A 4th to Remember

 

By Jane

 

“Why can’t they just leave them alone?  I mean, come on Roy, everyone knows they’re dangerous, and still these parents leave ‘em for small children to play with.  It’s a crime, if you ask me,” complained Johnny.

 

Roy would’ve closed his eyes and dropped his head in frustration if it weren’t for the fact that the squad was speeding towards a call; another injury due to fireworks.  Both paramedics were frustrated over the amount of calls they’d had that were a direct result of the explosive items.  It was normal that the younger of the two would be the most verbal, but this conversation had been going on for the better part of the day, and Roy knew his partner well enough to know there was no end in sight.

 

After treating the young boy for burns and delivering him safely to Rampart, Roy and Johnny crawled back into the squad for the ride back to the station.  The dark haired man sighed deeply, a well-known precursor to a long-winded rant, but before he could begin, the senior paramedic quickly interrupted.

 

“So, Johnny, what do you think of Chet’s plan for the 4th?”

 

Startled by the obvious ploy, Johnny hesitated for just a moment before taking the bait.

 

“Hey, I think it’s going to be fun.  Are Joanne and the kids excited?”

 

“Yeah.  Chris and Jen have been talking about it all week.  Joanne is spending most of today preparing the food.  She even promised to make that potato salad you like so much.”

 

“Oh, good!  This will be a 4th to remember.”

 

Roy nodded as he pulled away from the hospital, breathing a silent sigh of relief as Johnny continued talking about ‘A’ shift’s plans for the holiday.  At least the drive back to the station would be on a positive note for a change.

 

Chet had been the one to suggest something different to celebrate this year’s 4th of July.  He had found a place up in the hills that he was sure would afford a great view of several firework displays, and since the shift’s rotation left them with the holiday free, he felt certain that they could all enjoy a picnic there.  So, after checking with Roy to make sure there would be no hurt feelings if the group didn’t attend the annual DeSoto BBQ, Chet approached the rest of the men with his idea.  Of course, Johnny was the first to jump at the change in plans.  Although he enjoyed the annual celebration at Roy’s, he also loved the outdoors, and anything that took his friends into his favorite environment was an instant hit with him.  The rest of the group joined in, and soon the members of ‘A’ shift were bristling with excitement over the upcoming adventure.

 

Backing the squad into the station, Roy silently wished for a quiet night before the holiday.  It had been a hectic few days with frequent minor injuries to attend to.  It was no wonder his young partner kept getting carried away.  People were too lax in watching over children handling dangerous fireworks.  It would be a relief when this holiday season was past.

 

Luck smiled on the men, and the next morning found them rested and ready for the day.  There had been a small fire to respond to around midnight, but it was quickly put out and the men returned to the station for the rest of the night.  Now, as they headed for their cars, the men hollered back and forth with last minute plans and details for the afternoon’s fun.

 

                                      ***********************

 

Johnny pulled his Rover into the DeSotos’ driveway and parked next to Mike Stoker’s pickup.  He was relieved to see that, true to his word, Mike had borrowed a friend’s canopy for the day.  There were already various boxes and coolers being loaded into Mike’s pickup truck, and into Roy’s truck.  Jumping from his seat, Johnny hurried to unload his cooler full of pop and beer, and stash it in the back of Roy’s vehicle.  Then hurrying towards the house, he joined the others in loading the remainder of the food and lawn chairs.

 

“Uncle Johnny!  Can I ride with you?”

 

Twirling Jennifer in a circle around him, Johnny set her back on the ground with a wide grin.

 

“Not this time, Princess.  The Stanleys are riding with me and I think you’re riding in the pickup with your mom and dad.”

 

“Awww.  That’s what Daddy said, too.  But it’s not fair.  Chris gets to ride in the back of the Stoker’s pickup with Jeff.  Boys always get to have the most fun.”

 

“Oh, no, they don’t.  You just wait til we get up to our picnic spot.  You’ll have just as much fun as anybody.  I promise.  Now run and get your things so we can get started.”

 

With a squeal of delight, Jennifer hugged her adopted uncle, then ran to help her mother.

