You Just Never Know…

 

By Jane

 

Hank Stanley stretched his long legs out before him and clasped his hands behind his neck.  Leaning back in his desk chair, the tired captain glanced at the monthly report, now resting in his ‘out’ basket.  Sure glad that’s done.

 

As he slowly relaxed, Cap could hear his men from the dayroom.  As usual, Chet and Johnny were arguing, probably about the newest prank the Phantom had played on his Pigeon.  Hank was sure that Chet would be grousing about the fact that he’d pulled latrine duty for the next three shifts.  Johnny was sounding put-out, but in truth, was probably gloating.  Once again his antagonist was getting the punishment, while all the dark-haired paramedic got out of the deal was a pair of dirty boots.   Grinning to himself, Hank enjoyed a moment of amusement at Gage’s expense.  It had been funny to see the young man’s face when he slipped his foot into a mud-filled boot.

 

Hank’s grin faded as he recalled the past month of personal turmoil, if you could call it that.  A new assignment had been offered to him, at a brand new station in the north part of the county.  The location would have put him closer to home, and though the shift rotation would have stayed the same, his commute time would have been cut dramatically.  Salary and benefits were equal, but the Battalion Chief had urged him to make the move.  The department heads felt he was the man to start this new company, confident that he would develop a close-knit unit of men, similar to his crew at 51’s.  Several hints had even been made that this would be an excellent move for him, giving Stanley a better chance at promotion.  All in all, the offer was not one to be ignored.

 

The men at Station 51 had known that something was bothering their captain, but not until the last week had they been aware of the decision their leader was required to make.  Each man held in their personal feelings in an effort to show only confidence and encouragement for their friend.  But in the end, Hank made the only decision he felt comfortable making.  He stayed with his crew at 51’s.

 

He knew that eventually the group would part ways; the other men would be promoted or move to other companies.  But for a while, he was content to enjoy the camaraderie that existed here.  He didn’t really want to think about how he’d feel when the day came that the group wouldn’t be whole.  The thought that it could be the result of something more ominous, such as injury or death, was a thought Hank wouldn’t even entertain.  For now, he would just take pleasure in the rapport his crew shared.

 

Recalling a conversation with his wife, Hank smiled thoughtfully to himself.  He’d assured Kate that he had thought everything through, but it all came down to the way he felt about the job. 

 

“Honey, being the Captain of Station 51, well, it doesn’t feel like I’m just doing a job.  Those guys are like my family, and working with them is a pleasure.  I know I would get along with another group of guys just fine, but it wouldn’t be the same.  You just never know when you’ll get a group that ‘clicks’ the way this one does.  I’m going to just enjoy it for awhile.”

 

Kate had been nothing but supportive during the whole process, and Hank loved her all the more for her quiet confidence and agreement in his decision.  She knew how much his job meant to him; being a fireman’s wife for over twenty years gave her a little confidence of her own.  Grinning once more at himself, Hank pushed out of his chair and headed to the kitchen for a fresh cup of coffee.   Gonna have to take that woman out to dinner, buddy.

 

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

 

Roy watched with carefully concealed amusement, as his partner bantered with Chet.  He knew that Johnny wasn’t all that upset about the earlier incident, especially after Cap nailed Chet with latrine duty.  Every so often, Roy wondered if the Pigeon wasn’t actually one-upping the Phantom.  It just seemed, sometimes, that Johnny got caught a little too easily.

 

Looking up from his paper, Roy realized that Captain Stanley had joined the group.  Hank had poured himself another cup of coffee, and was moving toward an empty chair, while listening attentively to the squabbling between Chet and Johnny.  Mike was quietly reading through some new safety regulations while Marco prepared lunch.  The six-man team was complete, and without realizing it, Roy whispered a silent thank-you. 

 

All of the men had been rather surprised when their captain turned down the job offer, but secretly, they were all relieved.  It was a close-knit group of men that worked 51’s ‘A’ shift; none of them were ready to change the association yet. 

 

“Chet, I told you, I’m not having any woman trouble.  Annie and I are getting along just fine.”

 

“Yeah, Gage, but what about Sandra?”  Chet arched a bushy eyebrow at the young paramedic.

