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   The Long Hot Summer
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Page Seven

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"Already knew that." Cap checked off.

"Cap. Chet and I,..we think it's methane down there." Gage countered with a new observation.

"Oh?" Hank wondered.

Johnny nodded his head eagerly. "We had an almost secondary in the Y when sunlight hit
the smoke above a swimming pool. The air turned a definite brown."

Cap let out the breath he was holding. "Oh, that's good. I mean, not... that you guys almost
blew yourselves up, I mean... good as in predictable. Methane's gas outside the natural gas

"From the old field under the clay pan." Mike agreed.  "Summer heat and rot build up."

Hank chuckled in triumph. "It won't be spreading. What's burning is all that's going to burn."
Hank realized. "From a blocks long pocket. What's left can only work straight up. That's good
news, pals. I'll let him know."  Captain Stanley got instantly on the radio to I.C.1 Battalion
with an update.


Marco Lopez had held Dr. Brackett and Dr. Early's attention for almost six minutes.
He could tell he was going to live by the fact that they had already left his treatment
room to go get a cup of coffee before the triage victims began flooding in.

He sleepily glanced up at Dixie who was arranging his chart for his transfer to a patient
floor bed. "I'm not going to be put in the same room as Dr. Morton, now am I?"

"We wouldn't do that to you." McCall smirked. "Seeing the man when he's in one piece
and working in a lab coat is bad enough."

Brice, minding the transfer of Lopez's I.V. line and oxygen tubing, commented.
"Mr. Morton's got a less than satisfactory bedside manner?"

"Where have you been?"  Dixie oggled, chewing on a pencil end as she double checked
Marco's orders.

"Apparently not observing well enough. I'll remedy that right away." Craig said with

"Any closer and you'll burn holes through your patient's skin, Brice." Marco complained.
He coughed, and his EKG monitor protested in a flurry of arrythmias.

Dixie and Craig's hands both shot to Marco's shoulders. "Easy." she said.
"Nice and easy." Brice repeated. "Your aorta still likes sneezing, Mr. Lopez."

"Am I in danger?"  Marco slurred, suddenly wide eyed.

"No." Dixie smiled. "But you don't want any more cardiac meds assigned to you.
Could rack up an even bigger bill." McCall joked. "We want to spare you additional
money pain."

"Don't remind me. So glad I paid my insurance on time last month." Lopez sighed.

Brice looked up after running another strip off Marco's EKG monitor for Dixie.
"I can do that for you. I am on the Fireman's Committee. If you join, I can
take a bit out of your checks automatically."

"No thanks. I'm poor enough. I'll.. keep my inefficiency. Happily." he said with
conviction. "The union already takes too much out. I like to control my falls."

"You mean like the last one?" Dixie jibbed.

"Very funny. Like I really asked to be thrown around by a giant sized earth fart." Marco

"Better a dirt fart than a hiccup." Brice offered.  

Dixie laughed.

"Oooo, underground cave-ins are the worst." Lopez shivered. "I don't know how
Gage can stand climbing into them all of the time to rescue folks."

"Because he's crazy?" Dixie shared, shrugging.

All three of them nodded their heads in like appraisals.
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Roy had no more victims left to process. Not until the next batch was
disovered still alive.  Slowly, Urban Search and Rescue were making their way back
to ground zero at the K-mart. The route they had taken eariler to bug out Gage
and Kelly and the Y.M.C.A. victims had destabilized with numerous pavement
collapses and a few sinkholes.

Their eyes were now fire department helicopters manning spot lights over the area.

##I.C.2., This is Copter Ten on behalf of Engine 103.##

"Go ahead, Copter Ten." Hank Stanley said, radioing back on his handy talkie.

##Multiple fatalities around the ignition point. We see 17 Code F's.##

"Any live victims? Stations' 51, and 61 will be working their way in from the west."

##Unknown at this time. Remaining ceiling structures are blocking some views in.##

Cap sighed heavily, thinking hard. "Ten, how about we send in some dogs?"

##They'll work.## agreed the pilot. ##Best access remains along Third. We see no fire
erupting down the middle of that particular street.##

Hank got on his radio. "Station 103. Risk the dogs. Copter Ten needs immediate support
locating viable victims. Use Third."

##10-4, I.C.2. Station 103 copies. Utilize canine teams from Third. Going in.##

Nearby Roy DeSoto sat wearily on Squad 51's running board while he kept within sight
of both Cap and the Accountability table.  He made the mistake of looking at his watch.
::9:30 pm.  I sure hope Joanne and the kids enjoyed whatever was for dinner. I'm starving.::
he thought.

A puff of wind and smoke blew a fluttering monarch butterfly over his head. The heat
and the glow of the fire had confused it into flight, being bright as day. Roy watched it,
transfixed, as the butterfly landed on the hood of the squad to rest. ::I wish I could
fly away from all of this.:: he thought. "Want to change jobs?" he asked it.