 

A short time later, the group gathered about the vehicles, anxious to be on their way.  Chet had drawn a detailed map, which he handed to Roy.  After a few last minute instructions, he moved to the back of Stoker’s pickup and climbed in.  Marco followed, along with Chris DeSoto and Jeff Stoker.  The Stanleys climbed into Johnny’s Rover and with the DeSotos and Stokers settled in their respective trucks, the caravan set off.

 

It was only a fifteen-minute drive to the dirt road, but almost another hour to the site Chet had designated.  Johnny enjoyed his time visiting with the Stanleys.  With his parents being so far away, he found that his captain’s wife reminded him in a small way of how his mother would talk to him.  There seemed to be no lack of topics of conversation, and the time passed quickly.  It didn’t seem like an hour had elapsed when Roy’s pickup turned off the dirt road and pulled to a stop next to a clearing. 

 

Everyone piled out of the rigs and the children ran about in excitement.  The afternoon sun was still hot, and the women quickly found a small patch of shade to lie out the blankets in.  With the coolers and boxes unloaded, the picnic was soon in full swing.  

 

The site was beautiful, and Joanne found herself mesmerized by the view of the city.  Far above the noise and commotion, the sky stretched out before them, the peaceful quiet broken only by the sounds of the children playing.  Roy stepped up behind her, encircling her with his strong arms.

 

“Enjoying yourself?”

 

“Yes, I am.  This was a wonderful idea.  I can hardly believe Chet came up with it on his own.”

 

“Yeah, it is pretty amazing.  But he insisted that this would be the best spot for a perfect viewing of the fireworks.  I’m not so sure he’s right, but it’ll be something different, that’s for sure.”

 

“Well, everyone sure looks like they’re enjoying themselves.”

 

The couple quietly surveyed the group around them.  Johnny was just returning from a short hike with Mike, Marco and the two boys.  Over in the shade, Kate Stanley and Patty Stoker were visiting quietly while Jennifer and Susan played with their Barbie dolls nearby.   Hank was stretched out on a blanket, sound asleep.  And Chet could be seen at the back of Mike’s pickup, fiddling with something in a box.  All in all, it seemed that everyone was happy.

 

***********************

 

The sun was slowly slipping away in the west, and the scattered remnants of a holiday meal could be seen around the picnic site.  A trash bag full of paper plates and cups sat next to a cooler now empty of its goodies.  The friends were relaxing on their blankets, watching the beautiful sunset, the scene a picture of contentment. 

 

“Dad, come on.  You promised we could light the sparklers when it got dark.”

 

Roy’s laugh joined Mike’s as the two fathers reluctantly rose from their seats. 

 

“Okay, boys.  We’re coming.”

 

Turning to look at their shift mates, the fathers motioned to the other men. “Come on, guys, we could use some help here.”

 

Voices tinged with laughter echoed from the group as the two girls joined the men gathering the colorful items from their boxes.  A safe area had been selected earlier and now the group moved to the location, certain that no sparks would threaten the grass or trees around them.  In fact, Chet had chosen the location with just that thought in mind.   An old rock quarry a few yards up the road was the perfect place for the kids’ annual fun, and the men were careful to set up an area where the matches, along with a bucket of sand, were kept for the discarded pieces.

 

The children kept the adults busy lighting numerous sparklers and carefully selected fireworks.  It wasn’t long before Joanne, Patty and Kate had moved closer to watch, the women uncertain as to how to tell who were the adults and who were the children.  Even Hank had joined in the fun, the first one to supply a light for the next sparkler.  It was obvious that he missed his daughters, who had both opted to stay behind for more ‘teenage’ entertainment for the holiday.

 

A muffled ‘boom’ caught the group’s attention and Chet hollered for everyone to ‘come look.’  Gathering back by the vehicles, the adults vied for lawn chairs and blankets as they settled down to watch the anticipated ‘light show.’  However, the actual display was much less satisfying than expected.  Although the sky was clear, and the view wide open, the actual ‘show’ was so far off that the display seemed tiny in comparison.  As round after round exploded in the sky below them, the group felt a gathering sense of disappointment.  The children, especially, were dismayed out the outcome.

