I could help.”
“You did already. You said the lady’s gonna live.”
“But?” The odd resonance in Kelly’s voice clued Gage in that there was more.
“But, I can’t get those kids out of my mind. I know we’re not supposed to get involved. It’s the time of year though. Christmas,” Chet paused and shook his head, “To be purposely burned out of your home at Christmas. It’s bad enough when it’s an accident.”
“I hear ya.”
“Then the kid came and asked for his dog. And I had to tell him that it . . .”
“Chet, you know you did everything you could. We all did. We’re lucky they got out alive. You gave us the time.”
“I think I want to do something for those kids. For Christmas. Does that sound stupid?”
“No . . . no, it doesn’t. In fact, it sounds very generous to me. Maybe we could all chip in.”
“You think the guys would do that?”
“I bet they would. Why don’t we go ask ‘em?”
As Johnny had predicted, the rest of the A-shift crew was enthusiastic about the idea. Though none of them could spare a large amount, they decided to pool their money together and get what they could.
* * *
Bright and early on Christmas morning, a knock sounded on door of Room 34B of the Sunnyside Motel on Fairmont. The summons was answered by a weary, dispirited Thomas Gentry. The motel room was small for the four of them, but the Red Cross was generously providing the shelter until he was able to make other arrangements.
“Mr. Gentry? I’m Chet Kelly with the L.A. County Fire Department. This is Marco Lopez and John Gage. We . . . we worked on your house the other day and, well, since it’s Christmas, we brought your kids some stuff.”
“I can’t believe this,” Tom’s face brightened considerably, “Come in. Come in, please. I was just going to get the kids ready to go see Gina at the hospital. I thought . . . it might distract them from not having anything to open.”
The three men entered the room, their arms loaded with gaily-wrapped gifts.
“Would you like some coffee? I have a little coffee pot. I can make some.”
“No. No, that all right. We just wanted to drop these off.”
They placed the packages on the small round table against the wall and watched as the children eagerly gathered around. Chet called out names, leaving Marco and Johnny to hand out the gifts. There was even a small one for both Tom and Gina.
The three firemen watched as the children tore into their gifts.
“Oh, I have one more for you all. It’s in my van. I’ll be right back.” Chet slipped out the door. A few minutes went by before he returned. In his arms was cradled a small black and white puppy. He walked over to the oldest little boy; the one who’d tugged on his turnout coat at the fire.
“I know this isn’t Pepper. But, he needed a home and a bunch of kids to love him. And I thought of you.”
Sheer joy radiated from the young boy’s blue eyes as he hugged the pup close and nuzzled him. The puppy’s pink tongue bathed his face.
Turning to Mr. Gentry, Chet murmured, “I hope it’s okay. You know, the puppy and all. I know it’s not a good time . . .”
“Okay? My God, I can’t thank you all enough! You saved my children and wife. That was enough of a Christmas present for me. But this? This is incredible!” He reached out and shook their hands, “I know this sounds ridiculous, but if there’s ever anything I can do for any of you. Ever – let me know!”
With that, they said their goodbyes and the three firefighters went on their way, eager for what the rest of Christmas Day may bring. As the door clicked shut behind them, squeals of delight and laughter could be heard from inside the room. Chet paused for a moment and savored the sound. His heart was just a little bit lighter as he walked toward his van.
* * * The End * * *
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