Startled at the sound of his voice, the monarch butterfly took off, attracted to the fire light
burning from downtown.

"Stay safe." Roy wished it as the butterfly quickly disappeared into the orange lit boil of
smoke billowing down the hillside.  He saw one last flicker of its wings. Then it was gone.
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Joanne DeSoto awoke at a light touch on the back of one of her hands. In the flame glow
from outside, she saw that a monarch had landed there to taste of the sweaty salt pooling
on her skin. "Oh, hello, little thing. S-So thirsty, too. Is it morning?"

The butterfly slowly flexed its wings, basking in the beastly heat of the ruined store.

Joanne said hoarsely. "I wish you could talk to me about what's happening out there."

The butterfly stopped drinking and folded up its wings, regarding the bloody human's face

"The air must be okay. You're staying here." Joanne smiled. Then a spasm shot pain through
her neck again and she gasped. The noise frightened the monarch butterfly and it took off, rising
quickly through the hole in the ceiling, back the way it had come. "Oh, don't go. Don't leave me."
she said, in confusion. "I'm sorry I scared you away." she whispered. "Please come back. I needed
you to find me."

But there was only silence and stillness.


Captain Stanley strode quickly over to Roy. "You're sprung. Brice is relieving you as
head of triage."

"He's back?"

"Yep. Volunteered for the spot. He just got Battalion's approval." Hank said. "He's fresher for the task.
I'll give him that."

"Where is he?"  Desoto wondered.

"Right there." Cap said, pointing.  Brice was coming over from the Accountability table, donning
a white helmet with paramedic emblems on the side.

Roy eagerly handed him his vest.  "Thanks, Craig. Now I can join the rest of the guys down there and.."
DeSoto stopped speaking when Brice took hold of his arm. "Brice?" he asked.

"I just got off the phone with your babysitter, Roy."

"What? I don't understand.." The rare use of his first name by Craig alarmed him.

"I promised Mrs. DeSoto I'd keep tabs connecting the two of you for the duration. Roy, Joanne never made it
home last night after shopping." Craig said.

Roy peeled out of his Head of Triage helmet and threw it at Craig's feet. "Where did she say she was going?"
he said, making for Squad 51 to retrieve his turnout coat, regular black helmet, and the ignition key.

"Miracle Mile."

"Why didn't you tell us this sooner?" Cap thundered.

"I didn't know until now. Downtown's a big place. Beverly Center was not involved." Craig offered softly.
"Apparently, she made a last minute change and didn't go there as planned."

Hank got on his radio. "I.C.2 to HTs 51."

##HTs 51, Stoker, Gage, and Kelly. Go ahead.## came Stoker's voice.

"Hoof it up here to Triage. I've got an immediate victim search assignment with a firefighter paramedic."

The distinction of terminology and the tone of Cap's voice was not lost on the three of them. ##There in
one.## replied Gage on his own radio.

Soon, Captain Stanley issued last orders. "Use your air bottles. Take Squad 51. Follow 103's lead and
do not move ahead of them. I want a report every five minutes. Got that?"

Roy only nodded.  He, and Chet piled in the squad. Stoker and Gage both got a firm grip from the outside
and belted themselves to both the driver and passenger side running board mirrors using safety harnesses.

Then the four firemen of Station 51 re-entered H*ll itself.

Craig Brice put on the head of triage vest and tried to pull himself together as they disappeared out of view.
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From:  patti keiper (
Sent: Sun 9/06/15 6:08 PM
Subject: The Long Wait..

Hank's designated public information officer was hard at work at the edge of the triage field. The PIO
spokesman firefighter was speaking patiently with the slew of reporters and news crews hoping to get
the full story on the burn emergency taking hideous shape a few miles away.

"So it wasn't an earthquake?" asked one reporter from Channel Two.

"No." replied the PIO.

"Sure felt like one."

Another reporter, an anchor woman, piped up. "Can you give us a run down on victim numbers?
People are wanting the facts, sir."

"All right." the PIO said, with a lift of his helmeted head. "We have 20-30 stores evacuated in a four
block zone around the Fairfax business district.  Flares have been placed in the streets to redirect traffic,
around that zone. 22 have been taken to the hospital.  Main hospital's Cedars Sinai. Redirect is to Brotman
Burn Center.  All ancillary cases are going to Rampart General Hospital."

"How many have been killed?" asked the first journalist.

"A body count? We don't know those numbers yet. We're still in rescue operations mode, going after
survivors. I'm sure you understand the priority of that." said the PIO evenly.

The newspaper man broke off, self conscious of the subtle shaming aimed at him by the fire department

A woman reporter was more tacit. "What's the probable cause of the fire? It broke out very quickly. Surely
you firefighters have general ideas about causes and where by now."