 

“Dad.  We can’t even see the fireworks.”

 

“Yeah.  What’s with those little things this year?  Aren’t they going to shoot off the big ones?”

 

Mike and Roy each stifled a laugh as they struggled to explain to their children why the ‘show’ was lacking in grandeur. 

 

“We’re up higher than the fireworks, kids.  They’re the same size as always, we’re just too far away to get the usual affect.”

 

Johnny, of course, stepped into full rant mode.

 

“I can’t believe this.  Those things are smaller than pictures on a postcard.  We can’t even see the details, Chet.  They just look like small blobs of color way out in space.”

 

Roy would’ve laughed if it weren’t for the stricken look on Chet’s face.  Stepping over to his partner, he elbowed Johnny in the side as the dark haired man stopped for a breath.   Nodding over towards Chet, the senior partner hoped that Johnny would get the hint, quickly.  Luckily, he did, and his sputtering comments halted immediately.

 

Chet grinned sheepishly as several of his friends glanced towards him.  Then, with a quick smile, he hurried over to Mike’s pickup.

 

“Hey, kids.  Come see what I’ve got.  We’ll have our own firework display, right here on the mountain side.”

 

The worried frowns the other firemen exchanged were not lost on the wives.  Even as the children squealed with delight, the men were pulling themselves up to go investigate Chet Kelly’s latest scheme.  Johnny was the first to reach his side, but his quickly in-drawn breath was ignored.

 

“Let’s try these out, kids.”

 

Roy’s voice stopped his two children in their tracks.  “Christopher.  Jennifer.  Get back here right now!” 

 

The Stoker children followed suit as their father issued a similar command.  Hank stepped past the group as he approached Chet.

 

“What’ve you got there, Pal?”

 

“Just have a couple fireworks to show the kids, Cap.  Nothing dangerous, just some over-the- counter goods.”

 

Hank leaned down and inspected the items Chet had strung out before him on the ground.  It was obvious that the stocky fireman had been doing some shopping, but everything he had there was legal.  There was no reason to stop the man from setting off the various cones and fountains, so the captain stepped back to watch.  Chet was a responsible fireman, and he had prepared the area with care.  Johnny offered to give him a hand, and the two men set out the first of several displays, then stepped back to enjoy the effect.

 

Everyone ‘ooohed’ and ‘aaahed’ over the colorful array; the kids, especially, were entranced by the scene.  Soon everyone was in the spirit and Chet hurried about to set off more of his surprises.  The women turned their lawn chairs in order to watch the new show, and the men stood about marveling at the ability of Chet and Johnny to turn a questionable affair into a successful venture.

 

**************************

 

Pulling a flashlight out of his back pocket, Chet rooted around in the box as if looking for the most elusive of items.

 

“What are you doing, Chet?  There’s plenty more over here.”

 

“I know, Gage, but I’ve got something special.  Something my cousin sent along that he thought would be the perfect addition to our little display.”

 

Johnny shook his head as Chet continued to rummage through the box.  Suddenly, the stocky man jerked back excitedly. 

 

“I found it!  This is going to be great, you just wait and see.”

 

Chet hurried over to the flat area where they’d been lighting the fireworks.  Moving the remains of the other fireworks out of his way, Chet bent down to prepare his newest selection.  Striking a match across the box, he held the lighted stick up to the fuse.  Everyone waited, but the little cord remained unlit.  Pulling out another match, Chet tried once more.  This time, a few tiny sparkles arose from the end of the short string, but again went out.

 

“It’s a dud, Chet.  You’d better let it go.”

 

“Yeah, man, it’s not safe to keep trying those kind.  There’s obviously something wrong with it.”

 

“Try another, Pal.”

 

Shaking his head at the comments from behind him, Chet reached for yet another match.

 

Johnny had been standing close by, and in perfect agreement with the others, he stepped closer in order to convince Chet to give it up.  No firework was worth the risk of getting burned or injured.  But the stubborn man was trying once more to put on a show to remember.  He felt bad about the disappointing view, and was sure this was the way to make it up to everyone.

