By Marty P.
Squad 51 pulled a safe distance ahead of the engine and Paramedic Roy DeSoto yanked the emergency brake. Johnny Gage heard a popping noise as he flung open the truck’s door and saw the engine members scurrying for lines.
“Lopez, you and Gage take an inch-and-a-half and make an interior attack.” Captain Hank Stanley yelled to them.
With Marco at the nozzle and Johnny on backup the two approached the front door. Tongues of fire greeted them and Marco began to blast the Red Beast. As they moved to the right neither noticed the smoke laden room on their left. The water was more powerful than the fire fuel, and it soon succumbed to their ministrations.
Firefighter Lopez pivoted to sweep one more time and it was then they caught sight of the barrel. The gunman, crouched on the floor, took quick aim and pulled the trigger. Marco dropped to the floor as the marksman slunk away.
“NOOOOO!” Johnny bellowed, reaching down to help his downed comrade. He hefted the injured man over his shoulder and rushed outside. “SHOTS FIRED! MAN DOWN!”
The flurry of activity stilled as the dark-haired paramedic swooped around the squad hood and placed Marco on the pavement by the driver’s side. Roy appeared. “Johnny?”
“Marco got it,” his brow furrowed as he battled the clasps on the fireman’s turnout coat. “Can you get to the equipment?”
“We’ve got fire upstairs now!” Mike Stoker, the engineer called out.
Captain Stanley was speaking fast into his radio, requesting more help and the police. He scrambled over to the squad. “How is he?”
“Not sure, Cap. I haven’t had time to check him out.” He paused, “we thought we got the fire knocked down when some crazed person shot Marco.” His lips pursed at the blood he found.
Roy dropped the drug and trauma box on the pavement and handed Johnny bandages and curlex. “Have you?”
“No,” Johnny signaled his partner to help him roll the unconscious man over. They located an exit point. “Looks like we have a through and through.”
“Yeah, with who knows what damage,” Roy covered the wound on his back before they lay him back.
Johnny grimaced as he replayed the incident, “the shooter was on his knees and we were upright. That means the bullet may have struck his intestines, pancreas, liver, and then it traveled at an angle up to the…”
“Johnny, get his vitals,” Roy handed him the stethoscope and BP cuff. “We need to get him to the hospital.”
The two men were oblivious to the activity around them while they worked. The captain and Chet Kelly had a charged line and advanced toward the building. Both were skittish and prepared to flee at a second’s notice.
Additional apparatus and a police sedan arrived on scene and Deputy Vince Coleman sprinted to the paramedics. “Can you tell me anything?”
“As far as I know there was only one man. It happened so fast that’s all I can tell you.” The stethoscope dangled from his neck as he unlatched the biocom and activated it.
Rampart, this is Squad 51. We have a male, 26, with a single gunshot wound. Vitals are: pulse120 and thready, respirations 26 and blood pressure 98/64. Skin is cool and pale to the touch and pupils are equal and reactive..
Can you describe the wound? At the base station, Dr. Brackett and Dixie exchanged concerned glances.
Entered lower right quadrant, exit at right scapula. Dressings applied and bleeding under control.
51, administer 6 liters oxygen, start an IV with Ringers Lactate. Transport as soon as possible.
Roy was putting a mask over the victim’s face as Johnny tied a tourniquet around his upper left arm.
Vince Coleman, rifle in hand, took refuge in bushes on the side of the property. He sighted movement at the back of the structure and released the safety on his weapon.
“Police! Freeze!” His target hesitated, and then obeyed.
Officer Coleman kept a keen eye on the man as he arrested him. As he walked him to his cruiser, his prisoner began to struggle and grew agitated. When they passed by Mike Stoker, his eyes darkened and he screamed at the engineer, “You killed my brother! I should’ve killed all of you!”
The two county employees silently acknowledged each other and Vince forced the captive into the backseat. As the lawman locked the door, Mike cleared his throat. “Why’d he do it?”
“He’s blaming the fire department for a death. I’ll let you know when I find out more.”
“Cap! They caught the guy!” Stoker called out to his superior.
The captain lowered the hose and hastened to give orders, “Vent that roof! I want a line on the C side now!” He glimpsed white-coated men moving and saw the stretcher with Johnny Gage hovering over it. He stepped closer. “How is he?”
“Stable for now,” Johnny followed the patient into the ambulance and took the medical gear from Roy.
As Roy stepped away, the captain put his hand on his shoulder. “We’ll go out of service as soon as we can.”
“Yeah, he’s young and strong, Cap.” Roy sounded like he was reassuring both of them. “I’ll see you later.”
At the hospital, they rolled the critical firefighter straight into surgery. Roy saw Johnny pacing as he came into the entrance. “Let’s go get a cup of coffee,” Roy directed his friend toward the cafeteria.