The PIO man nodded his head. "I can tell you that we're currently getting very high readings at Gilmore
Bank and across the street on the sidewalks in front of Kmart and in front of Ross Dress For Less building,
too. We think it was natural gas, from a petrogenic source, normally held underground by a thick layer of
clay. Somehow it has seeped to the surface where the gas collected in building basements until a spark
set it off."

"That's all very well and good, sir. But what are you guys doing about it to put it out?" asked a local

The PIO received a distant nod from Hank Stanley to share the idea that Cap and Battalion had been working
on over the last hour. So the officer spoke up. "We have a plan of tapping into the central region of gas we
know is generating, located about eighty feet below the surface. At the top of a twelve foot stack, in each
location we've chosen, a flame will be ignited to burn off any escaping gas. They'll be drilling all night and
once lit, these taps should put out all of the sidewalk and road fires so we can begin to move around for
rescue operations in full. I'm afraid these'll become permanent structures on sidewalks all around the city.
It's the best, most quickly implemented solution, since the downtown area is no natural lake of tar with easy
open air venting. We couldn't possible jack hammer enough holes in pavement to accomplish the same task
fast enough before it all starts disintegrating due to the heat of the underground flames."

"Are you saying the La Brea Tar Pits are to blame?" asked a radio personality.

"No. They're what gave us the idea of the ultimate solution. To permanently vent this gas.
From around our new skyscrapers, sidewalks and streets. The whole Miracle Mile District is a place
that wasn't in existence as a concrete lid over old gas seeps even a year ago. Today we're learning that we
absolutely have to obey the natural law of the land. These soils are literally screaming now for mandatory
breathing room. So we are providing it."

"Are we at fault for this disaster? Builders and architects?"

"No. This effect and outcome couldn't have been predicted. Are we at fault for earthquakes and wildfires
and dam breaks? Not all of the time." replied the PIO.  

"What else can go wrong?" asked another man.

"There could be manufactured gas from the gas mains, bleeding off due to damage from the initial explosion
that might be contributing to these flames we're seeing. Those secondary effects, if there are any, are as yet
undetermined. It's a mystery at this point on the status of all of the downtown underground infrastructure.
We're going to be using reports of loss of water pressure and phone lines as an indicator of potential problem
spots. Water and phone lines usually run adjacent to gas lines within the same tunnels."

"How long before all victims are accounted for?" asked a newspaper writing college student.

This gave the PI Officer pause. "It.. could be days, maybe even a week before everyone effected is found.
We simply don't know how many people have fled the fire area without calling friends and family.
Gathering that kind of information, hospital patient influxes, morgue admissions, missing persons, takes a
while to gather. But we'll do our best to get any and all information out to the media just as soon
as possible. Now if you'll excuse me, I've another briefing to attend. I'll return to this post in two hours
with more." he said. Then the firefighter in dress uniform left the press behind, leaving the police to handle
crowd control so no one followed him into the restricted Staging Area set up by all of the Fire Departments
responding to the explosion.
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Hank met him at his communications post. "Thanks, Mac."

"Sure thing, Hank. What a bloodthirsty lot. All they care about are corpses."

"We're a sick species. We all gape at car crashes alongside the freeway, don't we?"
Cap snorted.

"Not me."

"No, not us. We respond to them. On or off duty." Cap said, clasping a hand in appreciation of Mac's
thankless job. "Heading for chow?"

"Yeah, want some?"

"Anything you can grab." replied Hank.

"Give me twenty. I'll be back with a truck load. For you and Mr. Brice."

Craig Brice nodded confirmation of the food run on his behalf. Then he faced Cap reluctantly.

Hank noticed, and gave him his full attention.

"Sir, I should have said something sooner." Brice said, his voice nearly a whisper.

"About what?  You were busy. You can't keep a phone call you had with a coworker's wife
in the foreground while you were working. Especially for a call like this one. It's too big."

"But Joanne told me where she was going. I should have remembered." Brice minced.

"She said Miracle Mile, Beverly Center, right?" Cap said, rubbing his eyes.

"Well, yes.. but--"

"Then she changed her mind, Craig. Women do that all of the time. The fact that she might
be missing is not your fault.  At all."  Stanley reiterated. "There are hundreds of thousands
of people in the Miracle Mile neighborhood. Even now, with this going on." he said jerking a
thumb up at the mushroom cloud of smoke rising above the city. "She could be stuck in traffic,
holing up in a restaurant until the roads clear enough to go home. I know for a fact that
the phone lines are jammed up. Nobody's able to get an open line. The only ones working
are all the payphones in the disaster area, simply because no one's using them yet."

Brice's gaze remained clouded and troubled.

The vague, distant look in his eyes bothered Hank. A lot.  "Brice, are you... getting another
one of your funny feelings?"