 

“Come on, Chet.  Let’s try this other one.”

 

Johnny was standing next to Chet now, his head almost even with his friend’s as the man pushed another match toward the fuse.  In an instant, the stocky fireman produced a scene no one would ever forget.

 

The tiny fuse didn’t light in the traditional way.  It seemed almost as if the match lit the whole cone afire, instead.  The resulting explosion was instantaneous.

 

As the screams died away, an observer would’ve been hard-pressed to know if they came from the victims or the audience.  Roy and Hank were instantly at their friends’ sides, while Mike and Marco were busily stomping out the remaining sparks around them.  Joanne had retrieved Roy’s first aid kit almost immediately, before he’d even had a chance to ask for it.

 

Johnny was rolling back and forth in the dirt, his hands clenched over his eyes.  His moans were pitiful to hear, and the women quickly gathered the now upset children, and moved them away from the scene.  Chet was sitting hunched over, his hands held out before him by Hank and Mike who were talking soothingly to the quiet man.  Without looking, Roy was afraid that Chet was already going into shock.

 

“What do they look like, Cap?”

 

“Burnt pretty bad, Roy, but all intact from what I can tell.  Looks like the side of his hand took the brunt of it.  How’s John?”

 

“Can’t tell yet.  Johnny, come one now, ya gotta let me have a look here.”

Roy’s pleas seemed to be lost on the injured paramedic.  Still clutching at his face in pain, Johnny pulled away from his partner’s touch.  Any logical thinking was lost as he reacted to the excruciating pain.

 

“Mike, get me some light over here, I need to see what we’ve got.”

 

Suddenly, Hank’s voice raised above the others as he slipped into captain’s mode.

 

“Marco, get the back of Mike’s pickup ready for Chet and Johnny.  We’re going to have to get these two to the hospital as quick as we can.  Girls, can you get all of our picnic stuff loaded in the back of Roy’s truck?”

 

Without answering, the group jumped to comply.  Everyone, even the wives and children, recognized Cap’s authority, not only because of who he was, but also because of the simple truth in what he was saying.  It was obvious that their two friends were in need of help, more help than they could give them on this lonely mountain road.

 

**************************

 

The sound of Roy’s voice finally broke through to Johnny.  Trying desperately to follow his partner’s instructions, the young man found it difficult to even understand his friend’s simple commands.  He knew that Roy wanted him to drop his hands, but some unknown force seemed to keep his arms raised, as if a natural protection that came too late.  It wasn’t until much later that he realized it took several of the men to get him seated, and finally succeeded in moving his hands out of the way.

 

What Roy saw in the dim glow of the flashlights had the man struggling for composure.  He knew he couldn’t let on to either Johnny or his friends how serious this could really be.  The burns on the young man’s face were not as severe as he’d imagined, but what frightened him the most was the possible damage to Johnny’s eyes.   There wasn’t much he could do but get Johnny to the hospital as quickly as possible.  Grabbing the supplies Hank had laid out beside him, Roy did his best to rinse Johnny’s eyes with the saline solution.  Then, after carefully placing one of the first-aid eye patches over each eye, he wrapped a strip of gauze twice around his friend’s head to hold them in place. 

 

“Okay, Junior, let’s get you in the pickup.”

Johnny didn’t even respond; his focus was totally on the pain he felt.  Only dimly aware of the many hands helping him up and into the back of Mike’s pickup, he found himself leaning back against a mound of blankets.  He didn’t realize it, but Chet was lying near him, the man’s gauze-covered hands held stiffly out beside him.  Roy crawled in next, and quickly settled himself between the two injured men.

 

“Let’s go, Mike.  And keep it as smooth as possible.”

 

“Right, Roy.”

 

The group quickly climbed into the vehicles, Hank now driving Roy’s pickup and Marco taking Johnny’s Rover.  The small caravan pulled onto the narrow road and began their descent; a much slower process now that darkness had fallen around them. 

 

In the back of the Stokers’ pickup, Roy kept a constant vigil over his injured friends.  He was grateful for the presence of Kate Stanley, who’d volunteered to join him at the last minute.  With their husbands driving, Joanne and Patty were left to comfort their distraught children, and Kate felt that someone else should be in the back to help Roy if it was needed.  Hank willingly agreed, relieved that his senior paramedic would at least have someone else’s support on the long road home.

