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        Page Four

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##10-4, Cap.## said Gage over the handy talkie. Shortly, Roy
skidding downwards on the dry dust of the river's edge, replied
as well.

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.
Large 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
spot them. Respond a seventh alarm assignment and an all terrain
extrication team a.s.a.p!"

##10-4, 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
violated churning water. He stood on the edge of the basin and
started scanning the washfield with a pair of binoculars so
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,
he knew 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
School, and residents could be seen jamming the few streets out of the evacuating

Hypothetically, 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
natural disaster.

The town of Prado had simply disappeared.

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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 Orange County.
"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 out
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
fire 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
to 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 tangles.


"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!"

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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
him up! 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
said, thinking about priorities. "Once the rope and tackle's tight,
I'll go.."

The two paramedics could just barely hear the sounds of
the trapped men on the scrap of rock sticking out of the churning
water. They were controlled and not yet panicking and every one
of them was splashed liberally in bicentennial colored paint.
"At least it's easier to keep track of them looking the way they

"Fortunately 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
the 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
between two of the college students.

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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 downriver, now!!##
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 strained
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!"

There was nothing else Cap could do for that victim, so
Stanley concentrated on gaining status information on the
drowned boy Station 36's paramedics were working on. He
got a shake of a head and a gesture indicating nonreactive
pupils from one of them as they bagged the young child
and aggressively kept up attempts to revive him on the long
board he had been hastily strapped into.

He updated his own men about that. ##DeSoto, boy's a code F.
Stay with your situation.## he commanded.

Hank saw Johnny and Gage briefly pause on tying their belt
ropes when they heard the bad news but then they started
hurrying again.

Marco and Stoker quickly strung block and tackle pulleys
onto the now fast river line the trapped men had secured.

Gage shouted. "We're coming over! Stay put!" he told
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
the trapped painters. But it made for high noise levels
and there wasn't much that could be effectively
communicated well without a radio between them.

Soon, Gage and DeSoto were hand over knee crawling,
upside 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 stabilized
their lifelines.

There was no chance for stokes work. The swelling
swirling rapids didn't afford a level water surface for
that kind of thing. Velocity and movement made
stretcher extrication impossible.  And the victims
were too close to the unharmed mother dam for a
lowered chopper basket.

"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 his
still freshly healing left wrist, as he hung upside down
just ahead of Roy.

"Yeah, I'm 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 line.

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Soon, one by one, Gage and he tandem hung the men on
the river line, barely three feet above water, and had
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
the water.

It startled the rescue crews downstream when they saw
it rush by their rope catch point.

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.

Then 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.

DeSoto shouted tightly over his radio. "99! Here
comes another one!"

Just as fast, Gage countered with another radio burst.
"Belay that call. Do not risk the attempt!" he told
them and Battalion 14.

"What's the matter?! Why'd you let her go and call
them off?!" DeSoto shouted angrily at Johnny.

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
without strength.

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
worry about 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
so Station 51 concentrated on caring for their victims and
their gear until the call was over.


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Dixie took another sip of her coffee while she and Dr. Brackett
and Doctor Early conmiserated Squad 51's adventure at the
Prado locks a few days later.

Roy was talking animatedly about it with a hint of a chill. "Turns
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
women. Crockett says the way the bodies were killed
indicates the work of a serial killer or some other kook.
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 intended."

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 work."

"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
that bad."

Roy was incredulous. "Just how to you figure that?"

Johnny said, "Well,'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
week worrying about the whole lot of you. Snafus aside."

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"Well, things can only get better from this point on." Roy
reasoned with a shy grin.

"Shhh, don't jinx us." Gage said, smacking his arm.

"You know, Johnny. That's part of the problem right there."
said Roy.

"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.


Episode Twenty Four



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