By Audrey W.
Hank Stanley glanced down at the clip board in his right hand as he continued with the morning meeting for the start of his crew’s shift.
“Okay, let’s see. . .next on the agenda would be the annual toy drive.”
“Try not to play with them all this time, Chet,” John Gage teased from his place in line. Chet Kelly leaned forward slightly to see past the two men between he and the paramedic so he could address the comment face-to-face.
“Very funny, John. That was so funny I forgot to laugh.”
“That’s the best you can do?”
“I’m just getting warmed up. Give me--”
“All right, all right, you two.” The captain sighed. “Can we just get through this please?”
The men all stood silently, waiting for him to go on.
“That’s better. Now, we all know that our Toys for Tots participation has always gone pretty good. The fire department has been able to help the Marines achieve their goals for the children for quite a few years, and we’ve all enjoyed knowing we’ve made lots of kids happy. But this year, the department has decided to add something to make it more fun for all of you. I guess you could say there’s been a little incentive added.”
He paused in anticipation of more remarks. When none came, Hank continued.
“The station with the most amount of toys collected will have a four-course dinner prepared by the station with the least amount collected, and we just have to stay within our usual area we cover for runs.”
“What if one station is in a more generous area than another?” Marco wondered.
“Yeah, he’s right, Cap,” Johnny agreed. “Or a richer area, where people can afford to spend more money?”
The others nodded in agreement.
“Maybe there should be a toy spread. . .like a points spread in football,” engineer Mike Stoker suggested.
The others grinned, again nodding in agreement as Johnny patted him on the back.
“Mike, that’s a great idea, man. A great idea.”
“Now wait a minute,” the captain broke in, ready to regain control of the subject. “Headquarters has set the rules and we’re going to play by them, win or lose.”
“But, Cap,” Chet began before being interrupted.
“Kelly, it’s fair. One of the rules is that we can donate as much as we want, too. So if we go by that, then how well this station does is partially in our control.”
“Cap,” Johnny’s partner Roy began, “Wouldn’t it be keeping more with the Christmas spirit just to be concerned about what the kids get than us winning a free meal?”
“Of course. And we will be. We’ll still be making lots of under privileged children smile, and I know, happily so. But this is just to put some added fun in it for the crews. It’s also about pride. Don’t forget, two other shifts are gonna be depending on us to help give us all the pride of having collected the most toys for the tots.”
The men accepted the idea after giving it a bit more thought.
All of the firemen and paramedics in Los Angeles County were to volunteer some of their time off for the toy drive, as they’d done previous years. Most had large cardboard boxes they’d decorated with Christmas paper that they took with them for people to put the donations in. A few just used a few large plastic or cloth bags. All the stations had red barrels for donations made at their locations. There would be two left out in front of the buildings during the day.
As Johnny and Roy headed back to the station from Rampart after picking up some supplies in the morning, they discussed what they’d do for their upcoming part in the toy drive.
“How ‘bout tomorrow from about ten in the mornin’ till say. . .two? Providing we don’t have a real busy night, that is,” Johnny clarified.
“Sure. That should work. Especially since it’s Saturday. Should be a lot of people out and about.”
“Good deal then. And don’t forget, your kids are off so they can come along again, huh?”
Roy glanced over, then shook his head. “Joanne said ‘no’ to them joining us this season. She said we’re exploiting them.”
Johnny’s mouth dropped open in both stunned surprise and protest. He turned in his seat to face the older man.
“But the kids love it! Roy, they have a really good time. An’ don’t forget, they learn the meaning of givin’ to those who have less.”
“I know. You don’t have to remind me. But I also know I want a harmonious holiday at home and if I go against Jo’s wishes, it’s going to be the opposite.”
“Man, are ya sure you can’t talk Joanne into lettin’ the kids participate?”
Roy nodded. “Believe me, she was very firm in her stance on the subject.”
“Man,” Johnny grumbled again.
He couldn’t hide his disappointment.
The paramedics weren’t back at the station long before they and the engine crew were sent out on a run, along with two engines from other stations. It was for a structure fire. When they arrived on the scene, they discovered it was a grease fire in the kitchen of a restaurant serving breakfast to patrons. The building had been evacuated; an employee had tried to put the fire out with an extinguisher before the firemen arrived, but the extinguisher was expired and wasn’t effective. Thus the flames had spread.
Captain Stanley immediately directed his engine crew to grab an inch and a half hose and assist the others in fighting the fire. He then turned to the manager of the business. “Was anyone hurt? Anyone suffer smoke inhalation/”
“Yeah, one of my chefs took in quite a bit of smoke. He’s over there.” He pointed to a man dressed in a white suit, seated on a curb nearby.
“Okay, I’ll have my paramedics take a look at him.”
The manager acknowledged, then went to talk to his other employees while the firemen continued to battle the flames inside.
“John, Roy, we’ve got one victim you need to examine. His boss says he took in a lot of smoke.”
Hank directed them to the man he’d seen. They grabbed the equipment they’d likely need and hurried over to the chef.