 

*********************

 

Johnny felt as if he was riding in a boat, the sensation of a gently rocking current pulling him along.  It almost reminded him of the time he’d been seasick on a rescue, but a series of hard jolts brought him back to reality.  A cool hand was laid gently on his brow and he recognized the quiet voice of Kate Stanley.

 

“You’re doing fine, Johnny.  We’ll be at the hospital soon.”

 

“Hurts. .”

 

“I know, but you need to leave the bandages alone.  Here, hold onto my hand instead.”

 

Kate slipped her hand inside Johnny’s, and was instantly surprised at his firm grip.  It was as if he was holding onto her for reassurance.  Slowly, his hand relaxed, and Kate thought he had slipped back into a fitful sleep.  She turned to watch Roy, who was busy at Chet’s side, checking the injured man’s pulse and talking to him quietly.  A whispered question brought Kate’s attention back to Johnny.

 

“W h a  t . . ha pp e n ed?”

 

“You and Chet got a little too close to one of those fireworks.  But Roy has things under control.  You’ll be fine.”

 

“Chet?  Is Chet alright?”

 

Johnny’s voice was more insistent now, and he was struggling to sit up, his other hand groping for something to help him.  Instead, he found it encased in another hand, this one larger; its hold more intense.

 

“He’s doing okay, Junior.  But you need to settle down.”

 

Roy’s voice was reassuring, yet firm, and Johnny knew he’d brook no interference.  His calm manner reflected his professional demeanor on the job, but Johnny could hear the hint of tension in his voice.  Whether it was due to the fact that he was working on his friends, or that their injuries were more serious than he was letting on, was something Johnny was unsure of.  What he was certain of was that there was nothing he could do to help.  It was all he could do to keep from screaming out in pain, and with his eyes bandaged, there was no hope that he could be of any assistance to his partner.  With an ill-concealed moan, the young man dropped back to his uncomfortable seat in the bed of the pickup.

 

“Are you sure he’s okay, Roy?  What about his hands?”

 

“He’s got some serious burns, but he’s still got all his fingers.  I’d say he came out of this pretty lucky.”

 

Before he’d even finished his sentence, Roy wished he could put it back in his mouth.  Looking over at his friend, he saw the young man flinch, and knew instantly what his friend was thinking.

Moving closer, he lowered his head and spoke directly to his partner.

 

“Hang in there, Johnny.  We don’t know how bad it is yet.  It could be just a flash burn.  Don’t go jumping to conclusions.”

 

“Yeah, Roy, yeah.”

 

Grasping the younger man’s shoulder, Roy squeezed it reassuringly.  It wasn’t necessary to say anymore.  Both men knew how the situation could end.  There was every possibility that John Gage could be blinded for life. 

 

********************

 

Kate Stanley admired the men her husband worked with, but she’d never witnessed first hand how well they worked together.  As Hank, Mike and Marco maneuvered the vehicles down the dark and curvy road, Roy watched over his charges in the back of the swaying pickup.  The return journey was much longer, and several times Hank had stopped the procession in order to check on his men.    Chet had continued to drift in and out of consciousness, his hands now swathed in gauze bandages.  Johnny was awake for most of the trip, his pain intense, but his resolve unflappable.  It was only in the past few minutes that the man seemed to doze fitfully. Once again, Kate marveled at the strength of these men.

 

It wasn’t until they reached the end of the dirt road that Roy let out an audible sigh.

 

“Finally.”

 

Kate was well aware of how worried the paramedic was.  In the dim, bouncing light of two flashlights, she could read the anxious scowl on his face.  The shadows inside the canopy only added to the eerie feeling she was experiencing, and the woman suddenly shivered.

 

“You okay?”

 

Looking up, Kate realized that Roy was watching her intently.

 

“Yes, yes, I’m fine.  It’s just so hard seeing them like this.  And it’s taking so long to get them the help they need.  I don’t know how you can stay so calm.”

