By Marty P.
Captain Hank Stanley and Paramedic Roy DeSoto stood on the catwalk, studying the scene below them.
“This is an exact replica of the theater?” Roy’s eyes skimmed the opulent set below them.
The captain nodded, “Eerie, isn’t it?”
Earlier in the day, the captain brought in a hefty script, Marco Lopez read the title, ‘Love Gets a Second Chance’.
“You’re gonna be in a movie, Cap?” Chet Kelly did a double take.
Hank Stanley bit his tongue, “No, Mammoth Studios sent this over.”
“What’s it got to do with us?” Johnny Gage, inserted another bite of apple into his already full mouth while the others settled in chairs around the table.
The tall, lean officer opened to page 274. “We’ve been asked to be on backup in case the fire they ignite gets out of hand.” He began to read: ‘Sarah and her daughter Olivia go to the Iroquis Theater. A fire breaks out and they escape, Reginald, Sarah’s husband sees them outside…”
“Did you say the Iroquis Theater?” Mike Stoker leaned in.
Everyone but Chet grew somber, “What? Am I missing something?”
“Don’t you remember your fire history?” Marco prodded. He stepped into the captain’s office and retrieved a book.
Chet was still deep in thought, “Wait, don’t tell me. It was in…1900?”
“No, 1903, Chet,” Roy found the description in the tome Marco placed on the table.
“Chicago, right?” Johnny skimmed the page. December 30, a matinee performance with mostly women and children in attendance.”
“Listen to this, theaters were suppose to have fire-alarm boxes, sprinklers, house firemen at the stage and clearly marked and well-lit exits. But the five-week-old Iroquis only had a fireman on duty. In attendance were 1,900 people, over 200 of those standing.”
“Yeah, the fire began on stage but couldn’t be extinguished,” Mike Stoker spoke from memory. “When the actors escaped out the back they fueled the fire.”
“This place had twenty-seven exits?” Chet now had possession of the book and announced, “But only three were available and these had inward-opening doors.” He paused, “Unbelievable!”
“To make matters worse, Mike sighed heavily. “They never had a fire drill so the ushers were as confused as the ticket holders.”
“Yeah, can you imagine the panic?” Marco saw the others react as they envisioned the scene.
The captain concluded the story, “The death toll was 602, nearly one-third of those in attendance.”
“Yeah, and after that they instituted fire reforms. Figures.” Johnny stated.
“So tell me again why we’re here,” Roy spotted other crew members pulling lines to use as backup.
Hank Stanley pursed his lips, “The movie industry, always fascinated by disasters, decided to include the Iroquis Theater in their story.”
“Do we see anyone die?” Roy saw Marco and Chet below them steady the one-and-a-half inch hose.
“Course not. They’ll be dramatically rescued,” Captain Stanley reached for his handi-talkie, “Ready up here.”
“10-4,” Engineer Mike Stoker radioed back.
Roy noticed a large drape, “Is that the asbestos curtain?”
“Yup, that was supposed to stop the fire from spreading. They often had ignition with the hot lights and flammable scenery.”
“Places everyone!” they heard a voice cry out. A controlled burn began, actors raced toward a doorway, and left. The firefighters doused every bit of fire.
After checking the film, the director declared, “That’s a wrap, folks!”
Roy pushed open the exit door to let the captain precede him and thought, if only life would emulate Hollywood.
For further information see:
Gottschalk, Jack. Firefighting. New York: DK, 2002.
Who’s to Blame?
“Gage has to know that it wasn’t his fault!”
“I know that and you know that but Johnny…”
“Yeah. Gage would take it personally.”
“Well it didn’t help when Chet started blaming him.”
“No, no it didn’t. Kelly will be on latrine duty indefinitely because of the accusations toward John.”
“Well… maybe he’ll think before he speaks next time.”
“Doubtful, we are talking about Chester B. Kelly.”
“So any suggestions on what to do about Gage?”
“No, and trust me, a guilt ridden Johnny is *not* good.”
“I know. I miss the overzealous, hapless, carefree John.”
“Yeah, it’s boring around here.”
“I still can’t believe he blames himself for something that he had no control over.”
“Tell that to Johnny.”
“I did. He just looked at me with those puppy dog eyes begging for forgiveness.”
“You know he thinks everyone hates him.”
“Oh come on, Roy, you’ve got to be kidding!”
“No wonder he’s so down.”
“I know he thinks he’s to blame but we’ve got to get through to him that what happened would’ve happened whether he did or didn’t.”
“I don’t know.”
“Why couldn’t the outcome have been different? Why?”
“It’s not for us to ask why but to knock some sense into that partner of yours. Make him realize that he isn’t to blame.”
“Don’t go there, Roy.”
“We can if only this until we’re blue in the face. If only the Dodger’s had won. If only the other team had lost.”
“Yeah, if only Johnny didn’t feel that he was solely responsible for the LA Dodger’s losing the world series.”
“If only Johnny had wore his lucky Dodgers hat.”
“Well think about it, Roy. He’s worn that hat all season, through the playoffs and the first six games of the world series. What was he thinking?”
“Cap, it’s just a ball cap. There is nothing magical about Johnny’s hat.”
“Sorry, sorry, I just got caught up in the moment. It’s just hard, we had that series in the bag until…”
“I just hope he doesn’t forget to wear his Rams jersey this Sunday. We’re playing the Jets and we could use all the luck we can get.”
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