 

Hand splayed across his chest, Johnny looked at Chet in mock surprise.   “What?  You don’t even know Sandra!”

 

“Sure I do, and she told me that you were supposed to take her out last week, but you never showed up.  Now I’d call that woman trouble.  Wouldn’t you, Marco?”

 

Turning from the range where he was busy cooking, Marco simply rolled his eyes in Chet’s direction, then turned back to his soup.  Johnny flashed a grin in the Hispanic’s direction, and then turned back to the stocky Irishman with a knowing look.

 

“See, Chet, Marco doesn’t believe you either.”

 

“Come on, Gage.  Everyone knows about you and your girlfriends.  The only thing I can’t figure out is why you dumped Sandra.  Isn’t that usually the girl’s job?  To dump you?”

 

Glancing up from his manual, Mike shook his head in wonder.  Once more Chet had pushed the limit, and the other men could almost ‘feel’ the change.  No longer grinning, Johnny’s annoyed gaze was now focused on Chet.   Roy placed his palms on the tabletop as he started to rise; it was obviously time to separate the two.  Hank grinned to himself at the easy way in which Johnny stepped into Chet’s trap, but with practiced ease, he caught their attention.

 

“Marco, what is that delicious smell?  Is lunch about ready?   If so, let’s get to it.  There’s some paperwork waiting for you guys after we eat.”

 

Chet’s “Oh, Cap” was not lost on Johnny, who merely made faces at the grumbling fireman.

 

No one got a chance to taste Marco’s latest recipe, however.  The klaxons chose that moment to sound, sending the six men racing to the apparatus bay.  Hank stopped at the alcove to grab the mic and acknowledge the call, writing the address quickly on the call sheet.  Stepping first to the squad, he could see Johnny tightening the chin- strap of his helmet, the young man’s focus already on the call ahead.  Roy was starting the engine, his gaze intent on the door opening in front of him.  Hank passed the slip of paper through their window and hurried on to the engine.

 

As he stepped in front of Big Red, he glanced through the window at his engineer.  Mike had donned his turnout coat and settled into the driver’s seat.  With hands on the wheel, and preparations complete, he was waiting patiently for his captain.  Stepping up into his seat, Hank grabbed his own coat and helmet; then turned slightly as the engine roared to life.  From his position, Captain Stanley could see his remaining men in their rear-facing seats.  Chet and Marco talked briefly, their words lost to the men in front.  Hank didn’t really need to hear the conversation to know that they were discussing the three-alarm fire they’d soon be fighting.   Turning back to watch the road in front of them, Hank breathed a quick prayer for his crew’s safety; then wondered if any of his men ever thought to do the same.

 

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

 

Mike pulled Big Red into the parking lot of a chemical company, and stopped next to Chief McConnikee’s red car.  The Battalion Chief had arrived just before them, and was obviously speaking with someone in charge.  He immediately began directing the arriving engines, sending 51’s to the front of the building, and 14’s to the back.  Cap could see Engine 36 pulling into the complex as the chief shouted over to him.

 

“Hank, there’s two men trapped inside the maintenance shed.  Send your men in, and I’ll have 36’s set up outside to cover the front.”

 

“Okay, Chief.”

 

Captain Stanley turned back to his crew and began giving orders.

 

“Mike, pull two inch and a halves.  The rest of you guys get your gear on; there’s two men missing.  But make it quick, that fire’s burning hot.”

 

“You got it, Cap.”

 

Hank’s answer came from Chet; the rest of the men were already pulling out tanks and masks.  Quickly donning their gear, the four men hurried toward the large opening in the building.  Black smoke billowed out of its cavity, and the men were grateful to have the hoses in their hands. As they made their way inside, it was obvious that the building would probably not be saved.  The flames were already licking at the support beams overhead, and the interior was almost fully engulfed.  Silently, the men wondered if they’d find anyone alive in the blaze.

 

Working their way towards the back of the building, the men were careful to keep each other in sight.  Roy moved carefully behind his partner, one hand on Johnny’s shoulder, the other hand supporting the hose.  Several feet to his left, the paramedic could see Chet following Marco in the same position.  The spray from both hoses made a large swathe, but overall had little affect; the fire continued to burn brightly and the smoke thickened. 

