The Miracle of Christmas
By Lizabeth S. Tucker
“Chet! What the…will you…blast it!” Johnny’s voice cracked with his angry sputters.
Roy DeSoto sighed as he sat in the dayroom sipping coffee. He put the cup down and stared at the grinning Chet Kelly. “Okay, what did you do this time that I’ll be hearing about for the rest of the day?”
“You’ll see soon enough, Roy, my boy, you’ll see,” Kelly replied, his body quivering with barely suppressed laughter.
Marco Lopez and Mike Stoker looked up from their chess game, waiting for the appearance of their crewmate, victim of another of the Phantom’s pranks.
John Gage walked to the dayroom door and glared. Muffled snorts and giggles spread through the room at the vision in white. Johnny was covered with the white flecking used on Christmas trees.
Captain Hank Stanley shook his head, deciding that he’d rather be in his office during the ensuing fight to come. “So much for the Season of Peace,” he muttered as he edged around Johnny.
“I’ll never get this stuff out of my locker! It sticks to everything, Kelly.”
Stanley, knowing the truth of that statement, turned back to stick his head in the dayroom. “Kelly, clean up John’s locker. John, get rid of that stuff.”
“But, Cap…” Chet whined.
“There’s still a chance for you to trade latrine duty with Marco.”
“No, sir, I’m good.”
Before the argument could continue, the tones went off for a man trapped call for the station. Beyond giving each other dirty looks, Chet and Johnny put their feud aside until they returned to the station.
When they first arrived at the location, Stanley thought it might be a false alarm. There was nothing that appeared to be able to trap anyone. There was, however, a couple of people standing near someone at one of the new open area public phones. They appeared to be amused, but the man on the phone wasn’t. His freckled face was as red as his hair.
“Did someone call the fire department?” the Captain asked.
“Yes, sir. I did.”
“So who’s trapped?”
“Me.” At that the man moved to the side to show his hand at the coin return, the middle finger disappearing into the slot.
Johnny and Roy moved closer, leaving their equipment at the squad. Johnny squatted down for a closer look. He gently poked around the man’s finger. “It’s swollen, Roy. I don’t know if we can pull it out without lubricant.”
“I’ll be right back,” Roy replied, heading for the squad to get something to use.
“Cap, you might want to get on the horn with the phone company. We might have to pry it open.”
Johnny smiled up at the trapped man. “What’s your name, sir? I’m John Gage.”
“How long have you been stuck like this?”
“About an hour.”
“An hour? Man, why’d you wait so long to call?
The man shrugged sheepishly. “Embarrassment, I guess. I mean, who wants to admit that they got stuck in a phone trying to get a lousy dime back?”
“Yeah, I guess you’ve got a point.”
Roy arrived with the lubricant. Johnny slathered it on the man’s hand, trying to force it up around his finger, but the fit was too tight. They continued working on him without any luck.
“Roy, the representative from the phone company is here.” Captain Stanley introduced the bespectacled man. “Mr. Lindstrom, these are my paramedics. Roy DeSoto and John Gage.”
“Mr. Lindstrom, is there anyway to open this coin return without destroying the phone?”
Lindstrom knelt next to Johnny, peering at the stuck finger. He pushed his glasses up on his nose, then reached into the briefcase he carried. “These are the schematics for this particular style of pay phone. Based on what I can see here…”
Johnny squatted back on his heels watching the phone representative compare the phone with the plans.
“…no, there isn’t a way to open just that section from this angle. But I do have a suggestion.”
“Please. We can use all the ideas we can get,” Johnny said.
“If you try to cut it open here, the vibrations could cause more problems for Mr.…”
“Connors,” the trapped man offered his name.
“Mr. Connors. If we dismantled the phone from the base, that would give you more leverage and room to work.” Lindstrom pointed at his papers. “It won’t take much to do it.”
“I’ll get our tools,” Roy said. “We’ll take you, Mr. Connors, and the phone box to Rampart Hospital to have your finger removed.”
“Just in case you have any injury to your finger,” Johnny added.
“I’ve gotta tell you that it hurts like the dickens.”
“I imagine it does. Just hang on a little longer and we’ll see what we can do about that.”
With Mike’s assistance and Lindstrom‘s plans, the men managed to disconnect the phone from its base. They carefully kept the phone upright as they walked Connors and the phone to the waiting ambulance. They maneuvered the phone and his arm so that there was no additional stress on the trapped finger before laying both on the stretcher. Connors had to sit on the floor of the ambulance. Mr. Lindstrom followed in his own car. He would take custody of the phone once the removal was complete.
The trip to Rampart was relatively short. Joe Early was waiting for them in Treatment Room Three, his reputation in removing body parts from unusual places naturally assigning him to this rescue.
