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   What's  A  Dedicated Captain  Like  You  Doing..
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           Page Eight
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Click our Make A Wish child Felicia for a music soundtrack change.

Gage was taken aback and his mouth opened and closed many times,
but he found he couldn't speak.

"I think I can answer that for you, Felicia. But I don't know if it'll give you
the exact answers that you've probably been looking for all this time
since you learned of your final diagnosis from your doctors...
But I can try." DeSoto whispered.

Wanting silence, Roy pulled the beeping pulse ox off Felicia's finger.
Then he rubbed his lips and crossed his arms together in front of him
in deep contemplation. "I...died once."


"On a wire..." Roy answered softly, the distant look still shining in his
eyes. "I was dead enough that Johnny and a paramedic trainee found they
had to use CPR and a defibrillator on me in order to bring me back to life."

"Did it hurt?"

Roy's face twisted in memory. And doubt. "I'd be lying if I said it didn't. But
I wasn't in pain for long, Felicia. And soon, I was feeling..and seeing things
that I couldn't quite understand as actually relating to me in any way. But then
I felt... more than anything...that I've ever felt... in my entire life."

"What did you feel, Roy? Were you scared?"

"No, I wasn't scared. I knew my friends were there. Trying to help me
breathe. And awaken again." DeSoto said. "But...I- I remembered that
I felt so alone, while it was all happening.."

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Felicia began to cry silently, silver tears glistening in the growing darkness
from the lights of the helicopter controls. But she didn't move. Nor did she
take away her tiny hands that were gripping Roy's tightly.

Roy began to smile and his face began to dampen in new tears.
"But then I felt surrounded by incredible joy, Felicia. It was endless. There
were people there.. that I knew... who had gone before I had. And the joy
was deep, that I didn't want to leave it. But I knew it wasn't my time
to be there and so I left. I left the moment I felt the shock course through
my body and... then Karen said that I was breathing on my own again and
Johnny was saying something stupid like.. how's he doing? from somewhere
nearby. It...was weird.." Roy said, meeting Felicia's eyes. "Really weird.
But I can honestly tell you both, that if I were to have to die again.. I...don't
think I would fear it. Not at all. For I think I was shown that... death is simply,
another change of life. A change that just takes us, somewhere else
and into another direction where we can continue to grow and learn..
and love.." he thought carefully.

"I think that answers my question very well. It fits what I think I've seen
before at the hospital." the little girl said, drying her eyes. "Now I think I can
tell mom that I'm not afraid to die when my time finally does come." she


It was three weeks later at the station house. Dixie McCall was happily
bringing the last dalmation pup to her new home when the guys finally
asked the question.

"How's our little gal doing, Dixie? Is she still eating up the sight of
passing ambulances and fire engines?" Cap asked. "Every time we
see one ourselves, we think of her."

"Yeah, we sure do." said Marco.

Dixie's smile never quite went away, but it saddened measurably in
newly remembered heart pain. "I'm sorry to say this but uh,...Felicia
passed this morning boys, around nine a.m. or so. It was painless,
according to her mother and Dr. Brackett." she sighed. "I was there."

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The guys didn't know what to say, all they did was reach out and pet
the squirming restless puppy, like the nurse was doing, just to have
something to do with their hands.

Dixie McCall looked up and her eyes were shining brightly.
"Do you know.. that you boys were all she could talk about last night?"
Dixie sniffed, hugging the pup. "Her mother wanted me, uh.. to give you this.
It's her school paper. The one she said she wanted to write for her Wish."
she said, digging into her ample purse.

The gang was stunned silent until finally, Chet Kelly held out his hands.
"We..we're honored to have to this. Can... can.. are we allowed to read it?"

"Of course. That's what it's for, guys. So we can share the world through
Felicia's own eyes as she experienced it."

With that softly said, Dixie left on silent shoes.

It was a long time before the gang decided where was the best place. They
finally chose the front driveway in front of the station. And before they
turned to the first page, they called Charlie, to spend those moments looking
through Felicia's eyes with him.

Charlie was nervous. They all were. And just about every fireman held
a dog in their laps where they all sat in a circle on the asphalt. Boot, Bonnie
and Henry, an ample belly or even just a tiny tail. It didn't matter. The dogs
were suddenly needed pillows of support for the sharing to come.

And come it did.

In bright glowing colors and fresh ideas. Talk of the day spent with Johnny on
his ranch playing with the horses, and rich technical descriptions of the
afternoon wasted playing paramedic with Henry as the patient on the couch.
Chet's water fight and Charlie's swim with the dalmation puppies. It was
all there. And it was happy.

Something that the whole gang felt they couldn't possibly wish for as wanting
anything more for fulfilling the dream of one tiny, unique little girl.

"Hey, you know what else?" burped Charlie from where they leaned on lawn
chairs against the fire station garage as they digested ample pots of hot
cocoa in memory of Felicia.

"Huh, what's that?" asked Gage.

"Do you know why them dogs of yours were acting so nuts today?"

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"They weren't acting nuts today, Charlie. Nah..." said Gage, lying through
his teeth.

"Sure they were. You're lying and you know it. I seen the way all your
bunks don't got any pillows on them anymore. Ripped them up did theys?
Heheheheh. Wanna know why? And it wasn't because of no pithling earthquake.
I'll tell all of yous why. It was a total solar eclipse that happened, that's why."

"When? Today? Huh. And here I thought it was just a power fluctuation
on the grid. This morning, right?" Cap sighed.

"Yep. It happened precisely around nine o'clock. On the dot."