“I know I should’ve” *cough*. . . “gotten out of there as. . . soon as it got” *cough*. . .”outta hand. . .”
Still seated on the curb, he put the oxygen mask Johnny had placed over his nose and mouth back in place once the paramedic indicated he should.
“Sir, you’ll need to keep that there.”
“I know, it’s just. . .” He pulled the mask away again. “I just wanted to let you. . . know why I stayed in there. It was for the toys. . .” He gave a nod toward two large black plastic bags on the sidewalk behind him. “The toys we collected. . . for the Marines’ Toys for Tots campaign. . .didn’t want ‘um to burn up. . .”
Johnny placed the mask back over his face. “That’s fine. But it doesn’t change the fact you need oxygen right now.”
He then looked a little longer at the nearly filled bags.
“You’ve got quite a few toys there.”
The chef nodded. “We started collecting early.”
Johnny shot a nervous glance his partner’s way. What if any of the other stations got the jump on them? Until now, Gage had never given it thought.
The chef was taken to Rampart via ambulance. Johnny rode in with him while Roy followed behind in the squad.
The firemen had gotten the flames out and the damage was contained in the kitchen area. 51’s engine crew were still on the scene to help catch any hot spots that flared back up.
“So when did you start your toy drive?” Johnny wondered from his seat on the ambulance bench.
The chef started to lift the mask away once again, but Gage put a hand on his, stopping him.
“I can understand ya through the mask. I’m used to it.”
“Month ago. . .”
“And people were already in the giving mood?”
Well, that was a good sign. If they were then, they should be even more so now with Christmas being just under a month away.
Then something else occurred to the dark-haired paramedic. What if they were already done with their generosity and the majority of the people in the area would no longer donate?
He sat back with a sigh. With less enthusiasm, he muttered, “That’s far out. Really far out.”
After he left his charge in the care of Doctor Brackett, Johnny joined his partner in the corridor of Rampart’s emergency ward. Normally they’d stop by and see their favorite head nurse, Dixie McCall, but she was assisting Kel Brackett. Thus the two men kept their conversation between the two of them.
Johnny immediately voiced his concerns about other stations starting their toy drives early.
“I wouldn’t worry,” Roy assured. “Cap just got the memo on it today. The other stations are in the same boat. Even if all the B and C shifts got briefed ahead of us, it’s still only a couple of days.”
“Yeah but, Roy. We do this every year. Every Christmas season. So what’s to stop ‘em from starting up on their own?”
Roy gave it thought as they headed for the exit.
“I still don’t think we have to worry.”
“We didn’t get a jump on the season, did we? We never even gave it thought.”
Johnny shook his head. “No, that’s true, we didn’t.”
“Then why would they?”
Now it was Gage’s turn to give the matter more thought. He hoped DeSoto was right. But he still had his doubts.
Roy made Johnny promise not to bring his non-factual concerns up with any of the others on their shift. There was no need to make anyone else even think about the subject. It was such a long shot that any of the other stations would have started their toy drives early. Captains preferred to work within regulations and guidelines, and that likely would cover the toy drive as well.
Roy’s reminder of that fact even eased Gage’s mind more. Thus the next time they discussed the subject at all was to do with their upcoming day of collection. The two paramedics were playing a game of ping pong in the back of the apparatus bay when Johnny spoke out.
“So you want me to pick you up at your place or are ya gonna drive there yourself an’ meet me?”
Roy shrugged. “I guess you can pick me up. We need your Rover to transport the donation box that’s still in my garage from last year anyway. It sure won’t fit in the Porsche and Joanne needs the station wagon.”
“She wouldn’t if she let us--”
“No,” Roy firmly stated.
Gage frowned inwardly. He still sure would like to be able to have Roy’s young son and daughter there to help convince people to donate toys to those less fortunate. It had been worth a try to bring it up again.
The first day of their efforts to collect toys went okay, though it wasn’t as much as Johnny and Roy had hoped for. They didn’t even fill a half of their large decorated cardboard box, which was about equivalent to the size of two hampers put together.
“Man, Roy. Four hours and this is all we got?”
“It’s still early,” Roy said as he pushed the box further into the back of Johnny’s Rover once they had it up and in. “It’s not even December first.”
“True. Well, I guess if any of the guys did start early, they might not’ve gotten much either.”
“Now that’s thinking positive. . .I think.” Roy furrowed his brow. If that was being positive, why did it sound so negative? Johnny must’ve been thinking the same thing, as he looked a bit puzzled himself.
The two shrugged off the subject and headed for Roy’s house. There were plenty of days ahead to deal with the collection issues.
The next shift, the paramedics discovered that they’d been the only ones from their crew to start the toy campaign away from the station. As the men lined up for roll call, the two couldn’t believe what they were hearing.
“None? You didn’t spend any time tryin’ to get donations?”
“That’s right,” Chet answered. “And you know why? Because it’s too early, right guys?” He looked to Marco and Mike for backup. The two nodded, which brought a smug grin to Chet’s face.
“It’s not—Roy, it’s not too early, is it. Tell ‘em.”