'Yes, sir." Craig said, studying the ground. "I hoped I was wrong, that I was making up what
I'm feeling. But I'm not. My stomach is literally sick... with this, sir. I know Mrs. DeSoto is not
okay. I know the DeSotos well enough. Joanne DeSoto wouldn't put off calling her family.
She'd find a way, captain. And it's already ten thirty in the middle of the night."

Cap sucked in a breath, fighting an emotional reaction. Unbidden, his eyes swept
over the helicopters taking turns hovering over Kmart, their spot lights and loud speakers
questing for signs of survivors, bright beacons, stirring up the thickening sea fog.

A passing firefighter, returning from the Fairfax area, walked by them. He didn't even wave.
From off his turnout jacket, came the sour smell of death and new decay in the heat.


Johnny Gage, Chet Kelly, Mike Stoker and Roy DeSoto trailed behind Engine 103's
fire teams in the darkness.  Eerie jets of knee high fire were still emanating from
every sidewalk crack in the area along Third, except for on the street. It was like
being high up on a roller coaster track, with a glow-in-the-dark hellfire world
surrounding the ride's cars.

"Air's not safe." reported an air masked Kelly, sticking a gas detector out the window
of the Squad while they coasted closer to the Kmart block.

Everybody's voices were muffled in their apparatuses.

"Then how are they handling it?" Gage asked, throwing a helmeted head over at
the teams with dogs walking ahead of their advance.

"They're all wearing masks. Their dogs, too." Chet reported, using night vision

Swallowing hard, Roy fought the urge to gun the engine and speed around 103,
to get to ground zero, the first search point, a little faster.

Johnny finally lost patience and disconnected his life belt from a squad mirror.
"I'm going to go ask one of them a question." he said lightly jumping down
from the runner board. He was able to easily walk faster then the pace they
at which they were searching from their vehicles. "I'll be right back."

Gage jogged ahead of Engine 103 and reached one of the canine S and R teams.
The German Shepherd, straining ahead on the leash of a lieutenant, was distracted
by Johnny's arrival and looked up, his glass goggled eyes steaming inside of his muzzle
mask and canister filter.
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"Sorry, boy.." he said, gesturing the search command at him in re-enforcement. His handler
leaned forward to Gage's faceplate in question.  Johnny swallowed dryly as they walked.
"Umm. I have to ask, are you a search dog for live rescue or body recovery? My partner
wants to know. His wife might be out here."

The fireman specialist's eyes glistened in sympathy through his air mask. "Live ones, first.
Both of us." he said, gesturing to his companion team pacing parallel down the road
with them in the orange gloom. "I'm sorry to hear that." he hollered back.

Johnny gave him a wave and fell back to rejoin the trailing Squad 51.

"What was that all about?" Roy asked him when he had rehooked his life belt snaffle
to Roy's driver mirror again.

"I asked him how long until we get there. That's all." he lied.

"About an hour." replied Mike. "We're a mile away from the Kmart."

Their squad radio burst into life with a command from Battalion One from Hancock
Park. ##Squad 51, you're ordered to remain with and transport out any live victims
as soon as you encounter any. Bring them to triage in your stokes and get
new air bottles. Then return trip, with a follow up transmission report, back to Engine
103. Do you copy?##

"10-4, Battalion One." said Roy, shouting loudly to be heard on channel through his
mask over the radio mic.

"Why?" groused Chet. "We've got enough air for the four of us to last six hours if
you count the ones up top in back.

"Our victims are going to need some of the supply. We can't use any of the medical
oxygen around all of this fire." Stoker replied. "Methane's too reactive."

"Oh." Kelly moped.  "How long now?"

"Three hours. Best case run to base and back if we get only one find between here
and there." estimated Stoker.

"D*mn." cursed Roy under his breath. His gloves hid how white his fingers were
getting as he clenched the steering wheel. "I hate superceding I.C. orders."

Gage noticed his building stress. "Do you want me to drive?"

"No, Johnny. I'd probably start running there on foot." DeSoto told him, scared.
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Copter Ten was back hovering over the Kmart.  

Its sharp eyed pilot spotted something odd and pointed it out to his co-pilot.
"What's that over there?"

His night goggled partner sited along the pilot's finger direction. "Looks like
a monarch butterfly."

"They fly at night?"

They both watched the monarch struggle upwards, until the rotor blade wash
pushed it down and away from the hole from which it had emerged. It was swept
out of sight and out of their minds in an instant.  

"Can't see down there." said the co-pilot. "There are some intact rooms, even though
the roof's gone."

"Mark it for the dogs." said the pilot.

"Marking. Southeast quadrant, sixty feet from the west fire door. Side C." he replied. Then
he toggled PTT foot button on the floor with a boot. "Copter 10 to Engine 103. We've found
a potential survivor pocket. Looks like a few changing rooms are still partially intact.  One
of us can show you where with a spotlight. What's your E.T.A.?"