 

Outside the building, Captain Stanley stayed close to his engineer while Mike manned the pumps.  The fire continued to grow, even as the three companies worked diligently to control the beast.  Hoses crisscrossed the parking lot of the chemical plant, their long strands disappearing into various openings of the maintenance building.

 

A crowd of bystanders viewed the conflagration from across the street, their attention torn between the awesome sight of the fire, and the furious battle being waged by the firemen.

 

Suddenly, there was a series of shouts from the north side of the building, and Hank raised his radio to question the chief, but he never got the chance.  An explosion unexpectedly ripped through the structure, the force of the blast sending firemen running from their positions.  Within seconds, those same men were once again manning their hoses while others raced to help. 

 

The two remaining members of Station 51’s ‘A’ shift stood frozen in place for only a moment before moving into action.  Hank immediately thumbed his mic, notifying the chief of his missing men.  With the engine being watched over by 36’s crew, Mike was free to accompany his captain.  Strapping on their tanks and adjusting their facemasks, it was only a matter of minutes before the worried men began their search.

 

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

 

Mike led the way into the burning building, his hands tightly holding the hose, his focus on the blaze ahead of him.  Cap followed several steps behind, his hand gripping Mike’s shoulder firmly, but his concentration was on the search for his crew.  With the fire spreading rapidly, he knew there was little time to rescue his men, and every second counted.

 

Suddenly, through the smoke and flames, he saw something moving.  Squeezing Mike’s shoulder with a hold that made the engineer wince, Hank motioned to the right.  There was someone standing, his position awkward at best.  Hurrying forward, the two men reached Roy just as he lost his struggle to stay upright.  With a groan that was lost in the roar of the fire, the senior paramedic slumped to the floor and lost consciousness.

 

Grabbing the HT, Hank keyed the mic and called for assistance, while Mike dropped to the floor next to Roy.  It was then that the engineer realized they’d found the other missing firemen.  The four men were all unconscious, an array of boxes and barrels surrounding them.  It was obvious that the blast had been intense, causing considerable damage throughout the structure, and catching the rescuers unaware. 

 

“Help’s coming, Mike.  Let’s get these guys out of here.”

 

Hank’s voice was muffled, but Mike clearly understood his captain.  Bending down, the two senior shift mates struggled to make sense of who was where, and what kind of injuries they’d sustained.  Neither of them wanted to risk further damage to an injured fireman.

 

Roy was the closest, and it was obvious that he’d suffered an injury to his head.  His helmet was askew, and blood was apparent above his eyes.  There was also a serious looking wound on his left leg.  Chet was on his back, and several boxes littered the area around him.  At first glance, it almost looked as if he was sleeping, but the strange angle of his right arm convinced his rescuers he was not. 

 

There were two other figures several feet away, and Hank almost dreaded the task of turning them over.  Being closest to the blast, he was even more apprehensive about their injuries.  A single thought burned itself into his mind: what if they’re already gone?

 

Hank motioned to Mike.  Leaning down, the engineer quickly lifted the blond haired man into the regulation ‘fireman’s carry’ and turned to leave.  It was at that very moment that another explosion tore through the shed.  Hank and Mike never knew what hit them.  Knocked unceremoniously to the ground next to their injured comrades, they didn’t even have time to react.

 

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

 

Chief McConnikee stiffened at the sound of the second explosion.  He knew, full well, that the outcome for Station 51 looked grim.  With four men already trapped inside, and now the final two members along with several firemen from 14’s, the chief knew the situation was getting out of control.

 

Calling over to the plant manager who stood nearby, McConnikee focused all his frustration on this one man.  Knowing that this single man was not to blame, he was also entirely convinced that the man had been less than honest with him about what his men were fighting.  It took only a few minutes of intense interrogation before the supervisor finally revealed what had been placed in the building.  A truck brought in for repairs, had been parked in the maintenance shed, fully loaded with extremely flammable chemicals. 

 

Struggling to contain his aggravation at the man, Chief McConnikee turned away from the manager as he called for additional companies.  Along with his request for more help, he also placed an order for extra ambulances.  It saddened him to think about how busy Rampart Emergency was going to be that afternoon.  He wouldn’t allow himself to entertain his second thought; that the men might not live long enough to make it to Rampart.