“We did get a few donations,” he admitted. “And if we wanna beat the other stations, every little bit is going to count.”
Now it was Johnny’s turn to put on a smug grin. Until he heard the rest.
“But now that it’s December, the results should be better. So I’d say you guys’re okay.”
Gage scowled at the three faces looking at him with triumphant smiles. He figured he’d have to remind Roy later about partners sticking together; having each other’s back.
After their first rescue of the shift, Johnny and Roy were on their way back to the station from Rampart General when Dispatch contacted them on the radio.
“Squad 51 in place of Squad 45, man down, 6324 East Applewood Drive, six three two four East Applewood Drive, cross street Palm Leaf Avenue, time out 10:47.”
Johnny reached for the mic as Roy put his helmet on before engaging the lights and siren.
“Squad 51, 10-4,” Gage acknowledged. Once the mic was back in place, he reached behind his head for his own helmet, then put it on, the strap tightened under his chin
The call was in another squad’s area, which meant it was going to take longer than usual to get there.
Before they could reach the address, Squad 45 had become available and was closer to the scene. Thus Squad 51 was cancelled.
As they once again headed for the station, Johnny took notice of something up ahead in the parking lot of a toy store. Two paramedics they knew had a Toys for Tots collection box set up. One of them had his kids there helping out, both girls in Christmas print footed pajamas and red Santa hats on their heads. They were definitely catching the attention of people going in and out of the store. Just in the brief time Johnny had seen them so far, they’d gotten multiple donations dropped in the box.
“Oh man!” Johnny looked to Roy, his mouth open.
He got a firm “No” in response.
Johnny shifted his gaze forward, then turned his head to watch out the passenger window. Roy glanced at him. With a shake of his head, he looked forward again. They’d do fine on their own. There was plenty of time to get the job done.
That evening, the men from A-shift were watching a movie on television and sharing a bowl of popcorn when the tones sounded, just as Marco handed the bowl to Johnny.
The dark-haired paramedic stood with the rest of them and set the half empty bowl on his chair, then hurried out the door behind the others.
The call was for an unknown type rescue.
Though they had encountered the problem other Christmas seasons, the firemen and paramedics were surprised to have it happen to anyone so early in December. An uncle of two young children had decided to see if he could fit down a chimney when it came time for him to play Santa at his sister’s house later in the month on Christmas Day. Not having children of their own, he and his wife didn’t need to worry about tipping off any youngsters that he’d be playing the role then.
However, it was clear that his wife hadn’t liked the idea and now that he was stuck, she liked it even less.
“I told him not to do it. I told him it was only going to end up bad. But did he listen?” She asked Captain Stanley, not really expecting or even wanting an answer. “No, of course not.”
The captain gave his men a brief grin. He couldn’t help it after the exchange. Especially since she had told him her husband wasn’t hurt or anything. Just unable to go up or down.
The man was stuck a short distance down from the chimney top, but clearly too far for them to do anything without getting closer. It was going to take drastic measures to get him freed.
“I hope you’re satisfied!” His wife yelled from where she stood looking upward as Chet and Marco broke apart the brick chimney top. She wasn’t sure her husband could hear her, but it sure helped to vent her displeasure.
Between her yelling and the lights on the trucks flashing, quite an audience from curious neighbors on the block had gathered.
Johnny glanced down from the angled roof as he and Roy waited for the victim.
“I sure hope he’s not wearing a Santa suit, or there’s a whole buncha parents who’re gonna have some explaining to do to their kids.”
“Yeah, I can hear it now. All those people down there yelling at once, ‘I hope you’re satisfied’.”
“The guy’ll hafta move to Alaska.”
They traded grins, then stepped over to assist when their shiftmates were done with their demolition job.
The victim was in regular street clothes and, just as expected, uninjured. Once he was on the ground and his wife kept up with her rant on the way into the home, Johnny turned to the engine crew and Roy, who were all standing by the engine and squad.
“I have a feelin’ he’s gonna wish he was on his way to the hospital.”
They all snickered and nodded in agreement.
“He’s probably thinking he should’ve just stayed in the chimney,” the captain added.
They all gave one more glance at the house, then were on their way.
The next morning while they were waiting for the next shift to come on, Johnny made his case for Marco, Chet and Mike to get started on the toy competition. The men were all in the dayroom, some seated at the table, some standing by the counter, as they drank their cups of coffee.
“Do it for Cap. For the pride of Station 51. But more important than that. . .than all that. . .do it for the kids.”
Roy rolled his eyes, as did Mike and Marco. Standing beside Johnny, Chet spoke out.
“You mean the ones who’re getting the toys or the one named John Gage?”
Johnny shook his head as he looked to the floor. His ‘pride’ sure was taking a beating in all the ‘fun’.
A-shift got an extra day off between shifts, so it was four days later before the crew was back on duty. At roll call they compared their results on their efforts to collect toys.
“Marco and I set up in the parking lot of a strip mall,” Chet explained. “We thought we’d get tons of donations with two different toy stores right there.”
“Yeah, but all we got was about a dozen.” Marco couldn’t hide the disappointment in his voice. “I sure hope people get more in the spirit of giving as it gets closer to Christmas.”
