A New Captain
Captain Hank Stanley paused with his hand on the doorknob and took a deep breath. This was his second assignment since receiving his promotion; his first had been a temporary stint to fill in for Station 120’s Captain when he had been injured in the line of duty. Now he here was about to embark upon a new journey. He had gotten word last week that he would be permanently stationed at 51’s in Carson and he couldn’t have been happier because it was so close to his home. The station was fairly new, just a year old and now it was his. Well, at least the A-shift was.
He took a deep breath and pulled the door open. The wake-up tones were just sounding for the sleeping C-shift. He knew he was early, it was one of his little idiosyncrasies and he didn’t have much tolerance for those at the other end of the spectrum. He was already dressed in his uniform and carried an overnight bag with him to the office. He would find a place to store his stuff after C-shift cleared out. He’d arrived early so that he could get the lay of the land and have some sort of comfort level by the time his men reported for duty.
He dropped his duffel in the corner of the office and sat down behind the desk. This would be his second home for what he hoped would be many years to come. He picked up the duty roster and as he read down the list of names, he mentally clicked off their responsibilities; Mike Stoker, Engineer, Roy Desoto and John Gage, Firefighter/Paramedics, and Chet Kelly and Marco Lopez on the Engine crew. He looked back at the chart and decided that he would just wait and assign duties after he met them. One thing was sure; the last one to show up for roll call would get latrine duty.
His little reverie was broken by the sound of Captain Hookrader’s voice. “Hank, good to see you. You’re here early.”
Hank stood and stretched out his hand. “Good to see you, too,” Hank replied. “I thought I’d come in early and familiarize myself with the station,” he added by way of explanation.
Hank moved out from behind the desk and gestured for Hookrader to take his place. “It’s all yours,” he told the older more seasoned man.
“As long as everyone’s up, I think I’ll take a look around,” Hank said rubbing his hands together much like a child would when he was excited and Hookrader coughed to suppress his laughter. He, too, remembered the anticipation of his first permanent assignment.
“I can have one of my men show you around, if you like.”
Hank shook his head no. “Thanks but …”
The klaxons sounded cutting him off and both men moved quickly to the bay. Hank hit the button to raise the bay doors for them and his blood was pumping as it always did when the klaxons went off but this time he could only watch as Hookrader acknowledged the dispatcher.
“KMG-365,” Hookrader replied and Hank watched as he handed the call slip the paramedic squad and then hustled to the engine. As he stood watching them pull out, he found that he was actually glad to have the station to himself. He would have plenty of time to look around on his own.
He went back to the office briefly to grab his duffel bag deciding that now was as good a time as any to locate a locker and store his stuff. The station was eerily quiet and that was disconcerting to him. Ever since he was a kid, he’d loved the boisterousness of station house life. His father had been a volunteer fireman and Hank was always hanging around the station. He loved watching the camaraderie of the men that worked there and knew very early one that fighting fires was what he wanted to do with his life. He’d been full of endless questions and pestered those men to death. He smiled as he pushed that memory to the back of his mind.
This station was still so new. It was definitely a change from his last station, which had served as Battalion Headquarters. He’d been next on the list for a long time and he was just beginning to think that his opportunity would never come when Captain Banks had been injured. It was a temporary assignment but long term in nature and Hank hadn’t been sure what they were going to do with him when it was over but as luck would have it, after his rehabilitation, Banks decided to call it quits and retire and Hank assumed that he would be permanently stationed at 120’s until last week. He still wasn’t sure what fates had intervened and allowed him to be sent to 51’s in Carson but he wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Dick Hammer needed a transfer and Headquarters gave it to him was all he knew. He just hoped that it had nothing to do with the men that would now be stationed under him.
His father had always told him “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression” and Hank wanted that first impression to be a good one this morning. These men were to be his crew and from what he’d heard, they were a damn fine crew at that. Mike Stoker had a wonderful reputation and the brass at HQ loved him as they did Roy DeSoto. These names were the ones that were most familiar to him because he’d heard them talked about quite often. DeSoto apparently was one of the county’s first paramedics and had even helped to spearhead the program. But the other men were just as important to Hank as Stoker and DeSoto were. Hank wanted the respect of these men but he knew that he was going to have to earn it; they weren’t just going to give it to him because of the bugles he wore.