##Copter 10. We've just found a victim. An old man. Squad 51's bringing him to triage. We'll
be at your location at midnight. The dogs are no longer point signalling. We can make
that time stick.##  replied USAR's engine.

"2400 hours. Roger." said the pilot. He turned to his partner. "I'm pulling up. We need to refuel.
Copter 10 to Copter 5. Give us some head room. Then move to cover our last coordinates. They're
a future search area marker for 103's teams."

##Copter 5 copies. Taking over your hover point in one minute. Your air space is clear.##

"10-4. Leaving for base."
Copter 10 angled away from the shattered department store, leaving it behind in total darkness.


"Is he taking the mask?" Roy shouted to Johnny as they knelt by the seventies something
man they had located inside of a bus shelter next to the Y.M.C.A. Chet Kelly and
Mike Stoker had rushed to get out the stokes while the two paramedics worked to stabilize
their patient.

"Yeah, he's breathing!"  said Gage, holding the faceplate of a spare air bottle over the man's
face while the others quickly tightened the straps around his head and face. "But he's burned
a bit about the chest and hands. Second degree with blisters."

"AhhhHHH!" the man screamed as the fresh air revived him back to consciousness.

"Easy, easy!" said Gage.

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"Keep that over your nose and mouth. The air's bad out here in the street!" shouted Stoker,
who finally pinned the man's head still in between his knees while the others prepared
the stokes stretcher with a yellow burn sheet and saline. "What's your name? Can
you talk?"

"Elroy!.. Jenkins.. Wh..what happened to me?"

"Gas blew up in a basement. Looks like you were burned trying to get away." Roy told him.

"Tried to a hydrant with a tool from my mechanic's shop. But the sidewalk
got too hot. I think I blacked out."

"You'll be fine. What else can you tell us? Have you seen anybody else stuck here in the fire?"
Gage asked. He watched Stoker taking over the man's tool. The engineer flung open the water
valve on the nearly hydrant and its welcome fountain of water shot up and around the bus shelter
in a cooling cascade, protecting them from further harm. Mike then rushed back inside the glass
enclosure, after getting himself thoroughly wet with water.

"Mister...I...heard screams.." gasped the man as he coughed out some of the gas in his lungs.

"Coming from where?"  DeSoto asked, opening up the man's seared work overalls at the neck.

"The Kmart." he replied. "Right after the ceiling fell in." he sobbed in shock.


"They've found one near the flash point." said Dixie to Dr. Brackett at the base
station at Rampart.

"How bad?"

"Some respiratory issues, noncircumferential burns to the front of his chest and palms
of his hands. Conscious. But he's in his late seventies."

"Okay. We'd be better off not being his receiving facility. Have him flown to Brotman
Burn Center A.S.A.P."

"Will do, Kel." and she turned back to Squad 51's call. "I'll issue your standard orders for him.
Squad 51, 10-4 on your victim's injuries. Have him airlifted to Brotman Center. Keep his burns
covered, oxygenate him, and start two large bore Normal Saline I.V.s to counteract any subcutaneous
fluid loss. 2 mgs M.S. for pain. Monitor his vital signs closely. Transferring your base transmission
to Brotman in thirty seconds. They are ready to receive your radio's patch. Per Brackett: The flight
care nurse will assume your victim's care once they land."

##10-4, Rampart.## said Johnny.

Dixie McCall hit the flashing white commit button on the base station receiver and then she
cradled the red phone with Brotman's waiting doctor on the line with a snick.  She heard
Gage and BBC begin the rest of the call over the speaker.  "That's it. We're done
with this one."

"Yeah, but how many more are we going to get?  Aren't all of our beds close to being full?"
Dr. Brackett sighed, only half listening to Squad 51's chattering radio.

"Thirteen away from capacity with one surgical room left open." McCall confirmed.

"How many surgeons? We can always use a few treatment rooms for operating space
in a pinch."

"Six total, including you."

"I'm honored to be on your list. I'd better get a short case. Somebody M.D.'s got to remain
at the paramedic base station for the rest of the night just in case Dr. Kiley and Dr. Welby
get too busy handling triage victims."

"I can do that." volunteered Joe Early as he stepped into the room.  "I heard a helicopter
might be inbound."

"Diverted." said Dixie.
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"It was a burn case." elaborated Kel.

"For being resource heavy?" Early asked.

"Yes." Dr. Brackett replied. "We don't have enough people or supplies to handle burns tonight.
Maybe in a day or two. Believe it or not, those two small downtown medical centers have one
up on us. They get all of our priority deliveries and personnel because they're still on fire." he
scoffed, folding his arms over his elbows.

Joe Early raised both eyebrows in surprise. "Sounds like the fire department should get a better
move on that as a remedy."

"You said it." Kel agreed.