“Well, what do you have here?”
“Hi, Doc. This is Mr. Connors. He got stuck while trying to get his change out of the phone. Only his finger has swollen up so much that we can’t get him out.” Johnny grinned. “So we thought we’d come to the expert!”
“Well, let’s see what we can do for you, Mr. Connors.”
“You can call me Harold, Doctor.”
Joe checked the coin return carefully, then went to the counter to get a tongue depressor. He squirted Vaseline on it and went to work, slowly pushing the depressor around the finger until it finally slid into place. Johnny was leaning over, peering closely at everything being done. Roy and Mr. Lindstrom were standing back against the wall, out of the way.
With a pop, the finger came out of its trap. Beyond some minor swelling and a bruise, the finger was remarkably unimpaired. “I’d advise you to not try this again, Harold. Your finger could very well have been broken.”
“Yeah. After I did it, I couldn’t imagine what I was thinking. I mean, it was only a dime, but it was the principal of the thing, you know?” Connors shook his head. “It was kinda embarrassing. I was near my bus stop and everyone going by knew me. They thought it was really funny.”
“Didn’t anyone stop to help?” Johnny asked.
Connors smiled, his freckled face glowing. “You wouldn’t believe how many strangers stopped to help or to offer it. I had tried to call my wife, although what she would’ve been able to do, I have no idea. Then I thought of the fire department. Thank you, gentlemen.”
“You’re welcome, Mr. Connors,” Roy said. “C’mon, Johnny, we need to get back to the station.”
“Bye, Mr. Connors. Goodbye, Mr. Lindstrom. Thank you for the help.”
“You’re most welcome, gentlemen. And have a Merry Christmas.” Mr. Lindstrom replied.
The men of Station 51 were busy decorating the Christmas tree in the dayroom, ignoring the squabbling between Johnny and Chet over the placement of the tinsel.
“Do the two of them ever stop?” Mike asked, knowing the answer even as he asked it.
“If they do, we’ll know that they’re dead.”
The others all laughed at Marco’s comment, then continued trimming the tree. Just as they placed the angel on the top, a present from Marco’s mother, the tones went off for a structure fire at the Jensen Manufacturing Plant. The men raced for their vehicles, slipping into their turnouts.
Captain Stanley surveyed the scene, calling in a second alarm. The fire had already spread to the surrounding buildings on the plant’s grounds. “Chet, Johnny, take a one and a half to the right. Marco, you and Roy go to the left. Engine 69, we’ll need your men to the back.”
After pulling their SCBAs on, Chet took the nozzle while Johnny backed him up, one hand on Chet‘s shoulder. They attacked the fire with the same enthusiasm that they did everything else. Keeping carefully even with Marco and Roy on the opposite side, they moved in on the fire. Deeper and deeper into the building they went. A shadow caught Johnny’s attention and his hand tightened on Chet’s shoulder.
The masked firefighter turned to look over his shoulder. “What?”
“I thought I saw something. Let me check it out. Can you handle this alone?”
“Yeah, but we’re pretty good here for the minute. I’ll go with you in case you need help. I’ll tell Cap.” Chet dropped the hose, pulling out the HT from his pocket and reporting their position.
Stanley relayed that the fire was getting hotter. “We may have to evacuate, so make it quick.”
“You’ve got it, Cap. HT 51 out.” Chet slipped the HT back into his turnout, joining Johnny as he checked an interior office for a possible victim. The shadow turned out to be a blowup doll hanging in the corner of the office. The heat had made it move, throwing a humanlike shadow against the windowed door.
Grumbling about the false alarm, Johnny and Chet turned to leave the office just as a tower of boxes tumbled to the ground in front of the door. They took precious minutes moving the boxes from the doorway, aware that the fire was getting out of control.
“Chet, call it in. We need an escape route.”
“HT 51 to Engine 51.”
“Go ahead, HT 51.”
“Cap, we need a little help here. Some of the boxes have blocked the doorway. We’re clearing them out, but it’s gonna take time.”
“You may not have time, Chet. Do the best you can.” Cap called Roy on their HT. “HT2, what’s the situation on your end?”
“Cap, we’re almost surrounded by fire. We’re backing out now.”
Five minutes later, Johnny and Chet still hadn’t appeared. Roy got on the HT to contact the two men. “Johnny, the fire is moving toward you. We can’t break through.” Roy’s voice was strained as he broke the bad news to his partner. “Can you and Chet find another way out?”
The crackle of the radio blended with the reply. “No. The only way out is through the door. We may have no choice but to make a run for it. Can Cap have the hoses ready for us?”
“Yeah. Yeah, we’ll be ready.”
Stanley took the HT from Roy. “John, Chet…Godspeed. We’ll be waiting. 51 out.”