Roy and Gage felt a shock at first and then a trickle of warmth, felt deep inside.
"Right when she died." murmured Johnny and Roy together, as one.

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Charlie leaned forward. "What was that?"

"Oh, ...nothing,..nothing... So, what do we want to do today to honor Felicia's
life. Keep and name a pup after her?" Roy suggested.

"Nah. Not too original. We'll think of something. And it'll be something truly
special." Chet said. "All we have to do is put our heads together and think
about it a bit."

Later that night, Johnny had a surprise visitor to his bunk. It was Bonnie.
"Heya girl, what are you doing up here with me? I thought you sleep
with Henry and Boot in Henry's house out back nowadays."

Bonnie just stood up on her haunches and whined delicately.

Understanding at once, Gage swept the tiny Yorkshire into his arms and
gave her a hug. "Yeah, I miss her, too." he whispered, kissing Bonnie's
head softly. "Shhhh, it's ok. Yes, she's gone. Let's just try and go to sleep.
Maybe we'll dream about her." he grinned.

Soon, ...they did.

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Captains Roy, Johnny and Hank worked quietly while they did
the dishes that were leftover from the donuts that had been served
out to everybody at the captains' meeting.  The mood in the kitchen
was bitter sweet, with memories of Felicia, the little Make A Wish child
occupying all of their thoughts.

That's until Gage decided that enough was enough. "Say guys, if
anyone's got anything to say about teetering on the edge of death,
it's me. Remember? *Hiiiisssss.*" he declared happily, mimicking the
sound of a rattlesnake attacking and striking out with his fingers.

"Don't remind us." Roy and Cap said together on one breath. "We've
covered that ground before.."

"Yeah, but it's so good in the telling..." Johnny began eagerly.

Just as he was about to spin into his snakebite mishap again for the
millionth time, the tones went off.

*EEEeeeOhhhhOOOOOoooooo* ##Battalion Nine with 905 Wild.
Urban snake nest, also report of an abnormal odor. 1714 N.
Wilmington. 1714 N. Wilmington. Cross street, Topanga. Time
out: 16: 02.##

"What th--" Gage blurted out. "What kind of call is that?"

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Hank started smiling. "The kind that captains check out. We can, you
know. Aren't you curious about it?"

"Well, sure but.."

"But nothing. Let's take the squad out there." Stanley said mischieviously.
"It's only a couple blocks away. Officially, we'll be making a house
inspection. For safety checks. If there's a broken window anywhere
we have to at least report it to the cops, right? And maybe check out
the furnace. Who knows, maybe the snakes snuffed out the pilot light
crawling around."

"That's stretching it a bit much, Cap. Don't you think?" Roy smirked.

"Maybe, but isn't that better than having a whole city block blow up in
a gas leak if we don't go look?"

DeSoto sighed in resignation.

Gage immediately got into the spirit of things. "Who's driving?"

"The first one who gets there." replied Hank, rocketting out of the
room. "And I want to worse than you!"

Of course Cap won with his lankier legs and longer stride. That's
what had made him win their Twister games, too, in the past.

Roy looked at him from the center spot in the squad cab. "Are you
sure you remember how to drive one of these things?"

"Learned way back when I was still a boy, Roy." he chuckled.
"Hang on."  

Stanley flipped on the bullhorn speaker as they sailed out of
the vehicle bay onto the boulevard. ##Gang, going on a courtesy
call to that last traffic on the radio. We'll be back in two if we
get one of our own.## he hollered, filling the open space of
the garage with his booming voice that echoed around like

Several hands waved from the back yard baseball game going on
in acknowledgement as Gage flipped the squad sirens on. Johnny
laughed. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss doing this. Man, Roy,
this is our own old rescue squad!" he said with a little kid grin
on his face.

Roy did a double take at his old partner.
"Cap, maybe it's a good thing that Johnny ISN'T driving....
Thanks." DeSoto said, eyeing Gage up skeptically.

"Don't count your horses before they're out of the stable. I'm
well known these days for having a lead foot." Stanley smirked
as he put the pedal to the metal. Roy and Johnny's head smacked
against the back of the cab window as they accelerated into the
fast lane.

Gage grimaced, hanging on for dear life.
"You wouldn't happen to have our old helmets stashed away back
here anywhere, do you?" asked Johnny meekly.

"Fraid not." Cap said, still grinning as he crouched over
the steering wheel he was holding. "You guys are just gonna have
to do without for the sixty seconds it'll take getting there."

A minute later, they were there, meeting up with Vince. They
had beaten both Battalion Nine and the animal control unit's

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Cap got on their channel. "Squad 51. L.A., 905 Wild and B.T. 9,
we're on your scene for a safety check. Reporting back in three."

##Squad 51.## came back the triplicate reply.

As the squad's station number's captain, Cap got the skunk striped
helmet after a little tug of war wrestling match with the other two with
him. Victoriously, he put it on and started up the lawn of the house.

Immediately, all three were forced professional, except for the idiot
grins on their faces.

The joyful grins faded when there wasn't an answer to almost a
full minute of their most energetic knocking on the front door.

Cap snapped out his orders. "Roy, check the sides, Johnny, the back.
Something's definitely not right here and it has nothing to do with
a simple animal nuisance call."  He slid over on the porch to peer
into the windows. Vince joined him.

"Trouble?" asked the cop.

"Feels like it." Hank answered. "If nobody's actually home, who made
the call?"

"It stinks.." agreed Howard.