Roy DeSoto and Johnny Gage stayed kneeling in the grass at the Triage Landing Zone
while their patient took off in Copter 10. The loud buzz of the props only increased their
sense of urgency. "Let's head back!" Johnny shouted, running for the squad. "I'm driving!"

"Think we can speed a little?" Roy DeSoto asked him, his face pinched as he buckled into
the passenger seat.

"I'm not telling." said Stoker, fully belted to his side door mirror from where he stood
on the running board.

"I doubt if Vince even cares about speeders. Not tonight." said Chet, taking a firm hold on
the mirror and door frame from where he stood on Johnny's side runner board.

Cap pulled out the clinch pin on their indecision. "Petal to the metal. Get back searching!" he
ordered, swinging four new air bottles into the stokes they all had re-roped and loaded on top
of the squad's rails.

Squad 51 peeled off the triage field with a full set of red lights and siren going full tilt.

Cap grinned as copious dust and gravel spun up into his face at their departure.

From:  patti keiper (
Sent: Sun 9/06/15 11:36 PM
Subject:  Butterfly..

Dr. Kiley looked up as Consuelo flagged both he and Marcus down for
a priority patient.  "Doctors.." she prompted. They both hurried out of
their camping chairs near a water dispenser they seemed to be drinking
by the gallon on the triage field.  

All of the light towers the fire department had erected over the field
only seemed to increase the ambient temperature of the air.

"What do we have?" Dr. Welby asked her, crouching by a military litter
that had been set down onto the red tag tarp. Their patient was a young
adult male and he was stiff as a board and non-breathing.

"A hypothermia case."

"In this heat?" Steven exclaimed.

Nurse Lopez nodded affirmation. "They found him in a freezer in a grocery
store. Witnesses said he went in there instead of running because he thought
he'd be able to get away from the fire."

"Did it work?"

Marcus began to cut away the employee's clothes from his partially frozen arms.
"No. This hand's got third degree burns on it."

Kiley glanced at the firefighter ventilating the unconscious man with positive
pressure oxygen. "Keep it up. Does he have a pulse?"

"I can't tell." said the rescue man. "He's too cold. We were almost afraid to move him.
You know what they say about critically low body temperatures and blood movement."

"You had to." said Consuelo, her face grim. "I'll hook him up to an EKG." she said,
moving to go get the defibrillator. "Even if we can't feel it, we'll be able to see any heart
action that way. Look, He's alive. He's actively bleeding from his head." she said,

Dr. Kiley bent over with a flashlight. "She's right. It's almost... spurting a little."

"Arterial." Marcus agreed. "Somebody put pressure on that with a dressing."

A Mayfair attendant did so, being careful not to get in the way of the man's ventilations.

"Is he warming up too fast out here?" asked Kiley, wiping away some sweat from the
night's heat from his face with the back of his arm.
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"Possibly." answered Dr. Welby. "We have no way of knowing and no way to control
how fast he going to do it. Not easily."

The firefighter breathing for the man using the resuscitator had an idea. "How about
cooling him down with hose water from that engine?" he said, pointing to Engine 51.
"That Ward's been sitting out here in the sun all day. Her water's probably luke warm
at the most, or even slightly cool. The water in her reservoir's certainly not icy any more.
Maybe that'll help regulate him." he suggested.

Marcus Welby pursed his lips. "It's worth a shot. I'll go find someone to open her up." he said,
rising back to feet. "Consuelo, I want that EKG set up yesterday."

"Almost there, drying this ice off his chest." she said, working fast.

Welby reached Captain Stanley's side at the edge of Triage in about a minute. "Captain,
we need your Engine." he stated.

"What? Is there a fire?"

"No, we've a young man who's been frozen in a freezer. We need to slow down
his rewarming rate or his heart's going to stop on us." said the older doctor. "We want
to use a fire hose on him."

"I'll go." said Brice. "It'll only take a minute."

"Do you know how to prime the hose pump? It's pretty complicated." Hank asked the

Craig bit his lip, thinking. "The red reel line's easy enough. I've done that valve access before."

Cap pursed his lips.
"I won't stop you. We can't use Engine 51 anyway. Not enough man power. Go
do it and then get back. I'll triage what I can while you're gone." said Hank.

"On it, sir." said Brice, jogging along with Dr. Welby to the man's side.

Consuelo spoke up. "He's got a rate of 26, ventricular rhythm only." she said,
returning Datascope paddles to the man's skin so they could see the display.

"That's still better than the best CPR." said Brice, crouching down long enough to
try and feel for a coratid. "Can't feel anything here."

"But I can hear it here." said Dr. Kiley, looking up from the stethoscope he was
using. "We'd better hurry. This guy's forehead is starting to sweat while his
arms are still frosted over. We don't want that kind of reaction."

Brice quickly began a fanning spray over the man's body, avoiding getting
his arms or legs wet.