He’d worked with his own fair share of officers that felt they were above their men and didn’t have to listen to them. They were all full of false bravado and pushed hard on superficial things but at a fire, when it really mattered, they lacked the instincts to lead their men. Hank had always made it a point to study his officers, not that he had ever really thought about becoming a captain, but he wanted to know everything there was to know about fighting fires. From the minutest detail to the most elaborate responses, he watched and he learned. And he knew that coming into a veteran house, the less uses of authority the better.
He heard Hookrader ask for a second alarm and the tones sounded accordingly and he realized that he might not have his engine back for quite a while. He wandered over every inch of the station and finally came to stop in front of the big map in the engine bay. He ran his hand lightly over the map. This was his territory now and he knew it like the back of his hand. He and Grace had moved to Carson right after their first daughter was born and had lived there ever since. The girls were almost grown now, teenagers in high school and it had been the thought of college tuition that had spurred Hank to take the Captain’s Exam in the first place. Well that and a little urging from Grace, he thought with a smile. He’d been quite happy performing the duties of Engineer and sometimes he still wanted to hop into the driver’s seat when those klaxons went off.
Soon after his promotion to Captain, 120’s was toned out for what should have been a routine call but it turned ugly real fast and his leadership abilities were the only thing that had saved his men that day. It could have been disastrous but the crew of 120’s walked away that day unscathed and for that he could only be thankful. It was a day of reckoning for Hank and he realized that being an officer was what he was supposed to be doing. All of his training, all of his knowledge had been called into play and it had paid off.
What was wrong with him today, he wondered. He wasn’t into nostalgia yet here he was calling up incidents from his past that had brought him to this point in his life. Coffee, he thought and headed off towards to the dayroom. He quickly poured himself a cup and savored the smell. There was nothing better than the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. He took a sip and then checked his watch. He had a few more things in the office that he wanted to look over before the men arrived and so he took his coffee with him back to the office.
Hank looked at the pile of paperwork that awaited him and groaned. He hated paperwork. But it came with the job and he liked what he did. Hell, he loved it and therefore accepted that there were certain aspects that he would just have to live with. He was looking over the inspections records when voices began to filter in to him.
“Roy,” came the reply.
“Station’s out, huh?”
“Appears that way.”
A third voice piped in. “Have you seen the new captain yet?”
Hank smiled to himself.
“Not yet, Chet. I just got here myself,” he heard Mike reply.
“What’re you doing here so early,” Roy asked and Hank frowned as he looked at his watch. It wasn’t all that early.
“Shhh,” Chet hissed and as the men made their way to the locker room, their voices descended to a level that Hank couldn’t hear.
About ten minutes later, he heard Mike’s voice again. “Johnny. Marco.”
“Hey Mike,” one of them called out.
“Good morning,” the other said with an accent. That one must be Lopez, Hank deduced. It was nice to know that all of the men were here on time.
There was a light rap at the door and Hank looked up.
“Come in,” he said in as he motioned with his hand.
“Just wanted to introduce myself, Captain. I’m Mike Stoker, your Engineer,” Mike said by way of explanation and he extended his hand.
“Good to meet you, Stoker. I’m Hank Stanley and Cap is fine,” he said with a smile as he took the hand that was offered and shook it.
After Stoker left, Hank gave them another ten minutes and then strode to the bay and called out, “Roll call, 5 minutes, gentlemen.” The engine and the squad still weren’t back yet but it was nearing 0800 hours and Hank wanted to get this shift off to the right start.
Five minutes later, Hank Stanley walked back out into the bay and found five men lined up waiting for him. No late stragglers, he thought trying to decide whom to give latrine duty to. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the short one smirking at a tall, dark haired, soaking wet paramedic and he knew who would end up with the dreaded task.
He had a feeling that life here would be anything but ordinary.