 

Roy’s face relaxed just a bit as he thought about her question.

 

“I guess it’s just something we learn to live with.  There are so many times we’re delayed in getting our patients to the hospital.  It’s just harder when it’s someone you care about.”

 

Nodding her understanding, Kate settled back as the truck rounded a corner and pulled onto the asphalt road.

 

“Looks like it won’t be too much longer now.”

 

“Mmmm”

 

Bending over Chet once more, Roy checked the man’s pulse and respirations.  Satisfied that the man was doing okay, he looked up to find a hand reaching in mid-air.  Grasping his partner’s hand firmly in his own, Roy bent down to hear the now whispered murmurings.

 

“R o y . .  hur t . .s”

 

“I know, Johnny.  Hang on, we’re almost there.” 

 

There was no verbal response, merely a slight squeeze of his hand, but it was enough for Roy to know that his friend had heard and understood.  Continuing to hold Johnny’s hand in his own, Roy peered out the window trying to get a sense of where they were.  It was a tremendous relief when he finally recognized a landmark and was able to project how much longer before they’d get their friends to

 

“Twenty minutes, Johnny.  We’re twenty minutes from Rampart.”

 

But the man’s reassurances fell on deaf ears.  Finally succumbing to the pain, Johnny was totally unaware of his surroundings.

 

 **********************

 

Kel Brackett stood next to the nurse’s station, wearily sipping his first hot cup of coffee that evening.  Dixie moved past him to sink into her chair, every movement an obvious sign of exhaustion.

 

“What a day.”

 

His mouth twitching slightly, Kel almost grinned back at her.

 

“Yeah, another perfect holiday.”

 

The two friends looked at the clock and as if in perfect sync chimed together:  ‘one more hour.’

Their laughter was interrupted by a frantic call from the entrance doors.

 

“We need a doctor over here!”

 

Hurrying to investigate, Kel was surprised to see the familiar face of Hank Stanley as the man grabbed a wheelchair and pushed it out the door.  Following him quickly outside, he soon found the rest of Station 51’s ‘A’ shift gathered around the back of a pickup.  Once more working as the well-practiced team they were, the friends eased Chet out of the pickup and into the waiting wheelchair.  Kel bent down for a quick check of the man, then directed the firemen to take him into the first treatment room. 

 

Almost immediately, the doctor realized there was yet another patient being lifted out of the truck.  Mike Stoker was pushing another chair towards the pickup just as Roy jumped down to help Johnny into the seat.  Kel was the first to catch Johnny’s hands as they automatically clutched at the bandages across his eyes.

 

“Hold on there, Johnny.  Let’s get you inside and then we’ll check those eyes.”

 

Glancing up at Roy, Kel saw a look of fear on the paramedic’s face.  He wanted to reassure the man, but knew from the looks of things, he might just be giving false hope.  Instead, he blustered out orders in his no-nonsense way, effectively covering up his own feelings and denying anyone else the time to brood over their friends.

 

“Get Johnny into Treatment Room 3.  Roy, get Dixie and tell her I want Dr. Taylor contacted immediately.  He’s the best eye doctor on staff.  Hank, you can get everyone settled in the doctor’s lounge.  That’ll be the best place for you to wait til we know something.”

 

The group hurried to comply with the doctor’s orders, knowing full well he would do his best to care for Chet and Johnny.  The first part of the ordeal was past; now the hardest part was to come.  The waiting.

 

*********************

 

A bright light shone over Johnny’s head.  He knew this from the heat it put off; enough heat to cause the man to sweat, another indication of how close the darn thing was.  But no matter how sure Johnny was of these facts, one simple truth remained.  He couldn’t see a thing.

 

Roy stood quietly against the wall as Dr. Taylor finished his exam.  It was with some measure of relief that he saw the man’s thin smile.   Within minutes, the doctor had re-bandaged Johnny’s eyes and given orders for another shot to be administered.  Then he leaned back against the counter as the others waited expectantly.  Johnny broke the tension.

 

“Well, Doc, how bad is it?”