"But it's not gas.." Johnny piped up from his place on the ground.
He was looking into a deep window well, buried in the thick shadow
of a eucalyptus tree. "Look.." he said pointing.

Roy, Cap and Vince actually recoiled when a movement scraping
across the well's gravel proved to be a ball of muscle-stiff, cold

"Don't tell me, a winter hibernation hole?" Cap shivered.

"Yep." Gage said. "And the window's broken. Probably from
some kid poking at em with a stick earlier. They're all really
p*ss*d off down there."

Hank pulled Johnny to his feet, away from the hole. "Well, how
many do you think actually got into the basement?"

Johnny looked at him unhappily. "Probably all there was this

"That could be dozens. Or more.." Vince gasped.

"Now we know why the house owner called." Roy replied.
"Come on, let's find another way into the basement. That
somebody may be in medical trouble to go along with this
huge pest problem if they went down there to find out how
bad things really were... and ran into them."

Gage set his mouth into a grim line. "That doesn't leave much

"Let's go.." Hank shouted.

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Roy grabbed Stanley's arm through his fire jacket. "You calling
in reinforcements?"

"Not until we see an actual emergency. I'm not gonna waste
moving the grid for nothing." Hank said.

"That's what I would do." Johnny agreed.

"Me, too." said Roy, ironically.

"Spoken like a true captain." said Cap proudly. "Both of ya."
he quipped. Then he fell to the business at hand, scouting
around the house for a well lit and very sun heated way into
the basement inside.

Gage soon found a second window well around the corner of
the house next to a garden hose, and he nudged the pane below
open with a carefully placed toe once he found that no snakes
inhabited the pit. "Okay, guys. Lower me down." And he crawled
in head first. "Grab my feet!" Then he grunted. "Man, once again
I'm the only one skinny enough to fit through something. It's
not fair."

"Shut up. You get to save more people than us because of
that, don't you?" DeSoto snapped, hating the weight Gage
had put onto his narrow bones invisibly.

Cap just laughed.

Vince shot back the perfect retort. "You'll feel real bad if all this effort
amounts to something. So have at it and stop all that grousing!"

Gage's heels dutifully disappeared into the window hole,
and he landed with a crash on something old that they heard clearly.

"..I'm on the....*mmphhff* couch. It's musty.. Or is that snake I'm smelling?
Oh, man.. I think I see something moving over there.." came his voice

In the stark half bright sun lit, half pitch black hidden basement, Johnny's
eyes got used to the dimness beyond.  His first step produced a chorus
of tail rattles. "Ah! Snakes!"  he yelled, whipping up his leg again.

"You okay, Johnny?" asked Roy.

Johnny sat back on the fusty spring popped couch, hugging his legs to
his chest, breathing hard. "..Y......Y......Yes..! ...For now.. There must
be a million of em!"

"See anybody else down there with ya?" Vince asked. He had thought
ahead and grabbed a fire extinguisher and rope. "Cap, maybe this'll
offer him some protection."

"That it will." said Hank. Together, the three men tied it on snug and
passed it down.

"Gage! CO2 cylinder!" Cap shouted.

Its loud clanging broke Johnny out of his cold sweat. "What else have
you got?.. They're all over the floor! Every square inch of it." he hollered
back fearfully, getting mad at his own weakness of heart.
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Above, Hank started to smile. "I've got just the thing. A protege of Chet's
old club invented this last week to outdo Brice's club for innovation points.
Roy? Go look inside the rear compartment, in the stokes."

"What is it?" DeSoto asked.

"A bonafide snake hook."

Vince laughed. "Makes sense being in Southern California."

Soon, Johnny was handed the metal rod, too, along with an H.T.
"I don't know how to use one of these things!" he complained right

"Better learn fast, we still have to do a search for the house owner
before we clear." Hank told him. "We'll coach ya.."

"That's what I'm afraid of..." mumbled Johnny, eyeing the surroundings
best he could.

"Here!" shouted Roy, dropping something else that bounced through
the window. Johnny startled badly and the flashlight landed on the tiles,
right into the middle of a ball of snakes, who hissed loudly and let out
more musk.

Gage froze and began coughing at the stench. "Okay.. okay.. sorry!
Quit arrowing in on my heat signature. Please..I didn't do it.." he

Slowly, the snakes crawled away from the unfamiliar metal object which
Gage soon hooked up into his lap. Turning it on, Johnny aimed
it into some darkness he couldn't yet see through.

His light beam landed on a pair of female legs, lying face down.

"Victim down here. Unconscious! Adult female! Breathing..." he

"Only the one?" Hank shouted back urgently while Vince got on
his radio to L.A. for more help.

Another torch sweep confirmed his finding.

"Yeah.." Johnny gasped, trying to get his nerve up to slide clumps
of snakes away from the path he wanted to take over to her using
the hook. "I can't tell how bad she is.."

"Gage, don't do anything rash. Your life's more important than--"
Hank started in.

"...anything but that doesn't mean a hoot if that lady dies on me, Cap."
Johnny finished in annoyance. "I know the risks."

There was a long pause from above. "....okay, pally. Just doing my

"Yeah, well, let me do mine. She's not lookin so good."
Johnny said, in a softer voice over his radio.

Finally, Gage took that first step. And then another, each time, gingerly
nudging and sliding serpents away with the hook. Whenever a bunch
threatened to migrate towards him, in long scaley threads,
he discouraged them with a blast from the extinguisher.

