##10-4, Cap.## said Gage over the handy talkie. Shortly, Roy|
skidding downwards on the dry dust of
the river's edge, replied
Cap updated L.A. "L.A., this is Engine 51. We've located
the incident. Breach is on the downriver side of the Prado dam.
Not the larger expanse. Repeat.
The main resevoir is uneffected.
Only the riparian causeway's structural integrity is failing.
cracks are evident in the spillway dike twenty feet high.
We're getting reports of at least five
victims in danger of being
swept away by escaping water. As yet, we haven't been able to
them. Respond a seventh alarm assignment and an all terrain
extrication team a.s.a.p!"
51. USAF has been notified. Also, Chopper nine is available
for your victim search. They report their
E.T.A. as four minutes.##
"10-4, L.A. Engine 51 out." Cap shouted over the hissing of
churning water. He stood on the edge of the basin and
started scanning the washfield with a pair of
he could direct his crews to the unseen, trapped people he knew
were still below.
::Four minutes is an eternity! Those people haven't
got four minutes. Two if we're very, very lucky.::
he thought unhappily.
::Battalion 14's not gonna like this one bit.::
He knew the Prado dam's
specs. Changes and additions to the flood control
earthfill dam, built in 1941, now bestrided three
California counties: Orange,
Riverside and San Bernardino. Then, only 100,000 people lived downstream
of the dam in areas that were affected by flooding on the Santa Ana River. But today,
over 2 million people lived downstream of the dam, in an area full of homes
and businesses and places
like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm.
He heard the National Weather Service issue a flood watch
along the Santa Ana
River over his radio. Soon, an evacuation center was set up at Corona High
and residents could be seen jamming the few streets out of the evacuating
Hank was aware that the crack's flood breaching over the
levees could flood 110,000 acres from Anaheim
to the ocean, and had the
potential to kill as many as 3,000 people.
The dire possibility was
very clear in his mind when he remembered Battalion
14's briefing accounts of March 3, 1938, which
was, back then, the date when
a flood of massive pre-dam proportions, had became Orange County’s worst
The town of Prado had simply disappeared.
That night had been a turning point for Orange County, which was situated on one |
of the most vulnerable
flood plains west of the Mississippi River. In its aftermath,
the government built the massive Prado
Dam. And its bulk had, to date, offered
enough protection to launch the development of modern day
"But now we've reached today. 1976.." Cap sighed nervously. "So much
for the 190
year protection hype claim. I've always known that I didn't trust
earthen made constructions." he
mumbled. "Especially earthen dams."
Captain Stanley heard an excited hail from Kelly, scoping
the west side of the spillway. "Cap! Your two o'clock!
A news chopper! Can we use them until
ours gets here?"
Cap shot his head around. Then his walkie lifted to his
mouth once more. "L.A.,
Engine 51. Looks like Air Channel
Four's in our airspace covering this. Can you see if they can
spot anything?!" he shouted.
##Stand by, 51.## said L.A.
About a minute later, Cap saw
the news chopper jerk closer out
of the respectful field it normally flew and over the moving
vehicles still arriving to 51's solitary patch of high ground.
L.A.'s welcoming calm voice advised
him of newly learned details.
##News 4 reports four victims on a caisson about four hundred feet
the east, below your location. They are being inundated.##
"Copy that, L.A.. Gage! DeSoto! Did
you get that?!" he shouted
over the radio.
##Working our way down, Cap! Heading for the eastern
side caisson!## Gage puffed as he scrambled in his rope
and harness gear over the rocks and concrete
"There! There! I see them, Roy. On the rocks to the left of the
spillway!" Johnny shouted. "Marco!
Gimme more slack!"
he shouted back over his shoulder as he slid down
the angled concrete slope
leading into the main water channel.
"Cap! We're gonna need the rope gun!" he hollered into his HT.
"I think we can get it over one of these pylons!"
Chet Kelly reported a new victim find a thousand meters away|
in the wetland brush along the rising
Santa Ana River downflow.
##Stoker and I have got another one down here. We're bringing
Notify Rampart of a boy around twelve years old!
No vital signs..##
Johnny looked over to his
partner. "Roy? You wanna go back
up and handle him?"
"Just as soon as I get you squared away.
Cap and the others
can work him until we've started rescuing these four." DeSoto
about priorities. "Once the rope and tackle's tight,
The two paramedics could just
barely hear the sounds of
the trapped men on the scrap of rock sticking out of the churning
They were controlled and not yet panicking and every one
of them was splashed liberally in bicentennial
"At least it's easier to keep track of them looking the way they
for them." Roy agreed, getting set to fire the rope
gun that Cap had lowered down to him on a tether.