 

“You’re a lucky young man, Mr. Gage.  What you’ve experienced is similar to the type of flash burn a welder might experience.  I don’t expect there to be any permanent damage, but we’ll leave the bandages on for a few days, then check again.”

 

“So I will be able to see.”

 

“I can’t promise that one hundred percent, but like I said, I feel you will make a full recovery.”

 

Dr. Taylor’s gruff manner didn’t faze John Gage as a huge grin lit his face.

 

“Thanks, Doc.  Thanks a lot.”

 

Dr. Brackett had entered the room as Dr. Taylor relayed his prognosis.  Now he escorted the man from the room, the two doctors deep in conversation.  Dixie immediately went to the phone, anxious to make arrangements for Johnny’s room upstairs.  It was then that the injured man reached for his friend.

 

“Roy?”

 

“Yeah, Junior, I’m right here.”

 

“How’s Chet?”

 

Stepping closer to the gurney, Roy grasped Johnny’s searching hand.

 

“He’s going to be okay.   He ended up with some second degree burns on his hands, and they had to put in quite a few stitches on the right one, but other than that, he’s fine.”

 

“His hands are really going to be alright?  No permanent damage?”

 

“No, and the doctors were pretty amazed, too.”

 

“But . . what about . . .”

 

“What?”

 

“Well, his eyes, Roy?  How come his eyes weren’t affected like mine?”

 

“I asked Dr. Brackett about that.  He thinks it’s because you got to Chet just as the thing started to explode, and Chet must have turned to look at you.  Both of you are very lucky.”

 

“Yeah, I guess we are.   Well. . . I hope we are . .”

 

“You’ve gotta think positive, Johnny.  This is no time to start giving up.”

 

“Uh huh. . .”

 

Dixie chose that moment to interrupt, and Roy was silently thankful that she had.  There was no sense over-discussing the situation.  It was just going to take time before they knew for sure; but he had every confidence that the doctor was right.  He’d just have to keep reminding Johnny to have that same faith.  As Dixie took Johnny upstairs, Roy headed for the lounge, and a group of anxious friends. 

 

*******************

 

Almost six weeks had passed since the 4th of July, and it was Chet’s first shift since the accident.  It was an unusual turn of events that had Johnny sitting at the table enjoying his second cup of coffee while Chet ran through the door a scant five minutes before roll call.

 

“Hey, Chet, what’s wrong?   Have you been away so long you forgot what time the shift starts?”

 

“Oh, ha-ha, Gage.  Just thought I’d try your routine for once and see what’s so great about it.  And you know what, it stinks.”

 

The collective members of both ‘A’ and ‘C’ shifts broke into laughter as Kelly hurried on towards the locker room to change.  Hank stepped in and announced his customary ‘five minutes to roll call’ then returned to his office.  Roy had noticed the wide grin on the man’s face and knew that their captain was also glad to have the crew back together.

 

Although Johnny’s eyesight had returned within a day of the accident, a fact everyone was extremely grateful for, the paramedic had only been back to regular duty for a week, himself.  He had experienced the normal sensitivity to sunlight after such an ordeal, and had been forced to take light duty work until the effects had passed. 

 

Chet’s hand had taken a little longer to heal.  A minor infection had delayed his recovery, but now the fireman was good as new, and anxious to be back on the job.  Everyone had agreed they’d never forget that holiday celebration.

 

As ‘C’ shift said their goodbyes and ‘A’ shift gathered in the apparatus bay, there was a lively-discussion taking place about the upcoming Labor Day weekend.  Chet was talking excitedly as Hank joined his men.

 

“But don’t you think we should do something different this year?  I mean, it’s a holiday and we don’t have to work.  We could go somewhere special for a picnic.  I know of this really great place . . ”

 

“Chet, you twit.  Don’t you think your last picnic caused all of us enough trouble?”

 

“But, Cap--”

 

“Kelly, instead of a picnic, how about latrine duty for you this shift?”

 

“Aw, Cap,” Chet moaned, as his shift-mates laughed. 

 

Roy’s thoughts had been right.  Given what could’ve been a tragic 4th of July, Hank Stanley was thankful to have his crew back together again.

 

 

*****End*****

 

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