"Ah, he's finally getting goose bumps." Marcus reported after about a half minute bath or so.
"That's enough for now."  He said, waving off the water.

Brice turned off the light hose and dropped it onto the ground near the man's head.

"We'll soak him down again once these start to fade away." Kiley agreed.

Brice nodded at the idea. "Pretty easy to gauge a steady body temperature if he's got some."

"Yep." said Steven. "That's what we'll do. We'll keep him in the chill zone until we push in
some bicarb to neutralize his acidosis."

"I'll start a venous cut down in a subclavian vein to get access." Dr. Welby decided.

Craig stepped away, excusing himself back to Triage.
"The lever's pretty simple, doctors. Just pull on this handle here. When he ships out,
flag down any firefighter and he'll drain the hose and roll it back up onto the engine."

"Thanks for your help, Mr. Brice." said Consuelo as the two doctors began giving the
intensive care the frozen man needed for his one shot at surviving.

"Anytime." Craig said to her. Then he hurried back to Captain Stanley's side.

"How's he doing?" asked Cap.

"He's life or death. If he makes it, there's a good chance he'll lose some limbs." Brice said
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The stars had fled away. And thick fog had poured through the hole in the ceiling inside
the Kmart debris pile, burying her in wetness and a stifling heat. There was a jolt that sent
stabs of agony into her spine that woke her up the rest of the way.

Joanne felt herself slipping.. ::Oh, not the ground!:: she begged mentally. ::Don't shift.
Don't shift!::  She was afraid the beam lying across her neck would settle lower
than its already strangling position. The breath had started rattling in her throat long
ago whenever she tried to doze a little around her pain. Fear lanced through her. ::Will I
suffocate if I pass out again?:: she thought. ::My neck must be swelling if .....I'm having
trouble breathing on my... back.::

The shaking of the floor went away. Joanne realized that it had been a small ground quake
not far beneath her. ::Something's melting. Is it the foundation? Is it burning?!:: Mrs. DeSoto
felt panic begin to rise inside of herself to a level that was difficult to fight off.

She began to gasp in the heat and darkness, panting faster and faster, until she began to feel

The world danced away from her consciousness..... Then there was a great noise that she both
heard and felt down to the core of her very being.


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Broken. That's how she felt now.  For each of her children's births, that's how she felt inside, then.
But she had been so happy to see them. First her son, then her daughter. And above her each time
was Roy's face, beaming proudly down as he and the family doctor held up their newborns, naked down
to the skin, just seconds into their very own birthdays. Two times, pain had mingled with the intense
love only her husband could mirror back to her. And for that, she was grateful.

Joanne began to laugh at the joys she would always have in her life.

::My family. Oh, how I love you so.::


As the rest of the ceiling collapsed, the monarch butterfly managed to escape, but not before one of its wings was badly broken. It flew up toward the moon. Higher and higher, until all of the burning heat surrounding it, was gone.
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Dawn was just rising above the disaster block. Station 51 and Engine 103 had been working
at the Kmart site, for hours.

The subterranean fires had been quenched as the drill taps performed as planned, venting
the gas safely up a hundred chimney stacks embedded into the ground and lit with torch poles
by construction and fire crews working throughout the night.  It had been an easy business
determining which sidewalks and streets had survived being burned and which ones hadn't.

The ones weakened had turned to powder and had collapsed into the ground as multicolored
sand several feet deep.

Bulldozers and heavy truck rollers had made even the collapsed ways safe afterwards for
rescue crews to get downtown to begin more earnest operations.

The dead, when they were found, were covered, left in place, and marked with red flags for forensic

"I hate sand." grumbled Chet. "You might as well try to dig holes in water."  Sweat was pouring
down his face in rivers as he shifted his grip on the light aluminum shovel he was using.

"Not far now." said the lieutenant. "We're almost at Copter Ten's coordinates. Let's keep digging."

"You say the dressing rooms are near here? That there were some still standing?" asked Mike Stoker
radioing out as he took a breather from his turn at digging out a passageway into Kmart's
sunken footprint.

##Yes.## reported the pilot, flying far overhead above the fog. From his vantage point he could
not see the crews working below him. He could only remember what he had seen before
it was covered up in a mist that his spotlight could no longer penetrate.  ##Sounds stupid, but
a butterfly showed us where the rooms were when it flew out of one last night.##

"Well there's nothing here now but a huge sinkhole in the ground. So we've been trying to
dig out the changing room attendent's desk. Perhaps a victim tried to crawl under there." said
USAR's point man to the pilot over his headset. "That part of the floor's still here."

##You are in the right place. I've found the fire door on C side. It's even with the flare you just
shot up. Its wall remains intact and is undamaged.##  

Johnny Gage took a stand in the most open place afforded in the debris pile that was once
a department store. "The dogs can't be wrong. They both reacted here. Strongly." he said,
aiming his flashlight down into and around the sinkhole. I'm seeing hangers and piles
of clothes down there. This has got to be near where the changing rooms were at any rate."