 

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

 

The noise around him was a mixture of various sounds, and as Hank slowly opened his eyes he struggled to make sense of where he was. However, at the first hint of light, his eyes automatically squeezed shut, the pounding in his head suddenly overwhelming.  

 

Now, as he lay stiffly on the ground, the captain tried once more to distinguish where he was, and what had happened.  The cacophony of noises blended together, then separated almost as if a reverberation, with only bits and pieces of orders and conversations reaching the semi-conscious man.

 

“Put him right here.”

 

“Tom, contact the hospital.”

 

“Rampart Emergency, this is Squad 14.  How do you read?”

 

“Squad 14, this is Rampart, go ahead.”

 

“Rampart we have 8 victims here, all firemen.”

 

“Hey, they just brought out one of the men from 36’s.”

 

“Correction, Rampart, 9 victims.  Do you want us to relay all information to you, or contact St. Francis for some of them?”

 

“Negative, 14, St. Francis is dealing with an MVA.  Tell me what we’ve got and we’ll go from there.”

 

“10-4, Rampart.  The first victim is . . .”

 

“Hey, guys, we need another inch and a half over here!!”

 

“Bill, turn off the pumps on Engine 51.  We’ve got two more companies pulling in.  We’ll set them up on the north side.”

 

“Dwyer, they’re bringing out the last two victims.  Where do you want them?”

 

“Over there, next to Captain Stanley.”

 

“Right.”

 

“What do we have, Frank?”

 

“Chief.  We’ve got eight victims altogether.  All six of 51’s crew, two from 14’s and one from 36’s.”

 

“How bad?”

 

“Don’t know too much, but from what Charlie said, it looks like we have at least two critical.  We also have one Code F.”

 

“Yes, I heard.  Captain Benson just told me, we’ll have to . . .”

 

Code F?  One of the men didn’t make it?  Which one?  Was it Mike?  Or maybe one of the paramedics, and if so, which one, Roy or Johnny?  Could it be Chet?  Or Marco?  Hank turned his head to the side, and carefully opened his eyes in the hope of seeing who was lying next to him.  But once again, the bright light brought only pain to the injured man.  With a groan, Hank shut his eyes tightly against the intrusion.  This time, however, someone noticed he was conscious.

 

“Captain Stanley?  Can you hear me?”

 

A familiar voice was calling out to him, and Hank knew he should answer, but his mind was focused on the brutal words he’d heard only minutes earlier: “One Code F.”  He had to find out which man he’d lost.  He fought the darkness that reached out to claim him, but was unsuccessful.  Charlie Dwyer watched in concern as the Captain of Station 51 slipped back into unconsciousness.

 

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

 

The blaring of a siren drowned out all other sounds, and Hank wished there was some way to turn the darn thing off.  Who’s out in the bay at this hour, and why did they turn the siren on?   

 

Turning slightly on his bunk, Hank started to sit up, anxious to quell the aggravating sound.  A hand pressed firmly on his chest pushed him back, and it was then that Hank discovered he wasn’t in a real bed.  The swaying of the ambulance tied in with the sounds of the siren, and he quickly realized he was stretched out on a gurney.

 

“What. . .”

 

“Cap?  Can you hear me?”

 

“Uhhh, yeah.  Charlie?”

 

Hank opened his eyes slowly, and was met with the worried frown of Charlie Dwyer.  Although his head was pounding, the captain steeled himself to it, his resolve finally winning at least one battle. 

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

Dwyer chuckled slightly at the obviously unimportant question.

 

“I’m filling in for Tim Epson over at  14’s.”

 

Moving his head slightly, Hank was able to see another figure resting on a gurney across from him.

 

“Who’s that?”

 

Although his voice was thin and weak, Hank knew that Charlie had heard him, and knew that the young paramedic was stalling when he pretended to be engrossed in writing down the newly acquired vital signs.

 

“Charlie?”

 

“Okay, Cap, calm down.  Mike’s here with us, but he’s still unconscious.”

 

“Is he going to be okay?”

 

“Sure he is.  You know how tough your men are.”