“Cap! Roy!” Mike called to the paramedic and his captain. “The security guard claims that there’s a camera in that room. We should be able to see Chet and Johnny on the hall monitor. If the flames haven’t burned the wires out.”
Roy quickly joined Captain Stanley at the small security post at the front gate, amazed at the clarity of the black and white picture. He could see Chet and Johnny securing their turnouts, pulling the collars up to protect their necks.
The security camera caught the two men standing side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, facing the fire that stood between them and safety.
Back in the room, the men were tightening their masks. “It should keep facial burns to a minimum,” Johnny said. “Let Cap know we’re coming.”
“Engine 51, this is HT 51.”
“Go ahead, Chet.”
Johnny took a deep breath, looking at his friend and coworker. “You ready?”
Chet adjusted his SCBA mask one more time before nodding. “Let’s do it.”
“On three,” Johnny said. “One.”
“Two,” Chet said, taking Johnny’s gloved hand in his.
“Three!” yelled the two men before leaping into the ravenous flames in a desperate race for safety.
Chet came stumbling out of the building, Johnny slumped against him. Their turnouts were both smoking, darkened by the flames they had run through. Johnny’s mask was half off his face, the soot darkening his features. The two men collapsed into the waiting arms of their crewmates.
“Put them down here,” Roy ordered, blankets already spread on the ground waiting for the men. He checked over Chet, discovering some second and third degree burns on his neck and ears. Noticing that Chet was conscious, Roy smiled encouragingly down at him. “Lookin’ good, Chet.”
“Johnny? How is he?” Chet began coughing with the effort of speaking.
“I’ll check him in a minute. Stop talking and keep this oxygen on,” Roy ordered, giving Chet the clear mask from the squad’s oxygen tank.
Ignoring Roy, Chet pulled the mask to one side. “He fell. We were <cough> running full out <cough, cough> and I tripped over something. I <cough> almost tumbled into the <cough> area where the floor collapsed. <cough>“ Chet turned his head to the side and spit up some black phlegm. “He grabbed me, but it threw him off balance and he <hack, cough> fell. His mask was knocked off. We couldn’t <cough> stop to fix it.”
Roy laid his hand on Chet’s arm. “Don’t worry about it. You’re both out. We’ll take care of him.” He turned to Stanley. “Cap, can you relay the vitals for me to Rampart?”
“You’ve got it, Roy.” Cap picked up the biophone. “Rampart, this is Squad 51.”
“Go ahead, 51,” replied Brackett’s welcome voice.
“Rampart, we have two victims of a fire. Victim number one is…” Cap relayed the information as Roy gave it to him regarding Chet. Oxygen and an IV were recommended as well as saline to his burns. Since Chet’s SCBA had remained in place, there was little concern regarding burned air passages.
Roy moved to where Mike and Marco watched over Johnny. His partner was just slightly conscious, his brown eyes barely open, but not focused on anything happening around him. They were extremely red, but Roy didn’t see any sign of burns at the corneas. He took Johnny’s vitals, giving them to Stanley.
“Rampart, victim number two is…” Stanley passed them along to the hospital.
“51, is he having difficulty breathing?”
“He has shortness of breath and his breathing is quite noisy. There’s quite a bit of soot in his nostrils and mouth, Rampart.”
“Are his nasal passages swollen?”
Roy carefully felt around Johnny’s nose, reaching his little finger into the nostrils. “Affirmative, Rampart. There is some swelling.”
“51, his airway could be burned. You’ll need to do an endotracheal intubation before his throat swells. Once in place, use 100% oxygen.”
Roy acknowledged the instructions and took a deep breath before instructing the others on how to help. He had to think of Johnny as just another victim or he could miss the right passage and suffocate his friend. He looked up at Stanley before proceeding. “Any word yet on the other squads?”
“They’re on their way, pal, but the closest is still 10 minutes away. You’re all there is.”
Roy nodded, biting his lip. “Okay, okay. Here goes.” He mumbled the mnemonic SALT to himself, reminders how what to do. Suction to remove the pulmonary secretions and to clear the view of the vocal cords so that he could avoid pulmonary aspiration. Airway, an oral one to lift the tongue off the posterior pharynx and make it easier to mask ventilate Johnny. Laryngoscope to light the passageway.
He carefully maneuvered the device down Johnny’s throat, already feeling the resistance of the swollen airway. “C’mon, Johnny. I don’t want to do a cricothyrotomy out in the field.”
He sighed with relief when the device slipped into place. “Tell Rampart that it’s in. Marco, hand me the ambu-bag.”
“Good job, 51. Is the ambulance in place?“
“That’s affirmative, Rampart.“
“Good. Transport as quickly as possible.”