Of course, they all figured they would.
Unfortunately, though donations for toys had picked up some, it still wasn’t the results the crew from 51’s A-shift had hoped for. After comparing results at the beginning of a shift three and a half weeks after the drive started, they decided they were going to have to start on Plan B. Especially since word had spread that a couple of other fire stations were doing better than any others so far.
“Looks like we’re gonna hafto do our part to donate,” Hank told his men. “But as we know, one good deed often leads to another. Who knows? Maybe after our toy donations, things’ll pick up more for our drive.”
The others agreed. Now that they knew they we’re behind, they wanted to collect the most more than ever.
Johnny glanced at Roy as they inventoried the contents of the squad compartments right after roll call. He wanted to suggest Roy ask Joanne if their kids could come along with he and Roy just once.
Just *one* time. . .
But before he could even open his mouth, the tones sounded. They quickly gathered up the boxes and secured them in their respective homes. Very soon they were on their way to the ‘boy injured’ call.
They’d seen a lot of injuries in their time on the job, but some still were painful just to look at. Such was the case when Johnny and Roy arrived on the scene this time.
The location was on the side of a street in a suburb at a school bus stop. Two boys had gotten into an argument and one had kicked the other in the side of the leg. The force was so strong, it had dislocated the thirteen-year-old’s knee to the point that it was no longer in line with his thigh. He lay squirming on the ground, crying in agony. He couldn’t even gather his wits to speak to the paramedics.
“What’s his name?” Johnny asked.
A woman who’d seen the incident from a window of her house, and who’d called the fire department as soon as she knew the boy was hurt bad, told her son to answer the question.
“Joe. His name’s Joe.”
Johnny looked down at the still crying victim and reassured him that they’d take care of him while Roy questioned, “Anyone know where his parents are? Are they home?”
“His mother should be on the way over. One of the girls ran to get her.”
That would mean they could treat him soon.
As the other mother arrived in her car, the girl who’d gotten her in the seat beside her, the school bus did as well. Most of the students had to get on, they couldn’t skip school with only a few days left before Christmas vacation. But a few stayed behind, including the boy who’d hurt the other. He was going to have to explain the whole thing to a police officer who’d recently gotten to the scene. The bus driver would inform the principal of what happened.
Johnny contacted Rampart on the biophone for a second time to let them know the mother was now on scene and they could treat the youth. They applied a splint to his leg, started an IV and put him on oxygen. It wasn’t long before Johnny was on his way to the hospital with the injured boy.
Roy followed behind in the squad.
Joe was scheduled for surgery after it was confirmed he had torn ligaments in his leg. He was going to be out of school for awhile and miss his final games with the junior high football team. It was possible he wouldn’t be able to play football again at all.
Johnny and Roy got the news from Dixie when they were at Rampart later in the day again.
“That’s rough,” Johnny said with a shake of his head. Though they had known there was ligament damage before now, a practiced eye told them that just by the condition of Joe’s leg.
“Yeah,” Roy agreed. “Being Christmas makes it even worse.”
Dixie gave a warm smile. She knew their concerns were sincere. She also knew about what the fire department did for other children this time of year.
“Speaking of kids and misfortune, how’s the Toys for Tots collection going this year?”
Oh, pretty good,” Johnny said with a nod of his head. “Pretty good.”
“Just ‘pretty good?”
Roy figured Dixie sensed the disappointment in his partner’s voice. She knew about the contest. She just didn’t know how things were going so far.
“What he’s not telling you is that a couple of other stations are doing better than us. So although we’re doing fine, we aren’t up where we need to be.”
“Ah. . .I see. Well, I’ll tell ya what. I’ll cook you guys breakfast at the station one morning when I’m off and you’re on. Because I think you deserve that and then some for all you do.”
It wasn’t quite the same for them, it wouldn’t fix the pride issue. But they didn’t want to hurt Dixie’s feelings by rejecting her offer, so they agreed on ‘sometime’ her making good on it. The paramedics hoped she’d forget since they didn’t want her going to the trouble.
The next time they were on duty, the men each brought in a couple of toys for their collection.
Johnny had bought some Hot Wheels cars, Marco a couple of board games. Mike brought in a rubber bug making kit, along with a Barbie doll. Roy had a baby doll and football. The captain showed up with a board game and an Easy Bake Oven.
Chet came in with a pillow case full of toys. When he opened it up, he got mixed reactions.
“Those aren’t new!” exclaimed Marco.
“Where’d you get those?” wondered Roy.
Mike just stared at the items and Johnny commented, “Chet, you’re not s’posed to scare the kids!”
There in the pillow case were toys from the 1960s. A variety of friends for ‘Mr Potato Head’ in the forms of a hot dog, french fry, soda bottle, ketchup bottle, mustard jar and hamburger on a bun.
“They look more like they should be on the Island of Misfit Toys,” Mike finally offered, which drew a few snickers from the others.
“Say what you want, guys. But my sister had a lot of fun with these things.”