 

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Charlie wished he could draw them back in.  The expression on Stanley’s face was one of distress, and the last thing the paramedic wanted to do was field questions about the other crewmembers from their worried captain.   Turning abruptly to the bio-phone, Dwyer picked up the receiver and contacted Rampart.  By the time he was finished relaying Hank’s BP, pulse and respirations, the towering hospital was in view, but as he looked down at his patient, Charlie realized his stalling tactics were no longer necessary.  Laying a hand gently on the captain’s shoulder, Dwyer hoped the next time the man came to; there’d be better news to tell.

 

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

 

Watching Dixie as she moved about the room, Roy kept his silence for several minutes, until finally he could hold it in no longer.  It was obvious that the head nurse was preoccupied; Roy just needed to know which one of his friend’s she was most worried about.

 

“Dix?  The guys. .”

 

“Hey, now, you just lie back down there and wait for the doctor to come in.  There’s a nasty cut on that hard head of yours, and it’s going to need a few stitches.  Not to mention the work they’ll need to do on that leg.  You really banged yourself up, this time.”

 

“But what about Johnny?  Is he alright?  Chet and Marco were there too.  Did everyone get out okay?”

 

“Roy, I told you to lie down, and I meant it.  There’ll be plenty of time to. .”

 

“Dixie!”


The worried nurse studied her patient for only a moment before giving in.  She knew he was worried about his friends; the problem was she didn’t have much in the way of good news to pass along.  Finally settling on the barest of details, she tried to soothe him. 

 

When Carol poked her head through the door ten minutes later, she saw a very upset Roy DeSoto reclining on the gurney.  Dixie herself seemed to be wiping her eye, but Carol didn’t hesitate to intrude.

 

“Dixie, Dr. Morton needs you in Treatment 3.  It’s urgent!”

 

“Thanks, Carol.”

 

As the nurse turned away, she didn’t miss the reassuring squeeze Dixie gave the paramedic’s hand. 

 

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

 

Hank felt as if he’d been running a marathon.  His heart thumped loudly in his chest, and his lungs seemed to ache as he struggled to take a breath.  In fact, every part of his body hurt, and he found himself wishing that he’d reach his destination.  For a brief moment, the exhausted man wondered what the objective was, then the memories flooded back to him.  He had to reach his men!  They were in there, inside that burning building!  He’d have to run faster, no matter how terrible the pain was; he must save his crew.

 

With a jerk, the man came fully awake, and he stared around him in shocked confusion.  The scene he’d been viewing was no longer in front of him.  Instead of a wall of flames, Hank found himself staring at a white wall adorned with one rather dull picture.  The kind of picture you’d see in a motel room, or a hospital . . .

 

Hospital.  I’m in Rampart.  But what. . did the guys make it out?  Code F.  Someone was Code F.  Who?  I’ve gotta find someone to ask.

 

Fully mindful of the throbbing in his head, Cap turned carefully to his side.  From this position, he could see a bed across the room, and the outline of a man who seemed to be asleep.  Squinting in the shadowy light, Hank strained to see if the form was that of one of his men; receiving his answer seconds later when Roy turned his head and met Stanley’s questioning gaze. 

 

“Cap!  How are you feeling?”

 

“Fine.  I’m fine.  What about you?”

 

“I’m okay.  Cuts and bruises, and I banged up my leg.  Looks like I’ll be off work for awhile, but the doc said I should make a full recovery.”

 

A strained silence stretched out between the two.  Hank craved information on his crew, yet now that he had access to the knowledge of whom he’d lost, he found himself dreading the finality of it.  Roy, for his part, dreaded telling his superior the news about their friends.

 

Finally, Captain Stanley steeled himself, and with a wavering voice, asked the question.

 

“Roy, tell me about the guys.”

 

Looking down, Roy carefully assessed his answer.  The paramedic knew that Cap was worried about his men and was anxious to know of their conditions.  He also knew how responsible the man felt for the safety of his crew.  When one of them was injured, it affected all of them.  Now he had to tell his captain about each member of his shift being injured.  Realizing he couldn’t put off the conversation any longer, Roy took a deep breath and looked up at his captain.