Soon, Johnny's fingers connected with the housewife's neck. He
found a strong beat at her carotid. "Good pulse. Maybe a faint only."
He reached down and hooked her tongue free from where it was
blocking the corner of her mouth. Her harsh breathing eased off.

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"Good deal." said Hank. "Is she in immediate danger?"

Johnny looked around him and saw the circle of sun had moved
away from the wall and over himself and his victim. "Yeah, we
both are. We're the only source of heat now."

"Emergency evac!" shouted both Roy and Hank at the same time.

Hank nodded at Roy in agreement. "Use our rope to tie her off.
What sized airway, Johnny?"

"A six. She'll do with a Berman. But we can't just drag her out of
here. We'll both get bitten. They're surrounding us fast. They..
they're..." he began to stutter as an old fear, that first one, began
to seep back into his very soul.

"Easy there. Think, Johnny. You're a captain now. Think outside the
bubble. You're better than you were before. Use what resources you've
got. You can do it." encouraged Hank.

Slowly, the panic began to fade and so did his useless hyperventilations.

He caught the oral airway when it rolled in and he utilized it, double
checking to be sure the woman's breaths continued regularly afterwards.

A hulking bulk nearby glinted in the reflection of sunlight bouncing off
his borrowed Captain's helmet plate. It was silver. Gage shouted.

"Garbage can! Cap, A...gar-- I can catch em all...and put them i--"

"Terrific, pal. Yes, you go corral 'em. One by one. Just enough to
get yourselves out....okay?" Stanley encouraged. "Great idea. Way
to think on your feet."

"I'm not on my feet, Cap. This is bringing me to my knees."

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"Not for long, Johnny. I know you. Now get her out so we can treat
her with oxygen before the ambulance gets here." Roy told him.
"Protect her with your jacket. Wrap her up after she's breathing
secured. Even if they strike out, they won't get through it."

"Good idea."

"That's what I'm here for. I've always been your second half.
Now get going." Roy said.

Gage slowly hook-reached for the first snake nearest the still woman.
"Ahhhh!" he cringed. Its heavy weight and angry rattle almost made
him drop it,... but then, it was over the garbage can.  

He shook it free of the rod,.. lightly....


HHHhhhiiiiissSSSSS!! came the angry reply from inside the can.
The large serpent rapidly tried to reach up to the top but swiftly, Gage
chilled the outer top rim with a frozen blast of CO2 from the nozzle
and it immediately recoiled away from the frosted aluminum surface.

It settled down, trying to thaw its frozen tongue.
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Johnny reached for the second snake.. and canned it. Just like the first.

Johnny's eyes began to unblur and some of the warmth began to return
to his hands and feet. Finally, his heart rate began to slow down.

Unbidden, came a whispered challenge of pure bravado from
between his lips. "Oh, yeah? So you all wanna sink some fangs into
somebody's legs do you? Come on, I dare any of you to try..." he
growled, advancing like a seasoned handler in a pit of spitting cobras.

Later, much later, after a long shower at the station, Johnny had his
chance to gloat. "See? So I finally got my revenge. And after all these
years.." he said, still coming down from his adrenaline rush.

"Did you kill any of em?" Roy asked out of morbid curiosity.

"Didn't have to.." Gage told him. "We had to get her out first,
remember? Glad she's gonna be okay."

"Helped that she didn't have any bites on her." Hank agreed.

"Glad we decided to go early. We made a difference.." Johnny said

Hank, infected, grinned right along with him. "Helper's high..."

Beside them, Roy didn't smile. In fact, he seemed lost to the
others in something unpleasant, or even... sad. Finally, he looked
up and spoke what was on his mind. "Wish we could have made
a difference for one other person, Johnny. Just one, for once..."
DeSoto said, his eyes glistening in remembrance.

Hank found he couldn't speak and all eyes turned to the bulletin
board where an old rusted can still hung, on a nail.

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From: patti keiper <>
Date: Sat Apr 19, 2008 1:52 am
Subject: Christened With Love..

Sploooosh!  went the water can as it triggered in the mop
closet. "Gage! Dang it all! This is my last shirt!" complained
Chet. "If I wasn't such a nice guy, I'd make you spend the
money to dry ALL of them out for me...!" he growled and danced
in half irritation and half admiration around the vehicle bay as he
ran the excess water off his curly head, shaking like a dog.

In the kitchen, Gage cupped an ear forward with a few fingers.
"Ooo, *tsk.tsk* Is that hot spot number four going off? Man,
and he walked into today with both eyes wide open.." Johnny
chuckled to Roy, who was clearing the table after breakfast.

"You mean you'd soak a guy on a morning as cold as this?"
DeSoto smiled.

"Sure. Why not? It builds character. And this is my big revenge
day for all the cans I ate." he said, hooking a thumb at his chest
empathetically. "It's not that bad outside. The sun's out and it's
clear as a bell."

"Thank G*d we don't have to suffer riding the Crown
to calls any more." Hank said, carefully keeping expression
neutral at the war playing out between his two men.

"Yeah, no open roof to worry about." Marco cracked up.

Roy studied Cap with a look that bordered on incredulity.
"You're letting them duke this out on purpose aren't you?"
he asked him.

"Why not? We all saw this day coming, didn't we? Besides,
a little water never hurt anybody. Maybe things'll settle down
now that Gage's has definitely proven himself to be the better
bomber.." Stanley winked, animatedly turning to a new page
in the newspaper.

Stoker sniggered from where he was doing dishes. "The
three year war. Who'd figured that the final battle would play
out on a Monday of all days."