He took one out and held it up just as Captain Stanley came into the dayroom.
“Good Lord, what is that?”
He peered closer, hoping it might look a little better. He was wrong.
“Chet, what is that thing?”
“Mr Mustard. It’s for the toy collection. I’ve got more, see?”
Chet held out the pillow case and a still bewildered captain peeked inside. His next comment drew more snickers, as the others had said or heard the words before.
“The idea is to make the kids smile, not scare them to death.”
Chet was just glad it was up to the Marines to decide if the toys were appropriate, which he was sure they would think they were.
On their last day to collect toys, Johnny and Roy set up in front of a different toy store than before. As they watched people come by and drop in brand new toys, Johnny smiled at their helpers.
“Chris and Jennifer are really havin’ a great time. I knew they would.”
Roy was looking at his five year old son and three year old daughter as well.
“Same here, if you wanna know the truth.”
“You sure were right to talk Joanne into lettin’ ‘em come.”
“I wish I could take the credit. They did it,” Roy cleared up, pointing to his children. “They’ve been waiting for a chance to come along and finally begged us to let them join in. She couldn’t get the word ‘no’ out.”
It was probably too late to catch up to the other stations, but Johnny was happy to see the kids having so much fun, even if they didn’t win. There was always next year. Maybe then Roy’s wife would remember how much joy it brought to the boy and girl, and let them be a part of it from the start.
Christmas Eve Day, A-Shift was back on duty. The Toys for Tots barrels in the rear lot of the station were empty when the men arrived. When they’d left two mornings before, both large barrels had been piled full. The Marines had picked up the treasures while B-Shift was there. They’d also taken all the toys stored inside the station.
It would be awhile longer before anyone knew who collected the most toys. But the men didn’t mind waiting. The main purpose had been accomplished. The toys were going to put smiles on a lot of kids’ faces.
The morning started out slow as far as work, but by mid afternoon, the paramedics were on their second rescue of the day. A woman had gone into labor at a local mall and was about to have the baby when Johnny and Roy arrived.
With no time to spare, the paramedics immediately opened the OB kit. They quickly put on sterile gloves as they assured the mother that everything was going to be okay.
Within minutes, Roy was wrapping a newborn baby boy in a blanket someone had handed him, while Johnny passed on all the details to Doctor Early at Rampart via the the biophone.
“So how’s it feel to bring a new life into the world at Christmas?” Dixie asked when Roy and Johnny met into her in the corridor of the ER.
“I have to admit, it has a certain specialness to it,” Roy said.
His partner agreed.
“Speaking of little ones,” the head nurse said as they walked toward her desk near the base station. “How did the Toys for Tots drive go?”
“Man, our station ended up with a lot of toys,” Johnny offered with a grin. “A lot of ‘em.”
“So did you win the free dinner?”
“We don’t know yet,” Roy explained. “But word is that Station 16 probably did better than anyone.”
“One of their guys. . .Brice. . .apparently kept the guys all organized instead of just winging it.”
Dixie gave them a sympathetic smile. Craig Brice was a paramedic that she was familiar with. He tended to annoy his own partner with his over efficiency in everything. She often was a sounding board for him when Craig wasn’t nearby.
“Well, don’t forget. My offer for a breakfast still stands.”
The paramedics considered themselves winners anyway. With a close friend like Dixie McCall, who wouldn’t?
After they got some of their supplies refilled and bid her ‘good bye’ for awhile, the two headed for the exit.
“Who needs a stupid dinner cooked by some other firemen anyway,” Johnny muttered.
“We should just be glad the Toys for Tots campaign was as successful as it was.”
“That’s right. We should.”
After a few seconds of silence, Roy spoke.
“It’s still bothering you that Station16 did better than us, isn’t it?”
Johnny sighed. He shamefully admitted, “Yeah. Yeah, it is.”
“Don’t worry. You’re not alone on that.”
“Guess that’s not exactly having the Christmas spirit, huh?”
“I’d say it’s being human.”
The two disappointed men walked out the automatic doors, then to their squad.
The engine crew was a little more optimistic about how they did with the toy drive than the paramedics. The barrels had been much fuller than the year before and they’d certainly had quite a mound of toys piled at one end of the dorm room.
“I’m tellin’ ya, Gage, I think we did it,” Chet insisted.
“I hope you’re right. But I just don’ think so.”
Captain Stanley sat back in his chair at the table in the dayroom, where the six crew members were having dinner.
“Well, I for one am not ready to concede. I--”
He was interrupted by the klaxons. The men listened as the sound went on and on. It was going to be a big one. Station 51 was dispatched along with two other stations and another engine for an apartment complex fire.
The crew of Station 51 scrambled for their respective vehicles, the remainder of their dinner left on the table.
The fire had spread rapidly, already burning two units. The orange flames were very apparent in the darkened sky with the sun already having set. As soon as Captain Stanley was quickly briefed by the battalion chief at the scene, he gave his men their orders.
“Marco, Chet, grab an inch and a half and cover for Roy and John..” He turned to his paramedics. “Grab your gear. . .”