 

“Okay, Cap, here’s what I know.  Chet and Marco are in the next room.  Chet has a mild concussion, along with a broken arm.  Dixie said he’d probably go home in a day or two.  Marco has a concussion, some broken ribs and a bruised spleen.  Dr. Early’s a little worried about the spleen, so he wants to keep Marco here three to four days for observation, but he should be fine.”

 

Roy’s voice trailed off, and Hank knew there was much more the paramedic wasn’t telling him.  Cap watched him closely as he pushed for more information.

 

“What about Johnny and Mike?”

 

This time there was a long pause, as if Roy couldn’t find words to say what he was thinking.  Hank began to wonder if the man had even heard his question, but just as he decided to repeat it, the blond- haired man spoke quietly.

 

“Johnny was hurt pretty bad, Cap.  He suffered a penetrating wound to the abdomen, and Dr. Brackett is operating on him right now.  He also has a severe concussion, and a broken arm.”

 

Cap’s face fell as the news sunk in.  He turned his head slightly as he stared off towards the wall, willing himself to keep his emotions under control as he faced the grim news about his men.  Now he had to face the final news.

 

It was clear to him now, who the Code F was, and Hank couldn’t bear to think that he’d never again sit next to the quiet engineer as they headed out on a run.  Mike was more than just a co-worker, he’d been a good friend to Hank, and the two had shared a quiet friendship that the captain knew he’d miss.  With a soft moan, he turned back to Roy and forced himself to ask his final question.  He had to know for sure.

 

“Mike?”

 

Roy looked up as he heard the strangled voice of his captain.  He knew the man was worried, but there was something about the Cap’s expression that was unnerving.  The paramedic kept a close eye on the man as he answered.

 

“They just took him into surgery.  He’s bleeding internally but they’re not sure what it’s from.  Dr. Morton suspects either the spleen or possibly a lacerated liver.  But Dixie was just here and she said his vitals looked good when they took him up to surgery.”

 

Now Roy was totally confused.  Hank’s stare was disconcerting, at best.  He knew the captain would be worried about Mike, but the shocked way in which Hank continued to gape at him was completely unexpected.

 

“Cap?”

 

“You mean . . Mike’s still alive?”

 

“Yeah, he’s still alive.  Cap?”

Roy’s questioning gaze was completely lost on Hank.  His mind, already struggling with the pain of his injuries, was now reeling with the information he’d just received.  Every member of his crew had just been accounted for, but how could that be?  Maybe Roy had made a mistake.

 

“And all the others?  The rest of the guys, they’re all here at Rampart?”

 

“Yeah, Cap, everyone of us.  We’re all here.”

 

Waiting impatiently for this strange conversation to make sense, Roy wondered if he should page the nurse.  It was obvious that Hank was having difficulty understanding the situation.  Maybe his concussion was worse than they’d suspected.  Reaching for the call button, he dropped it back with a thankful sigh as he recognized Dixie entering their room.

 

“Well, Captain Stanley, it’s good to see you awake.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

The captain’s mumbled response surprised the nurse, and she moved over to his bedside.  Picking up his wrist, she took his pulse, and then reached above the bed for a BP cuff.

 

“How are you feeling?”

 

“Fine.”

 

Another one-word answer, and Dixie’s radar went into action.  Glancing over at Roy, she met his puzzled gaze with one of her own.  The two continued to observe the quiet captain while Dixie went about her work.

 

Hank lay still as the nurse took his vital signs.  His head no longer just throbbed; it literally seemed to scream with pain, and every shift of his body brought another wave of nausea.  The darkness seemed to swirl about the edges of his consciousness, but Hank willed himself to stay alert.  He needed to understand, had to know the answer to his dilemma.  Which one of his men was lost?  Why wouldn’t Roy tell him?  Why were they waiting?  Didn’t they know that no amount of time would soften the blow?  Turning his anguished gaze on Dixie, Hank seemed to be pleading silently for her help.

 

The worried nurse moved closer to the bed and grasped Hank’s hand in hers.

 

“What is it?  Are you in pain?”

 

Yes, I’m in pain, but not the kind you think. 

 

Hank’s voice was soft as he answered.

 

“Tell me . . the truth.”

 

“The truth?”

 

“About my men. . .”