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Johnny snorted.
"Of course. Because it's the first day of the work week, his guard
was down." Gage explained, still grinning like a banshee.
"Perfect day to get him by the throat..." he said, pantomiming
a neck twisting in his fingers.

"Easy there, pal. You don't want to kill him now, do you?"
asked Roy.

"Just that practical joke streak in him. I'm tired of always being
his easiest target..." Gage said, making a face. "So I'm finally
wise-ing up."

"It took this long?" Lopez quipped.

"Very funny." Johnny simped at him. "Chet's got a complex
and very devious mind. Took a while to figure him out."

"Okay, I'll give you that one." Marco admitted.

They all moused down as Chet emerged from the bay,
wrapped in yet another white shower towel in a vain attempt
to get the water dark wet staining out of his powder blue
uniform shirt before the next call.

Gage couldn't resist. "Isn't your first one dry yet?"

"It's still dewy outside! Thankyouverymuch. And the sun's
not hot enough yet and with no wind..." Kelly told him. "But
I gotta hand it to ya, I never saw this day coming. My hat's off
to ya."

"Glad you liked it." Johnny said magnanimously.
"Does this mean you'll lay off now on the Phantom pranks?"

Chet fashioned innocent eyes, then started grinning like
a fox. "Maybe... Maybe not. This could be the start of
World War III."

"Now that ....would be interesting..." commented Hank,
not looking up from his column.

Both Chet and Johnny rounded on Stanley. "Aww, Cap.
How can you be the judge of anything? We can't target you
in any of this, or we pay for it." Gage moped.

"Yeah! That's right." agreed Kelly, standing side by side with
Gage. They were in like poses of ire, with elbows on hips.

"Privilege of rank, boys. Earn a pair of these and you, too,
can be immune.." Cap said, tugging on his collar trumpets.

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The tones went off. Big ones. And Sam began detailing
a location and outlined a simple house fire on a lake.

"Ah,.." said Cap. "And those waited until after we were done
eating for once. Let's go. Chet, I'll order Stoker to drive
real fast with the windows down so you can--"

"Fat lot of good that'll do, I'll have my turnout coat on.."
Chet whined.

"Well...." said Hank, sweeping an I-offered gesture to the
air as they piled out to the trucks. "At least you'll be warm."

"But sticky!"

Gage started laughing as he put on his helmet in the squad.
"Ah, revenge is so sweet, and best served......cold." he remarked
to Roy once the doors were solidly closed.

"You're evil."

"No, just...calculated.."

"I'll give you that." DeSoto said as he took off onto the boulevard
with his lights and sirens on. "Chet'll probably be thanking ya
for the cool down once he's in the middle of all that hot fire."


It was two hours later, and the fire was quenched in short
order with two other stations. The lake home was a total
loss, including one brand new vehicle that had been in
the ground level open shed. On the brighter side, Station 51
had determined very early on that no one had been inside.

Captain Stanley felt confident enough to turn loose the
other supporting stations, leaving the routine cleanup detail
work that was still left to do, for his own men. "L.A., Engine 51.
This fire's out. Return all other units. Station 51 out one hour."

##Station 51, L.A.. Stations 8, 24.. Return.## replied L.A.

Already, the police had taped off the area to keep out
prying eyes and curious kids, attracted by the fading odor
of char and ruin.  
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Roy DeSoto hooked yet another roofing shingle over with his tool,
where it lay on the ground, so Johnny could hit it with a solid hose
drowning to snuff out the rest of its remaining embers. "So,
what do you think started the fire?" he asked Gage, still feeling
sooty and sweaty to the core.

"I don't know. Can't tell. It certainly wasn't the furnace. I mean
we can see that..." he said, pointing an ashy glove to the blackened
brand new unit sitting exposed through the black bones of the house
frame. He finally scratched his dirt streaked nose. "The cat maybe?"

Roy just smirked. "Anything goes. Guess this one's gonna have
to wait until the county investigators figure it out."

Johnny grimaced, then pulled off his scba bottle that they no longer
needed. "Man, this thing gets heavy after a while."

"No, sh*t." said Marco as he passed them by with another
hook and shovel, being followed by Stoker who was backing him
up with a charged hose. "Whydidja wait so long? I had mine off a
half hour ago."

"Quit being such a funny man. I was concentrating a little and lost
track of time. Geez.." Gage groused after their backs.

Roy just chuckled, knowing that everybody was blowing off
some steam after the high tension of search and knock down.

The peaceful, bright blue morning soon was punctuated with
casual fire calls through their truck radios and the H.T.s
they were wearing on their jackets.

All was calm. Then their H.T.s crackled on private band.

##Say, Johnny. I wanted to thank ya for my multiple baths
this morning. I think I was finally clean behind the ears for
the first time in my life. Too bad they're grubby again. Maybe
we can go take a dip in the lake to wash off or something
next break..## said Chet.

Everybody dispersed inside and outside the house laughed
out loud.

Hank joined in the handy talkie banter good naturedly. ##You
sure you want to do that? We don't know if that lake's fresh or
brine yet.##

Gage added more, keying up a toggle. ##Yeah, you might
get white stains from salt to go along with the black ones you
already got.##
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##Hey, because of you, I've got a serious penchant for water.##
Kelly shot back from where he was in the basement, with Hank.

##For wearing it or for spraying it out through a hose?## Johnny
rejoined in high amusement from the yard.

##Neither.. I like aiming it at a major annoyance who happens to
have the initials J.G.## Chet retorted, after leaving his axe buried
in the heart of a still warm wall.