As they put on their SCBA gear, Hank informed them one of the firemen from another station just had part of the second floor fall in on him as they had arrived. They’d need to help rescue him.
Johnny and Roy both gave a nod, then trotted toward the front doorway where Marco and Chet were already in place.
The paramedics emerged with the victim just as the alarms on their air tanks sounded. They were able to have a full tank brought in for him during the rescue efforts just before his alarm would have gone off.
After they laid the injured fireman on a yellow blanket on the ground, Johnny and Roy both removed their masks and shrugged off their air tanks. They quickly removed his air mask and tank as well. They carefully took off his turnout coat.
“How is he?” Hank Stanley wondered as he looked at the battered fireman. The captain from the victim’s station trotted over to check on his man as well.
“He’s conscious, likely has a concussion; possible fractured ribs, fractured tibia, separated shoulder.”
Johnny gathered vital signs while Roy rattled off what they knew.
“BP is 90/60. Pulse rapid.” He opened the fireman’s uniform shirt, then placed a stethoscope on his chest to listen to his lungs.
Captain Stanley contacted Rampart on the biophone while Roy grabbed for the oxygen.
Johnny shook his head. “No breath sounds on the left.”
Everyone knew that meant he likely had a collapsed lung.
Hank relayed the information to the doctor on the other end of the line. The other captain assisted the paramedics where he could.
Roy and Johnny listened as Captain Stanley relayed the doctor’s instructions. Soon they had the very seriously injured Fireman Hodges ready for transport.
With his slightly later start than Roy in the ambulance, Johnny remained a good distance behind. But he still had the use of his lights and siren to clear traffic as he made his way toward Rampart. Hodges was in very critical condition and if he happened to take a turn for the worse along the way, Roy could possibly need Gage’s assistance if they needed to pull over.
The traffic was heavier than usual, with many people out heading for various gatherings or perhaps some last minute shopping before stores closed early for the evening.
Johnny was glad to see vehicles pull over or stop as they should to make way for the squad. Especially since some obviously had had to do the same for the ambulance not long before.
But as he came upon the next intersection, things were about to change drastically.
Roy monitored Hodges vitals. He was barely conscious now, but still hanging in there.
DeSoto glanced at his watch.
Should be at Rampart soon. . .
He didn’t think twice about not seeing Squad 51 behind them. His partner had likely gotten a late enough start that they wouldn’t meet up until after he had Hodges in a treatment room at the hospital.
Captain Stanley and the rest of Station 51’s A-shift crew were still at the scene battling the fire.
It had spread to another unit before the men could get it under control. Now it was a matter of keeping it contained until it was out.
One engine crew would have to remain on scene later to make sure that no hot spots flared back up. It hadn’t been decided yet who.
Johnny slammed on the brakes as he saw a white sedan run a red light and plow into a smaller blue car that had been stopped partially in the intersection ahead of him. The impact literally moved the blue car into a lane beside it.
Gage immediately grabbed the mic on the dash.
“LA Dispatch, this is squad 51.”
“Go ahead, 51.”
“Dispatch, there’s been a motor vehicle accident at the intersection of Union Boulevard and Palm Drive. Respond a squad and engine to this location.”
As soon as they acknowledged, he scrambled out, having put the squad in ‘park’.
“I’m a paramedic,” he said as he made his way past witnesses already out of their cars.
A man dressed in a business suit was already at the closed driver's side window of the car that caused the accident, knocking on the glass to get the driver's attention. He was worried when he noticed a small circle of spider-webbed glass on the windshield.
"Hey, buddy, open the window! C'mon! Open it!"
The driver didn't appear to comprehend.
As Johnny approached, he turned away to tell him he couldn't get the guy to respond, when suddenly the glass came down and the driver slurred, "Whaaa?"
"Lemme check on 'im," Johnny said as he motioned for the suited man to step back. He noticed a lump already forming on the injured man's forehead, a small cut in the center. Blood was running down the man's forehead and onto the bridge of his nose. As soon as Johnny got closer to the open window, he could smell alcohol. His anger at the man immediately rose, but as a professional, he kept his temper in check.
"Sir, are you hurt anywhere?"
It was doubtful he'd even know since he didn't seem to grasp the head injury. But then, that could partially be because of the fact he'd hit his head and not just the booze. Johnny knew he needed to play it carefully with his assessment. In the meantime, he heard another man yell from near the other car involved, "Hey! He's hurt over here!"
Gage was anxious to get to the other victim, so he quickly pressed again, "Sir, are you hurt?"
"Wha? No. . .no. . .jus' goin' home ossifer. "
The paramedic pursed his lips. This guy was too drunk to even know he'd just hit another car. Johnny reached in and turned off the ignition. In his haste to get to the other victim, he pulled on the keys, but left them partially in place.
"Keep an eye on 'im," Johnny directed the business man.
He then raced around to the passenger side of the other car. He glanced around a moment to see if there was any sign of help in the distance. But the only emergency vehicle in sight was his on the other side of the wreck.
Dammit. . .