Cap prepared the men on the rocks. ##Rescuers are going to
fire a line over to you, attached
to a rope. Catch it and secure it
to the most stable object you can find!## he hollered over
engine's loud speaker.
One of the men waved an affirmation.
A safety goggled DeSoto shot
the line from the shoulder gun
and it zinged out across the gushing flash flooding and then in
two of the college students.
They scrambled desperately for the light line before the current|
swept it away. In their panic, one
of their number tumbled and
fell into the froth.
##One's in! One's in, Cap! Get some people
DeSoto frantically radioed.
Hank looked up to the freeway bridge above
the dam basin
and got on the horn. ##Man in the water! Truck 99, get set with
your catch rope move!
He's twenty meters center but still
on the surface!##
Firecrew dots on the overpass of Highway
10 buzzed into
motion and distantly, Cap saw tan firecoats converge on
either side of the concrete
river bed as they drew a rope
taut across the channel. The flailing man tumbled by
in the rapids
but managed to catch the lifeline in his armpit
and he hung on for dear life. Firemen on either side
to hold his weight in the swift water.
Battalion 14 shouted out encouragements to
the man over
bull horn as his crew hurried with a dam maintenance boat
they had found to go get
him. "We're coming to get you.
Don't panic. Try to wrap your arms and legs around the rope!"
was nothing else Cap could do for that victim, so
Stanley concentrated on gaining status information
drowned boy Station 36's paramedics were working on. He
got a shake of a head and a gesture
pupils from one of them as they bagged the young child
kept up attempts to revive him on the long
board he had been hastily strapped into.
his own men about that. ##DeSoto, boy's a code F.
Stay with your situation.## he commanded.
saw Johnny and Gage briefly pause on tying their belt
ropes when they heard the bad news but then
Marco and Stoker quickly strung block and tackle pulleys
the now fast river line the trapped men had secured.
Gage shouted. "We're coming over! Stay put!"
them over the roar of the water springing from the gaping
crack in the spillway near them.
He could see that the
water corps of engineers had opened the flood gates
a while ago to ease the
pressure on the smaller dam's
back face. It hadn't yet effected the water levels around
painters. But it made for high noise levels
and there wasn't much that could be effectively
well without a radio between them.
Soon, Gage and DeSoto were hand over knee crawling,
down on the line stringing between them and
the victims, like tree moles. They were wearing extra
belts, harnesses and lines along with life preservers
enough for all of them, while extra fire crew
There was no chance for stokes work. The swelling
didn't afford a level water surface for
that kind of thing. Velocity and movement made
extrication impossible. And the victims
were too close to the unharmed mother dam for a
"Gimme more slack!" DeSoto shouted.
A rolling wave from the flashflood
reared up and
drenched him, nearly causing him to lose his clinging
grip on the horizontal crawling
rope. He coughed as
his head broke the surface once more.
"Roy! You ok?" shouted Johnny, remembering
still freshly healing left wrist, as he hung upside down
just ahead of Roy.
ok.." DeSoto sputtered, hooking that elbow
around the rope instead of using his hand on that side.
"Keep going! I'm not gonna get swept off. I'm hooked
on.." he said of his belt snaffle on the tow
Soon, one by one, Gage and he tandem hung the men on|
the river line, barely three feet above water,
them hauled to the edge of the dam basin and onto
the concrete riverbed slope, safely.
Gage was supporting the last college student as
he stood in the twisting water to unhook his belt
off the rope,
when a rogue wave toppled him off the concrete island.
Johnny made a fast grab
and barely caught his wrist
in time to save him before the flood carried him away.
"I got you!
Pull yourself up!" he shouted to the young
paint splattered, red, white, and blue man in his grip.
"Give me your other hand!" he grunted.
Johnny's helmet fell off and landed with a splash into
It startled the rescue crews downstream when they saw
it rush by their rope catch
Cap immediately hailed. ##Truck 99! Stand down. Just
a helmet..## he told them.
He saw them give a thumbs up in reply through his binoculars.
Kelly was running to get out of
the flood zone where he
and Stoker had found the boy, when he shouted over
his HT. "Gage! Woman
in the water! See her?! She's gonna
rush right by you in---"
Johnny quickly shoved his victim's
control rope into
Roy's hands. Then he let go of the line above him
until he hung arms and head
down towards the water.