A hollow thunk of a shovel's blade against wood rewarded a firefighter. "It's the desk. The one
they said was there."

Six firefighters jumped around him and began probing with sticks. One by one the wire probes
sank down to a glove's gripping fingers as they worked across the area. But then one
sank down only a few inches and stopped against a definite resistance.


Captain Stanley didn't know what to say. It was Roy DeSoto who spotted his wife's station
wagon in the parking lot of the Kmart. Not much was left of it from the force of the explosion.
A taffy and wood paneled shell was all that remained. That and a license plate.

"It's hers, Cap. She's here." he said tearfully.

"I know. I've got every man I can get working on it." Hank said, his voice breaking.

"But there's no one left alive, Cap." DeSoto cried, strings of saliva tangling on his lips.

"Hey, Marco and Mike made it out. Who's to say she won't, Roy? There's every chance."

Weeping, Roy sank down on the ruined fender of the station wagon and buried his face in his
dirty hands.  "There's no chance in H*ll, Cap!  Just look around us. There are body parts
everywhere. I've never seen blood flung so wide and far from a building like this. Not until
today..." he whimpered, humbled, angry and deeply, horribly saddened.

Cap  took him into an embrace and just held him.
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"Come on, Daddy, pleasssse." begged Chris.

"What is it?" said Roy, peeking his head out of the kitchen.

"Did you see this?" Chris asked him.

"See what?"

"The newspaper. Daddy, I think you're in it! See? There's Squad 51."

"I am? I mean, it is? Where?" he challenged.

"Right there. Daddy, what does ethyl mercaptan mean? Isn't that a girl's name?"

"Hmm, let me read up on it for a minute. The article might say."

Minutes later he stunned his son with an answer. "Wow, I guess I'm famous.
Johnny, the others and I are in it and the writers are talking about this new chemical.
Do you know what this means?"

"No, that's why I'm asking."

"This means, well, because of your mother and Kmart, they've invented an indicator
odor they now put in natural gas so we can tell whenever there's a gas leak."

"Isn't dinner ready?" his son asked, already bored.

"It's almost ready." their father replied.

"When is 'ready' ready?" echoed his daughter, tottering behind her older
brother's chair. "Because I'm really getting hungry." and she started
laughing, sounding just like Joanne.

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::Joanne... I'm really happy again today. Because I'm living each day to the fullest on your behalf.::
thought Roy, much later on a bright, cool, autumn day.

"Now can I eat them?" asked his youngest, pointing at the steaming strawberry waffles he had made.

"All right." he said.

"Yey!" she cried happily.

"Half-Me... Now thank your big brother. He's the one who set our table." Roy DeSoto teased.

:: Roy, if it was you who died in the accident, and I survived, I would have led a life like this.::
the voice of his wife whispered in his mind.  

The warm, wheaty taste of the waffle dissolved in the rich sweetness of the strawberries on his
tongue, as Roy slowly chewed. He sighed.

::Do you think that's heartless?:: Joanne wondered inside his head.

Roy remained seated, with his eyes closed, remembering. ::It might be heartless, but living my
life to the fullest is a token of our love for you.:: his mind replied to her memory.

::That is so like you, Roy.::  she ghosted. ::Anyone can do that. But you... You're not making
enough of an effort. You aren't as happy as they are.:: she beamed.

::Who?:: he echoed.

::Our son and our daughter.:: she rippled. ::Roy, do you happen to remember my last words?::

::Uh, your last words?::

::You must have heard me. After they pulled me out. Try to remember.::

::Let me think now, your last words.. were....:: He struggled. Finally, a tear welled out
of an eye and landed on the edge of his breakfast plate as he finally recalled them.


In a flash of pain, he was back inside the hole, with Joanne, lying neck broken, in his arms.
". .  . . . .thank you. . . .  ." came the words on a last breath from battered lips.


"" he said quietly, fighting not to cry in front of his children while they giggled
over their food.

::It was an accident, Roy.:: came her soft echo.


::Reality is always a little bitter. Accept that. Don't live as though you're dying.  
Please Roy, enjoy your life. It's so painful for me, to see you suffer like this.::  
she soothed, soft and light.

::But I can't forget you.:: Roy sobbed in his head. ::If it's not you, it's no one.::

::No. You're all right now. You all are.::  Joanne smiled invisibly.


::Because I've just conveyed my last words to you. Although my time here is over,
I'm always with you.::

Out in the DeSoto garden, the monarch with the broken wing flew higher and higher,
until she disappeared into the mist, and the pure morning sunlight.


Movie Four, The Long Hot Summer, (Episode 57)
Emergency Theater Live. 2015.

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   The Long Hot Summer
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