Roy readied to get out of the ambulance as they pulled into the lot at Rampart. Hodges was still the same, so it was definitely a relief that he’d held his own. Completely unaware of what had transpired behind them, he watched out the rear window as they backed up to the ER entrance.
"He's bleeding," the man who'd yelled informed him as Gage leaned inside. "I think he hit his head on the window."
The driver had more problems than that. He was complaining of pain on his left side and a sore neck. If it already hurt, chances were he could have a serious case of whiplash. At the very least, a c-collar would be a great help in preventing possible further injury.
"Do you hurt anywhere else?" Gage inquired.
"I don't know. . .I don't think so. . ."
The confusion was understandable.
"Okay, don't move, I'll be right back." As he pulled out of the car, he repeated, "Don't move."
Johnny turned to the witnesses standing around him. "Don't lettum move."
They nodded in response. One man leaned inside to be nearer the victim while the paramedic ran back around to the driver's side of the sedan.
"How's he doin?" he asked the businessman. The man was standing back away from the vehicle with the alcohol odor being offensive. He hadn't seen that the drunken man had managed to get his keys back in the ignition.
Johnny started in the direction of the squad to get the trauma kit. It was all he had for the moment that could be of use. But as he came around to where he was just feet behind the sedan, that driver cranked the engine and stepped on the gas pedal. With his manual transmission car having been put in reverse gear in his fumblings, it suddenly shot backwards.
It all happened so fast and unexpectedly, Gage didn’t stand a chance to get out of the way when he heard someone try to yell out a warning. He felt a sharp pain shoot up his left leg and side as the rear of the car slammed against him. Next thing he knew he was on the edge of the trunk, then down on the pavement, a couple of yards and off to the side from where he’d been just seconds before.
Unaware his car shouldn't even be running, the driver then tried to flee the scene by going forward in another direction and plowed into another car in his efforts, nearly taking out a few people in the process. He wasn’t going anywhere.
Johnny winced as he felt a sharp pain shoot up his left leg again when he started to move. He stopped.
“You okay?” Another man asked as he squatted down near him. Other people gathered around in concern.
Johnny shook his head. “I don’ . . .think so. . .” He took a few panted breaths. “Man. . .” he groaned. His right arm and shoulder hurt too. But then he’d landed on both, so he figured, why not? At least his blue uniform jacket had protected his skin from the pavement.
“What can we do?”
The drunk driver's sedan had plenty of attention, thus Johnny felt that aspect was covered as best it could be. That left one thing.
"Someone get a blanket outta the squad. . .side compartment. . .the other guy. . .wasn't doin' so good. . .”
They couldn't apply the c-collar, but covering the shocky victim with a blanket was better than nothing.
The civilians jumped into action while Gage closed his eyes a moment against the pain. Sirens could be heard in the distance.
Roy came out of the treatment room after leaving Hodges in the care of Doctor Brackett. As he wandered up to the desk near the base station, he saw that Dixie McCall was busy at the radio, along with Doctor Morton.
He stood by patiently and listened to the transmission.
“Rampart, victim one has a contusion on the left temple, he’s semi conscious and disoriented. He’s got a fractured left arm, possible internal injuries. He's also complaining about a sore neck.”
Morton looked over the vitals Dixie had written on a tablet while the head nurse glanced over at Roy.
The paramedic got a sense that there was more to this rescue than he was aware. His partner wasn’t there yet. . .worry grew in his gut.
Johnny. . .?
Roy stepped closer, wanting to ask but at the same time knowing Morton and Dixie didn’t need an interruption right then. He listened as Morton directed the paramedic on the other end of the line.
In the meantime, Dixie took that moment to brief him on what had happened.
“Just so you know, that’s not Johnny they’re talking about. But he was part of the accident. He was hit by a car. He doesn’t have life threatening injuries, but he’s pretty banged up.”
“By a car? You mean the squad was hit, don’t you?”
She shook her head. “He was hit.”
“But he should’ve been driving. . .on his way here. . .is Cap there? Did it happen at the apartment fire?”
“I don’t know all the details, Roy. But they’ll be bringing him in soon, then we can get the answers from him.”
Roy just stood rooted in shock. He looked toward Morton and listened again in hopes of getting an idea just exactly what ‘banged up’ involved.
Johnny felt the pain subside after getting five milligrams of MS in his IV. He also started to feel a bit groggy. But that was welcome compared to the pain he’d been in earlier.
He also had felt chilly from sweating in the cooler winter air. Even with a blanket over him, he’d been shocky from his injuries.
He’d asked a few times about the other victim in the blue car. The paramedic with him assured that his partner was taking good care of the man and that he was almost ready to be transported to the hospital.
Johnny was grateful when he found out they’d be going in the same ambulance. It would give him a chance to keep an eye on the other victim, though he wasn’t going to be doing anything else for him.
Roy followed Johnny’s stretcher into Treatment Room Two once the ambulance had arrived. He helped to transfer his partner to the exam table, being very careful of his splinted leg and arm. Roy then hung Johnny’s IV bag on a pole nearby while Morton immediately went to work to check Gage over.