##Oh? J.G., huh?  Hey Roy, doesn't that mean junior grade as in
something that's inferior?## Gage replied back, leaning on a palm
tree as he took a slug of ice water from their relief canteen.

In the still enclosed burned out basement, Stanley tapped Chet
on the shoulder. "Take a break, pal. I'll spray this last into the wall.
Don't go far." he said, aiming a hose nozzle into the hole Chet had

"I won't. Tell you what? I'll be sitting over on that stairwell just
over there, floor middle. That's sunshine coming in from up top
and I wanna see some serious daylight again after all this smoke."

"Sounds good, pal." Hank replied. "Keep keying up so I know where
you are."

Chet gave him a thumbs up.

Gage's voice filtered in slyly and echoed through the basement.
##Oh, Chet.. guess what I got..##

Kelly immediately felt all of his pockets and immediately grumbled
when his gloves fell on the spot where his jacket haligan used to be.
He mouthed epithets silently and rolled his eyes. Out loud, he
commented to Cap. "He's got light fingers, too? Cap, I swear I
had it on me last trip out to the engine."

Hank starting laughing and held up both his gloves in an
I'm-staying-out-of-it gesture after he had rolled up the last of
their hose.

Kelly sighed and toggled back. ##I might need that coming up.##

##For what? All the windows are already popped.## Johnny countered
neatly over the radio.

##You're enjoying yourself, aren't you?##

##Yep. Aren't you? We're top of the line firefighters. And we knocked
this bad boy down fast, didn't we?## Gage evaded, with double meaning.
## I've got reason to celebrate. You should, too.##

Stanley nodded as he climbed back up the stairs and past Chet.
"I'll be right back. Gonna put this roll away. Keep your helmet on, pal.
The carpeting above the ceiling still dripping. I wouldn't want
you to get wet." he quipped.

"Oh, knock it off, Cap. Not you, too." replied Chet. "Say, want my bottle
as long as you're going?"

"Yeah, gimme." said Hank, taking his yellow air tank along with his by the
straps. He left the basement just as Chet got into it again with a little
vehemence. He heard Kelly's scathing reply over his radio.
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##Not this way. And don't hide it where I can't figure out where it is!##

##Come on, Chet. A fire engine isn't really all that big. Should only take
ya, fifteen minutes or so once we get back to the station to shake it out
to get your tool back.## Johnny taunted good naturedly. ##So what do
ya say? Are you gonna come out and say it finally? It's easy. Come on,
say it now. Johnny Gage is the better man.##

Up on the lawn, amid birdsong, Johnny waited for a reply back.
He frowned when suddenly only static returned to him. "Chet? How's
your battery power? I didn't quite hear that. Say again?"

Nothing returned. Chuckling, he turned to Roy. "He's giving me the
silent treatment already. Come on, let's make amends by getting
them some of these drinking water bottles."

DeSoto nodded and set down his hose. He jogged after his partner
with six of them hooked over his shoulder.

They met Cap coming back from the engine. "What's the score,
Johnny? Sounded pretty even to me on the comebacks." Stanley

Gage shook his head with a shrug. "Cap, where is he? I think his
radio died on him and he doesn't know it yet."

Hank looked at his watch. "Yeah, it's been that long. I know where he
is, boys. On the stairs in the basement, right at the top. I just
left him."

Right then, their radios signaled a triple distress--automated only.
And the signature was Kelly's.

"Chet?!" Gage shouted, keying up his radio. Alarmed, the three
began running for the house just as the first floor caved in noisily.
"Oh, man. No!  No!" Johnny yelled, running faster.

Hank ran for the engine cab and called for emergency help. "Engine
51, L.A.. We've suffered a structural collapse. One man unaccounted
for. Personal beacon has been activated."
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##10-4, Engine 51..## And L.A. summoned an urban rescue unit
over another channel. The dispatcher returned. ##L.A., Engine 51.
USAR 1 reports an E.T.A of twenty five minutes. All other
units tied up.##

"What?!" Hank said, throwing down the unkeyed mic in disgust he
ran after his men with a K-12 kit, portapower case and crowbars.

As he disappeared into the burned out hulk of the house, the birds
around him continued singing gayly, undisturbed.

From: patti keiper <>
Date: Sun Apr 20, 2008 12:49 pm
Subject: AutoPilot..

Hank got to the edge of the ash lined beach in the back yard
and shouted at his men. He spotted all four of them, running
for the house.  "Don't.. move.. a.. muscle! We're checking this out

Gage sputtered, beginning to panic. "Cap, if it's bad, he's got
only four min--"

"Don't you think I know that? We have to be safe first before
we can even BEGIN to think about going in there. Get into fresh SCBA.
Grab enough for all of us. We're gonna analyze position, obstacles
and guess the total time we might need to enter and work inside
the house, and then we're coming right back out here to plan all this out.
Marco, keep hailing for him. On his emergency band."

Roy was fighting his instincts. "No, wait. Cap, he's not responding.
And it's gonna be forever before help arrives. We have to at least
take a fast look.."

Hank ignored him. "Get into this gear, now. You, and Marco. Full
body harness with retrieval lines attached inside hose rollers to prevent
abrasion. Wristlets for Chet for a fast out if he not buried and
if the space he's in is big enough and vertical. Set up the hand-cranked
mechanical winch and tripod."