 

Dixie glanced over at Roy, but his face wore a look of confusion that convinced her he didn’t understand.  The paramedic had pulled himself up and was leaning towards the pair, his concentration focused on his captain.  Turning back to watch Hank, Dixie felt the man’s strong grip, and realized he was squeezing her hand, almost as if he were trying to force the information from her.

 

“Didn’t Roy tell you about them?”

 

“Yes, but . .”

 

“But you don’t believe him.”

 

“No, it’s just that . . it can’t be . . I mean, I heard . .”

 

Dixie’s voice was soft as she coaxed him for more details.

 

“What did you hear, Hank?”

 

“Code F . .”

 

Once more Dixie turned to look at Roy, but this time a look of understanding was beginning to show on his face.  Nodding his head at the head nurse, Roy quietly broke into the conversation.

 

“Cap, did you hear that while we were at the fire?”

 

“Yes, I heard someone tell McConnikee.”

 

Hank’s voice was growing faint, but Roy knew he needed to hold his captain’s attention for just a few moments longer.  Moving his leg slightly resulted in a sharp pain, and Roy slapped at the blankets in frustration.  He wanted to get closer to his friend, had to convince the man that his worst fear had not been realized.

 

“Stay with us, Cap.   Hank!”

 

The sound of Roy using his given name brought the captain’s attention back to the present.  Turning carefully, Cap was able to see his friend sitting up in the other bed, Roy’s expression anxious, at best.

 

“There was a Code F, Cap, but it wasn’t one of us.  It was Bob Miller from Station 14.  That last explosion took out part of a wall, and Miller didn’t make it.  But all of us who work for you are going to be fine.  Everyone from 51’s ‘A’ shift is all right, Cap.”

 

Hank visibly relaxed as Roy’s words finally sank in.  ‘A’ shift was safe.  All of them were at Rampart, being taken care of by capable doctors and nurses.  Once again, his crew had made it through a terrible ordeal.  His eyes slowly slid shut as the sounds around him drifted away.  Captain Stanley didn’t hear the quiet statement Roy uttered.

 

“At least we hope they’re ‘all’ going to be fine.”

 

Roy winced slightly as he realized he’d uttered those words aloud, but looking closely, he was relieved to see that Cap was asleep and hadn’t heard his worried comment.  However, Dixie was another story.  As she straightened the covers over Hank’s sleeping form, she eyed the quiet paramedic.  He still sat in his bed, back hunched slightly as he rubbed his forehead.  When Dixie’s hand dropped on his shoulder, he looked up in surprise, almost as if he’d forgotten she was there.

 

“He’s going to be alright, Roy.  You know how strong Johnny is.  He’ll bounce back from this, just like he always does.”

 

Leaning back against his pillows, Roy sighed as he watched Dixie straighten his blankets.

 

“I hope you’re right, Dixie.  I sure hope you’re right.”

 

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

 

Dr. Brackett walked up to the fourth floor nurse’s station and grabbed several charts.  As he flipped open the first one, he overheard several of the nurses.  It took only a moment, for the doctor to interrupt.  Anxious to suppress the rising argument, Brackett focused a stern gaze on the two disagreeing nurses.

 

“Ladies, what exactly seems to be the problem here?” 

 

The older, and more experienced of the two nurses, was quick to answer.

 

“There’s no problem, doctor.  We were just discussing hospital regulations.”

 

The younger nurse interrupted with a ‘humph’ as she turned to face Dr. Brackett.

 

“We were talking about the disruption that’s taking place down the hall.  There’s no need to have the other patients bothered by these kind of antics.”

 

Kel looked down the hall in the area the nurse was pointing to.  Immediately, his mouth twitched slightly as he struggled to control his amusement.  It was obvious that the new nurse was fresh out of college, prepared to ‘follow the book’ in every situation.  With a somewhat strangled voice, Brackett assured her.

 

“I’ll take care of it, Nurse Randalls.  Thank you for bringing it to my attention.”

 

The young nurse flipped her head in the older nurse’s direction as she turned back to her paperwork, while behind her back, Dr. Brackett and Nurse Owens smiled at each other knowingly.

 

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

 

“What are you talking about, Chet?  You don’t even know Sandra!  And even if you did, there’s no way she’d go out with you.”