In the ambulance, Chet was sprawled on the bench seat, holding the oxygen mask to his face while watching Roy working on Johnny, taping the endotracheal tube in place. “Roy?”
Roy looked up, the worry in his eyes answering Chet’s unspoken question. Johnny could die. His airway could swell so much that no oxygen could make it through. If Johnny had been without oxygen for too long, he could suffer brain damage. Only time would tell.
Roy sat next to his partner’s hospital bed, waiting for Johnny to regain consciousness. He could see Johnny’s hand spasming, clenching at the air. It had been happening almost since he began to come out of his drug induced coma, done to relieve the stress on Johnny while his lungs had time to heal. Roy leaned closer, murmuring encouragement to the burned man. “It’s okay, Johnny. C’mon, partner, wake up for me. Let’s see those brown eyes. You can do it. Come back to us, Johnny. Please, please, come back.”
Johnny’s breathing was quickening, approaching panic. Roy gave in to his instincts and put his hand in the frantically clenching one of his partner, gripping it tightly. As if this was just what was needed, the man’s breathing began to level out, his eyelids fluttering as he struggled to open them.
“That’s it. You’re almost there. Just a little more, Johnny. You can do it.”
Johnny’s eyes flew open, his body trying to rise from the bed. “Chet!”
“Whoa, settle down.” Roy quickly pushed back on Johnny’s chest. “Stay in the bed.”
“Ch-Chet.” Johnny’s bloodshot gaze darted around the room, searching for the man trapped with him.
“He’s okay, Johnny. He’s in another room. I need you to calm down. Can you do that for me?”
“Yeah, he’s fine. He wasn’t even hurt as badly as you were.”
“Where are you?” Roy received a weak nod in reply. “You’re at Rampart.”
An eye roll got a chuckle as Roy realized what his partner meant. “Oh, I imagine you guessed that, didn’t you? You meant where in the hospital, huh? You’re in ICU. Let me get Brackett in here. We’ve been waiting for you to wake up for a while now.” Roy reached over to push the call button.
Not only did this bring Brackett, but Dixie and Early as well. “Well, hose jockey, you finally decided to wake up, did you?”
Johnny gave a weak imitation of his lopsided grin. “N-needed…s-sleep.”
“Well, I think you got enough.”
“What, Johnny?” Brackett paused in his examination.
“H-how long…was I…s-sleep?”
“About four days. Let me
finish up here and we’ll go over everything. That okay with you, Johnny?”
The patient nodded slowly, fighting to keep his eyes open. He lost the fight before Brackett had finished his review.
“Doc?” Roy asked worriedly, his blue eyes on his partner‘s slumbering form.
“It’s just normal sleep, Roy, don‘t worry. How did he sound to you?”
“Good. He remembered that Chet was with him. He was the first concern Johnny had. He seemed pretty orientated considering.”
“Good, good. It looks like
Johnny has done it again.” Brackett smiled at the worried faces around him.
“Give him another day and I think we’ll be moving him out of the ICU. His lungs
“The cherry red splotching seems to have cleared up from his face,” Dixie commented, her hand gentle as she brushed Johnny’s hair from his face, revealing a patch of burned skin along Johnny‘s jaw line. “I think the burns are healing nicely. The scarring should be minimal.”
“The day after tomorrow is Christmas,” Roy said softly. “I wasn’t certain if Johnny would be here for the holiday for a while there.”
“He’ll not only be here, he’ll be in a room with Chet Kelly,” Kel commented.
Roy laughed. “That isn’t much of a present to anyone. They’ll be arguing every minute Johnny is conscious.”
“Chet has been driving my staff nuts asking about Johnny. Surely Chet will give Johnny some time to recover before starting in on him.” Dixie had never quite understood the relationship between the two men, but she knew their friendship ran deep, almost as deep but in a different way as that of Johnny and Roy.
“They won’t be able to help it. Put the two of them in a room together and sparks fly.” Roy grinned as he looked at his partner. “I don’t think either of them would have it any other way.”
As Dixie finished fussing over Johnny’s sleeping body, she smiled back at Roy. “Merry Christmas, Roy.”
“Yeah, it really is a merry Christmas, Dix. Dr. Early, Dr. Brackett, thank you and have a wonderful Christmas. Now that I know Johnny is okay, I think I’ll head home to my family, let them know that everything is great.”
Notes: The man whose finger was caught in the coin machine is a true story and was reported by the Associated Press on July 2004. The man lived in Illinois and was trying to retrieve his 50 cents.
I have no real experience with anything medical, so if there are errors, I apologize. I once again relied on the Internet for my information. Thanks to all who emailed me links and information on smoke inhalation. It was a big help. Now let’s hope I got it right.
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Stories by Lizabeth Christmas Stories