He snatched at the nape of the limp woman's clothes
at the neck and
grabbed her by the hair. He fought
until he got both legs wrapped around her tightly.
he pulled up on a braid to get her face out of the
He shouted and immediately let go
of the woman
when he saw a second smile beneath her jaw and ugly
phone cord ligature hog tying
her arms and ankles
together behind her back. Her weight splashed back
into the river, causing
Johnny, Roy and the last man to
rebound up in a slow bounce on the rescue line.
tightly over his radio. "99! Here
comes another one!"
Just as fast, Gage countered with another
"Belay that call. Do not risk the attempt!" he told
them and Battalion 14.
the matter?! Why'd you let her go and call
them off?!" DeSoto shouted angrily at Johnny.
gasped, trying to recover from what he saw.
"Just keep pulling, Roy. There's no point. That wasn't
a dam casualty at all. That was a murder victim!"
"Her throat was cut ear to
ear and she was bound up
with a phone cord. Let's just get out of here." Johnny said
The trembling young man strung between them stiffened
and he could only let the two paramedics
drag him along with
them. "She's ... been killed by someone?"
"Yeah..." Gage told him softly.
"Come on, we've got to
hurry before that crack gives way any more."
"I know..." shivered the
battered paint coated young man.
" And I know what you both are probably thinking. We didn't do it."
"Never said you did, kid. " Johnny told him. "She was rigored
already. Probably been gone for
days." Gage said quickly.
"Just keep crawling. Right now we've got our own lives to
saving. She'll be something for the police to figure
out later when they do a body recovery."
The young man met Gage's eyes dully. "That's if they ever
find her again."
Soon, all five men
were carried to safety and treatment
began to stave off shock and hypothermia from the cold flood
Battalion 14 ordered all units to back away out of harm's
way and they all retreated
back to the highway overlooking
the resevoir river valley. But the final destruction never came
Station 51 concentrated on caring for their victims and
their gear until the call was over.
Dixie took another
sip of her coffee while she and Dr. Brackett
and Doctor Early conmiserated Squad 51's adventure at
Prado locks a few days later.
Roy was talking animatedly about it with a hint of a chill.
out that woman wasn't the only murder victim..."
Johnny reflected seriously. "Yeah,
they found a whole bunch of
remains, all along the trail along the river bottoms. Nine more
Crockett says the way the bodies were killed
indicates the work of a serial killer or some other
The FBI seems to think they might be another lead on Idaho's
unsolved Green River Killer."
Dixie gave a tiny shiver and set her mug of coffee down without
drinking it. "Eeoow, then
those happy go lucky dam painters ended up
benefitting society far, far more than they originally
Kel pursed his lips where he sat in his wheel chair. "I kind
of feel sorry for
those college kids. All they wanted to do was
create a little bicentennial spirit without creating
waves and they
ended up with preventing a major catastrophe AND undercovering
a mass murderer's
"You know," said Joe Early. "Stranger things have happened."
"Yeah, I know, when
you least expect it." Kel smiled. "Just look
at what happened to all of us.."
Gage was thoughtful.
"You know, this week hasn't been all
Roy was incredulous. "Just how to you figure
Johnny said, "Well,..it's just a little snafu effect taking hold.
Nothing to shake
a stick at."
"I beg to differ.." Dixie glared back. "I've been through h*ll this
about the whole lot of you. Snafus aside."
"Well, things can only get better from this point on." Roy|
reasoned with a shy grin.
don't jinx us." Gage said, smacking his arm.
"You know, Johnny. That's part of the problem right
"What is?" Johnny replied defensively.
"You're just plain too superstitious
for your own good.
If things are gonna happen, they're gonna happen and that's
just all there
is to it. Coincidence is just a man made thing.
Like time. Something that's not real, but we truly
like to believe
it is, just for the thrill of it." he concluded.
"Speak for yourself. I didn't
know that Dr. Brackett was almost
gonna die this week, or you either, for that matter.." Johnny said
indignantly. "No one can predict the future." he frowned.
Roy held up his finger and poked Johnny
on the nose. "That's
precisely my point, Junior. Right there. Learn from it.
See ya, Dix, Doctor
Brackett, Dr. Early. I'm gonna go wait for
Gage here to stop preambling in general, out in the squad.
Bye.." he waved.
"Take it easy, Roy." they said.
Johnny was left scratching his head at
the ER counter
while everyone else ... got back to work.
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