 

“Ahh, Gage, are you jealous?  Remember when I told you I’d talked to her, well after she read about us being injured in the fire, she called me up.  I’m tellin’ ya, we’re going out to dinner on Friday night.”

 

“Yeah, I bet.  Give it up, Chet.”

 

“Besides, Gage, why would you care anyway?  You have Annie, remember?”

 

“Of course I remember!  And that’s not the point.  It’s just that you wouldn’t know how to treat a girl like Sandra.  Even if you did know her, which you don’t . . .”

 

Hank stood quietly in the corner of the hospital room and surveyed his crew as they listened to this verbal ‘ping pong’ match between the Phantom and his Pigeon.  With a slow smile, he remembered back to the first half of this conversation held in the station over a week ago.  The banter sounded the same, although the men looked a little worse for the wear.  As he looked at each of his men, Hank went over their injuries in his mind, happy to see how much better they were. 

 

Chet leaned against the wall, his arm held firmly in place with a plaster cast.  Though he sported several bandages, he looked very much his cocky self.  Marco reclined in one of the hospital’s famous plastic chairs, and although it was obvious that he was less than comfortable, the Hispanic looked much healthier than when he’d been released a few days ago.   It had been a great relief to everyone when he was sent home with a clean bill of health.  

 

In the corner, Roy was seated in a wheelchair, his leg still heavily bandaged.  Although his injury had required surgery, the prognosis was good for a full recovery.

 

Only Mike and Johnny were still residing at Rampart.  After major surgery, both men were taking some time to heal, but Dr. Brackett and Dr. Morton were confident that they would return to full duty.

 

It was an extremely grateful group of men that were gathered in the hospital room, and their enthusiasm was growing a bit loud.  Hank seemed to be the only one who was silent throughout the conversation, and Roy watched him guardedly. 

 

The senior paramedic was well aware of how upset his captain had been when he thought one of his men had perished, and it appeared that he wasn’t totally past the emotions that notion had wrought.  Hopeful that the camaraderie of the crew would help to overcome the captain’s fears, he watched in awe as Chet continued to string Johnny along. 

 

The sound of someone clearing his throat brought the conversation to an abrupt halt.  In the doorway stood Dr. Brackett, one hand still holding the door open, the other firmly clasped around a medical chart.

 

“Gentlemen.  I’ve been receiving some complaints.”

 

“Ahh, come on, Doc.  We were just visiting.”

 

Johnny attempted to win Brackett over with his contagious grin, but it appeared that it was having no affect.  Only Roy, from his vantage point in the corner, could see the quiet shaking of the doctor’s shoulders.

 

“I know you are, Johnny, but you’ll just have to keep it down.  Maybe I should have some of these visitors come back another time.”

 

With a quick nod, Johnny immediately agreed.

 

“Yeah, Doc, how about Chet?   Maybe he could come back and see us Friday night.”

 

With a choking sound, Hank broke into laughter.  His pent up emotions broke out in a fit of hilarity, and everyone joined in, even Dr. Brackett.  Roy watched with an enormous sense of relief.  Cap was going to be all right, they all were.  It wouldn’t be long before they were together again at Station 51 the way they should be, and Roy breathed a silent thank-you.

 

Across the room, Hank swiped at his eyes as his laughter died away.  He looked once more at his men gathered around the two hospital beds.  For a moment, he thought back to the career decision he’d recently been forced to make.  It was suddenly amazing to him how close he’d come to losing this close-knit group of men, first when he contemplated leaving 51’s, and then when a fire almost tore the group apart.  With an inner sigh, Hank recalled a conversation he’d had with his wife only weeks before.

 

“Honey, being the Captain of Station 51, well, it doesn’t feel like I’m just doing a job.  Those guys are like my family, and working with them is a pleasure.  I know I would get along with another group of guys just fine, but it wouldn’t be the same.  You just never know when you’ll get a group that ‘clicks’ the way this one does.  I’m going to just enjoy it for awhile.”

 

Now, as he watched the group together, Hank breathed a grateful thank-you that everyone was safe and would soon be back to work.  And then, for just a moment, he wondered if any of his men ever thought to do the same.   

 

*****End*****

 

Thanks so much to Kenda for the beta-reading and suggestions, and Audrey for the help in posting my story!   You two are great!

 

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