As they sat at a round table, Johnny took a gulp of his coffee, “Roy, it happened so fast. I didn’t even see the guy. If I’d been on the nozzle…”
“I know, Johnny.” Roy smiled across the room at a nurse who greeted him.
Johnny swirled the java in his cup, “I wish I could be in there. At least I wouldn’t feel so helpless and I’d know what’s going on.”
“May I interrupt?” Nurse Dixie McCall broke into their conversation. “Some of your brothers are here; eager for news.” She cocked her head toward the cashier where Mike Stoker, Chet Kelly and Hank Stanley were standing.
Johnny eyed her, “Do we have any news for them?”
“Now, Johnny,” she chided and then her voice softened, “it’ll take awhile but he is young and strong.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’ve told people, too.” Johnny nodded. “It’s different when you’re attached to the person.”
“We’ll let you know as soon as possible,” Dixie gave him an affectionate tap and made her way to the exit.
The rest of the A-shift sat down at the table, scooting chairs around to make space for a fifth person. “What’d she have to say?” Chet burst out.
Roy folded his hands and sat up straighter. “They’re still working on him.”
“But it’s been so long!” Chet bemoaned and took a sip of coffee, “Man, that tastes like the mud I make. Now Marco’s…”
The quintet sat in silence until a new voice intervened. “Thought I’d come by and give you some news.”
“Oh, hi Vince,” Johnny looked up at the man. “Wanna join us?”
“I can’t stay long. I have a boatload of paperwork to fill out but I wanted to come by and find out about your man.”
“We’re hoping for the best,” Captain Stanley notified him.
The officer’s eyes were understanding, “Me, too. I have some news about the shooter. Archie Beckman has been in and out of institutions all his life. When he six he was playing with matches and set his house on fire. His little brother Egan died. He’s never come to terms with it and always blamed the firemen for not rescuing him. I’ll check in later.”
“How ironic,” Roy commented, sighing. “When we were looking for baby names we considered Egan. Know what it means?” After an awkward moment, he provided the answer, “Little fire.”
“Can we go upstairs now, Cap?” Chet begged after watching the hands on the clock rotate slowly.
Johnny stacked the empty mugs on a tray and rose, “Yeah, maybe they’ll be done soon.”
“Stairs or elevator?” Mike Stoker questioned the group. “Why don’t we go for stairs?”
“Which room is he in?” Captain Stanley held the door open for everyone.
Johnny searched his memory, “Four, I think.” Each of the worried men sought a vantage point where they could spot anyone exiting from the surgical area.
At last, Dr. Kelly Brackett swished into the hallway, unaware he had an audience. “Doc?” Johnny drew near him.
The weary man focused, “Johnny, he was lucky. The bullet nicked his right kidney and perforated his bowel. His other vital organs weren’t affected. But he’ll be in ICU for the next twenty-four hours and on the surgical floor for a week.”
“So why’d it take so long?” An impatient Chet chimed in.
Johnny fielded his query, “Because they had to make sure everything was okay.”
“Can we see him?” Roy asked on everyone’s behalf.
The physician shook his head, “Sorry, not yet. We’ll let you know.”
“Why don’t we head back to the station? Our replacements will need the rigs.” Hank Stanley recommended.
As made their way to the parking lot, Johnny gawked at the Ward LaFrance, “you left it in the fire lane?”
“Yeah,” Mike Stoker was a bit sheepish, “Cap said I could.”
“Beat ya back to the station,” Chet taunted as he clambered into his covered seat.
The sun glinted on something, Johnny squinted and checked again, “Cap? What does that look like to you?”
“A bullet,” the head of 51’s A-shift pursed his lips.
Chet, who hadn’t been paying attention, leaned forward, “Let’s go!”
“Kelly, get out here.” The captain’s face was stern.
The crew member complied, “I didn’t do it, Cap.”
“Did you notice this?” Hank Stanley pointed to the indentation.
The curly haired Irishman gaped, “Is that what I think it is?”
“I vaguely remember hearing what coulda been gunfire when we got to the scene.” Johnny recalled. “Chet, you coulda been the guy’s first victim.”
“Am I okay?” The shaken man scrutinized his helmet; disbelief still evident.
Johnny cuffed him, “Hey, you almost had your head examined!”
“Wouldn’t you have loved that!” The firefighter sniped.
The goading paramedic’s tone was subdued, “not in this case. Even you wouldn’t deserve that.”
Author’s note: In fiction the writer has control over the situation and can provide resolution. Sadly, real life may not. This work was inspired by the death of Ryan Hummert, a twenty-two-year-old firefighter/paramedic who had been in the department since August 2007. He climbed off his rig to battle a truck fire and was fatally wounded by gunfire. The shooter then set his own residence on fire, dying in it, never allowing family, friends or the public to learn why he took such actions. This event took place in July 2008.
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Stories by Marty P. December Picture 2005