An x-ray technician was already on standby for both victims. As soon as he finished with the more seriously injured of the two, he’d be in to take pictures of Johnny’s leg, arm and shoulder. The latter was likely just deeply bruised, but they’d need the x-ray to be sure.
Johnny explained as best he could to Roy how it happened. When he was done, he added in a groggy tone, “Do you know. . .how the other guy is?”
“Not yet, he’s still in an exam room with Brackett. I’ll let you know as soon as I can.”
“Thanks.” After a brief pause, Johnny quietly spoke again. “Have I ever said. . . how much. . .I hate drunk drivers?”
“A few times.”
Roy shared his sentiment, even more so now. This one had ruined Christmas for so many people.
The next morning, Johnny lay propped up in bed, his left leg in traction and his right arm in a cast from above the elbow to his fingers and thumb. His arm was also in a sling to keep him from moving it since he’d not only broken it, but severely bruised his shoulder as well. He was very sore and bruised in other places from the ordeal the day before. As a result, any movement he made was done gingerly to avoid aggravating his achy body.
Roy sat in a chair near the bed as he filled him in on the official results of the Toys for Tots campaign. The senior paramedic was on his way home from duty, ready to spend Christmas Day with his family.
“We won. Just like Chet and Cap thought, we won.”
Roy nodded. “Uh huh. Station 16 may have been better organized. But apparently we had something even better than that.”
“More generous crowds?”
“Well, maybe a little of that,” Roy admitted with a slight grin. “But the truth is, we had drive. And everyone has to admit, you were behind that drive.”
Gage pursed his lips. “In other words, they think I was a nag.”
“Which was a good thing in this case. Don’t think the guys don’t know it now.”
Johnny thought back on how he ‘encouraged’ his shiftmates to spend plenty of time off to collect toys. And now they’d be getting a free meal cooked by . . .
“If we won, who lost?”
It was a group of guys that he often pulled overtime with, thus he would have to give them a hard time for laughs. Only thing was. . .would he miss it? He was going to be out for quite awhile for his leg to heal.
It was as if Roy had read his mind when he stated, “Don’t worry. We’ll make sure you’re there for our shift’s dinner. Even if you aren’t back on duty with us yet.”
Johnny mustered a grin.
Roy got up from the chair. “Well, I’d better get going, Joanne made the kids wait till I get home to open their presents. I’ll be back later in the day.”
Johnny glanced at his left leg. With a sigh he admitted, “I’ll be here.”
When he reached the door, Roy turned around. “Merry Christmas.”
Once he was alone, Johnny pondered the expression on Roy’s face as he left. There had just been something that gave him a sense there was more meaning to that ‘Merry Christmas’ than met the eye. He’d probably have to wait till Roy came back to find out.
In the meantime, what else did he have to do but try to imagine what it might be?
He leaned back against his pillow, still in a seated position with the head of the bed up at an angle.
What could he be up to. . .?
Not long after Roy had gone, Dixie knocked on the door, then entered when Johnny called out, “Come in!”
As she made her way toward the bed, her hands behind her back, she asked, “So, how’s our star patient?”
“That’s not good. But I may just have the solution for you.”
She brought her hands forward. She’d been holding a box wrapped in Christmas paper and ribbon. The nurse placed it on the curious paramedic’s blanket-covered lap.
“A couple of elves dropped this off for you a short time ago.”
He cocked an eyebrow in doubt, then looked at the box again.
“Did these elves have names?”
“I’m sure they did. But I was sworn to secrecy.”
“Ah, I see.” He eyed it again, awkwardly shook it slightly. It made a noise, like thumping as what ever was inside moved about the box. “Well, only one way to find out what it is.”
Johnny removed the ribbon that was across all sides, top and bottom of the package, using mostly his left hand. He then awkwardly tore off the Christmas wrap with Dixie’s help and she took it as he studied the plain cardboard box now on his lap. It was taped shut as well.
He peeled off the tape with more assistance from her, then one-by-one opened the flaps and peered inside.
Oh man. . .they didn’t. . .
Inside the box were the Mr Potato Head’s friends that Chet had donated to the Toys for Tots campaign. There was a note inside as well. Johnny pulled it out and read it out loud.
These were still in the bottom of one of the barrels at the station. Apparently they didn’t quite fit the bill for the Marines. Rather than have them go back into a closet in a box, we thought they would give you something to do.
P.S. Chet says not to try to pawn them off on the Children’s Ward at Rampart. Word is they might just scare the kids.
Johnny cracked a crooked grin, then looked in the box again and winced. He motioned for Dixie to take a peek as well.
They were definitely going to go to the top of the list as the scariest Christmas gift he’d ever received. But as everyone always said, it was the thought that counted, even if it was a gag gift.
He also knew he’d find a fun way to get back at the ‘elves’ sometime, after he was healed and at work again at the station. It was just going to take a little drive.
This was inspired by the ‘friends’ of Mr. Potato Head. It’s not my intention to say they were bad, but my and Ross’s thoughts on them were the same. . .and thus was born a story. :o)
*Click above to send Audrey feedback
Christmas Stories Stories page