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"Just go! Stoker, bring a ladder, and our explosion-proof lighting.
Gage, grab a scoop stretcher and the medical gear. Oxygen resuscitator
first. I'll get the electronic gas detectors and color-indicator gas detector tubes
so we can determine our oxygen content, lower explosive limit, and check
for toxic atmospheres."  As he spoke, he kept grabbing at his mens'
jackets, to keep them from running inside and to keep them focused
despite their shock. "And get out two escape cylinders. Move!"

All four men fled under his orders.

It tore Hank's heart to hear Lopez continuing to beg Kelly into answering
them over the personal band.

Gritting his teeth and fighting tears, Hank lifted his walkie talkie and
switched to L.A.'s frequency. "Engine 51,L.A. Confirmed one missing.
No obvious hazardous mat's yet. Utilities were shut off during our knockdown.
Time since collapse...." he looked at his watch. "Two minutes, seven
seconds... Mark."

##Time stamping.##

Cap went on, relaying his critical information. "This is the Bradley
housing development. Contact a Scott Myers. We'll need to obtain
architechural drawings of this address. We need an aerial perspective
of the scene. Our side access is limited. Notify USAR 1, there is no
rebar or massively sized concrete debris present. Victim was last noted
to be away from all exterior walls. We will need overhead lift capability.
Several large unburned rafters are lying on the dig site. Send a stand by
fire/rescue team a.s.a.p. and P.D. with barricades for crowd control and a
traffic block. "

##L.A., Engine 51. Affirm additional resources. Battalion Seven reports
an E.T.A. of six minutes to assume incident command. L.A. to Copter Two.
Report to three miles east of Topanga Freeway, on the north shore of
Shane's Lake to 51's entrapment beneath a cold fire site.##

##10-4, L.A. There in one.## said the helicopter pilot.

Hank ran to carry out his physical part of the sudden rescue operation.
It was almost instantly, when they were all back and laden with
equipment which they set up upwind of the charred house fire footprint.

"All right, everybody's mask on tight? Okay, inside. We're testing
the oxygen in all areas first. Then look for combustible gases
and vapors. Explosion risk may be on the rise from all that organic
material rotting in the lake so near the basement foundation. There might
be carbon monoxide left over from the fire or hydrogen sulfide or methane
from the beach coming through the sand. These might cause
olfactory fatigue at high levels. Any one of these gases will displace
Chet's oxygen, they're heavy. Let's do air sampling in four foot
increments vertically and horizontally, including corners and lowspots, to
ensure that all potential hazards are identified.  Allow solid time
to accommodate our sampling speed range and the detector's response.
Do NOT enter a hole if you find flammable or explosive gas, vapor, or
mist in a concentration greater than 10 percent of its lower flammable
limit or lower explosive limit. Enter only if dust is less that five feet visual
density or if there's proven oxygen deficiency below 19.5%. With that
last figure, we'll know Chet's suffocating. If he does need breathing
help on the demand valve, watch it! Oxygen enrichment at 23.5 percent
oxygen or above in a small space is deadly. Static electricity from your
clothing or even your hair will re-ignite even a dead fire. Prevent this by first
ventilating his confined space with normal, ambient air using our outside
air hose."

The firemen trembled in stress, crouching over the detectors
as they worked step by step. Stoker's intense frown broke. "LEL
and LFL's are below tolerance. Some..uh,..CO and minor sulfides.
PELs are normal. Oxygen's at... 20.1%. Air's dust free in most places."
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"So far." Lopez nodded, beginning to sweat inside his mask. "Chet, come
on, answer us, pal. If we're near you, let us know.." he pleaded over his
radio. "Make a noise. Or anything, please."

Silence reigned.
Stanley lightly stood on the edge of the pile mounded up
inside where the burned out house once stood. After ensuring rescuer
safety and minimal movement of the debris, Cap swallowed the grit
still in his throat, and sent two of his men to the top of the pile to
systematically search the surface in specific grids. "DeSoto, Marco.
You go up first. Keep in constant communications by radio with the surface.  
You are not to travel a greater distance down any hole farther than
allowed by your ten minute air supply or any more than ten feet from
the escape cylinders." he said, sending them in. "Use barricade tape and
markers to visually mark the areas that have been searched around that
stairwell site. Don't lose hope yet, gang. As many as one half of all collapse
survivors have been rescued near the surface of the debris and early in
the effort in my experience." he shared over H.T. "Your bags have three
light sources each in them. Use them often."

Gage added his own two cents worth. "Make sure additional collapse
doesn't occur anywhere near him, guys.  Use your hands and small tools to
remove debris, while you're up there, until you know ..exactly.. where he is."
he fidgetted inside of his air mask. "Roy, I'll have the M.A.S.T. trousers
ready for any "crushing" injuries so he won't suffer a complete
hemodynamic collapse once you start getting him free. Ringer's'll be
in seconds later."  

"Okay.." came Roy's voice as he disappeared inside, trailing his
sheath covered rope.

Stoker and Cap manned their lines. "Mike, when they've found the spot,
see about additional ventilation options. Static free PPE fans, whatever
we've got. I don't want anybody overheating in there." Hank ordered,
shouting through his faceplate.

Just then, radio traffic erupted from Hank's radio. ##Engine 51, This
is Copter Two. We're over your area.##

Cap didn't look away from his youngest paramedic. He replied
back to the chopper pilot. "Two firemen inside. Keep a lookout
for new cave-ins." he instructed. "Or movement from the victim.
He's a Code I."

##Roger, will do, 51.## came the fast reply.

Johnny and Cap watched the dot in the sky begin to circle overhead
with its familiar silhouette and transponder hum over their channel.

Stanley gently set a glove on Gage's shoulder, who jumped.
Hank apologized, doubly. "Sorry. Sorry I didn't send you in there right

"That's okay, I'm good at maneuvering a resuscitator around
tight corners. Once we have 'em.." Johnny tried to joke as he drew
his eyes once more to the quiet hulk of the fallen, still smouldering

Hank tried to grin, outwardly acting reassured, but inside, he felt numb.
"I couldn't rush this." Cap explained, keeping a feel on his rope
attached to Marco.

"I know. Our safety came first. Like it always does." Johnny said

Stanley offered shallow comfort. "We're doing all we can."

"Let's just hope it's enough, Cap. I don't even want to THINK about
how things might go." he hissed, not looking at his captain for the
first time in living memory.

Hank became speechless, lost in misery, too.
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Then Gage said something else. "Cap, can you ask the B.C.
to set aside a special place for our families and any psychological
care we might need that's near to but off of the rescue site? To do
otherwise will probably... just invite charges of insensitivity later. I... don't
want ANYBODY else we know... trying to attempt to enter or stay in the
immediate rescue area. Just in case Chet proves to be-.." he broke
off, his face twisting.

"Yeah, pal. I'll do that first thing. And Relief'll be here too, with food
and tents."

Another roar of helicopter rotors less familiar than the fire department's
suddenly grew louder. Both firefighters looked up to see the bright
obnoxious blue and white coloring of Channel 8's television bird. Johnny
mock spat onto the charred ground. "Oh, no. D*mn it. Not the press, too!" he
choked. "Cap, we gotta send them away.. Now's not a good t--"

Hank shushed him with a grip on the shoulder. He was firm but urgent.
"Go be our Public Information Officer. That way, they can't
scrutinize or question our every move.  Be as forthcoming as
possible, without compromising the integrity of this operation,
Chet, or the rest of the department. I'll let you know the second
we find Kelly."

"I'll go call Rampart now and then wait for that civvie pilot and those
two reporters to land." said Gage, pulling off his mask.

Hank watched him walk away from the debris site, fully carrying the
weight of the world on his two small shoulders.

Image of johnnyrunturnoutinsidehouse.jpg Image of gagepainfaceclosehelmet.jpg

From: patti keiper <>
Date: Sun Apr 20, 2008 7:27 pm
Subject: In the spirit of Free Spirits..

Cap continued to talk to Roy and Lopez as
they checked each crevice, nook and cranny
near the place the stairwell had been. That location
was at the very center of the uneven pile of blackened
wood and melted insulation. And everywhere, footing
was treacherously slippery from fire hose slag and
an ashy fire created mud. Sizzling drips abounded from
depths of the charcoiled ruins as steam and water vapor
condensed and found its way down towards gravity.

Even past their helmets, the slime got in.

Hank, too, was soon wet to the skin through his trousers
from where he stood as the lookout officer, watching them.
"Our continued safety, once we're at his buried location,
is going to be maintained solely by continuous forced-air
ventilation. We may have to do some hot work to get
rid of some of these water pipes. Stoker, keep monitoring
conditions. I want to bring the current 8% LEL concentration
of our mix down at the base of the pile here to 50% of the PEL."

"Cap, that's a lot of pumping to do." Mike said softly.

"We'll let's get started." Hank told him quietly. "If this wind
keeps up, we'll be able to take our masks off soon." he said,
eyeing up the street visible through the black bones of
the house's combusted frame. "Roy! Marco! Still watch your radios.
Spark risk remains! Use only when you're away from any holes!"

"Right, Cap." DeSoto shouted back, giving him a thumbs up
hand signal.

Approaching sirens gave all the gang a burst of urgent tears
when that station's arrival signaled the twelve minute mark
with still no positive sign of Chet's whereabouts.

##Station 51, this is Ladder Nine.  We can begin a fog over your
location at your discretion.##

Hank got on his radio. "Ladder Nine. Set up on the north side,
upwind. We have no obvious water combustibles. Tolerances are
within working parameters.  This fire was contained without foam or
chemicals two hours, ten ago."

##Heard from your victim?## asked the grizzled captain incoming.

Stanley hesitated, not wanting to answer truthfully, but he made
his lips move for the job's sake. "Not yet."


"Single level sub-basement, central stairwell... exact middle.
uh.... U- Under the first floor of plywood and a few rafters."

##Inundation risk?##

"None. The drain tiling for this house is still very good. Our water
from earlier's not pooling at all, even at floor level."

##I copy that traffic, 51. Sending in two backup team pairs to help
with your search and rescue. L.A. reports USAR 1's ETA, as fifteen

"Nine, copy. Embers are at depth only, on wood. We had the walls
completely gutted out and flooded. No open fire remains near us.
Roof collapse is not a threat." Cap said ironically angry, peering up
at the square of mockingly blue sky above them.

##I'll be right in... B.C. Seven's here. I'll update him for you, Hank.
Concentrate on your lost man now. I got your back.##


Johnny Gage's fingers fumbled at the catch snaps of the biophone
where he crouched on an already spread out yellow shock sheet.
He was shaking so hard, he couldn't plug in the aerial antennae.

"Here." said Paramedic Craig Brice gently, doing it for him.

Startled, Johnny looked up for a long, shocked moment, and then
against his will, he began to weep. "It's Chet. He might be gone by
now, Craig. The whole floor came down on him." he whispered, almost
coming to pieces. "There hasn't been a single..*sniff*...word from him."

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  Click the gang watching
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  What's  A  Dedicated Captain  Like  You  Doing..
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