The Best of Intentions
copyright 2012, Enfleurage
Chapter 5: Backup
Gunshot victims were the worst, especially when they were probably very nice people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the very possible worst time. Very nice people with incredibly bad timing, like a couple of college students who left a party to buy some more beer and walked into the middle of an armed robbery.
And they bled a lot, especially when the bullet damaged a major blood vessel.
And for a change, it wasn't the girl doing all the crying this time; it was the boyfriend because they were trying to keep the girl from dying. Successfully as it turned out. They'd hauled ass to Rampart with two large bore IVs of lactated Ringer's running wide open, both he and Roy working on her the entire trip. Brackett never looked happy when they brought him a patient in this condition but she was still alive when he took her up to surgery, which was way better than either of them had thought it would go.
It wasn't the worst call of the shift – and damn, he knew better to even think something like that when the shift still had almost ten hours left in it - but it sure was the messiest so far.
Roy was quiet, well quieter than usual, as they scrubbed the blood from under their fingernails in the men's room at Rampart. Even with the institutional soap that he'd swear doubled as a paint stripper, there was still a tint to his fingernails that just wasn't washing away.
"You want to get some coffee or try to catch a ride back to the Squad?" Roy finally said after five full minutes of silence.
Gage exhaled hard, thinking, thinking, thinking; still studying his fingernails.
"Coffee, then catch a ride."
Roy was using a paper towel to try to blot the blood from his shirt but was just spreading the reddish-brown tinted blot onto a larger patch of blue. They were both definitely going to have to soak their uniforms when they got back to the Station.
"We might get lucky. Scotty probably needs to get some information for his report."
They were and he did.
Even luckier, they'd managed to sit on the couch in the staff lounge for almost ten whole minutes drinking coffee and doing absolutely nothing while Scotty finished getting the information from the boyfriend that he hadn't obtained at the scene. In contrast to the Emergency Room outside, the staff lounge was a little oasis of calm. It seemed everyone was too busy working to take a break and Gage enjoyed the chance to get his head out of the last run and into the here and now. It also gave him a few moments to try to remember how many clean uniform shirts he had in his locker as he watched his partner pick at the dirty red-brown stain on his left sleeve.
"Hydrogen Peroxide will get that stain out, you know," Dixie said as she came in for a quick jolt of caffeine.
"Yeah, but will it get us a ride back to our vehicle?" he said, stretching tired shoulder and arm muscles. "You working nights these days, Dix?"
"Seems that way," she said with a smile before heading back into the controlled chaos of the Emergency Room.
Gage squinted after her and then turned to his partner and opened his mouth.
"Don't ask," Roy said before he got a word out. "If she wanted to be clear, she would have been clear."
"He's right," Scotty said from the doorway, all creaking leather holster and authority. "You guys ready to go?"
"Oh yeah," he said, suddenly restless and anxious to get back to the Squad. "Night's still young. Lots of people doing stupid things that'll earn them a visit from us yet to come."
Roy elbowed him in the ribs and gave him a 'look' as they followed Scotty from the lounge.
The Squad was still sitting, intact and apparently unbothered in the parking lot adjacent to the liquor store that had been robbed. Before they'd left, they'd hurriedly packed up their equipment and Scotty had made sure it was secure before he'd made his way to Rampart. Still and all, they checked it over; partly because of the worry of a Charlie ass kicking if it had been damaged in any way and partly the worry that someone had ripped off some essential piece of equipment while the Squad had been left locked up, but otherwise untended.
The liquor store had closed for the night after the robbery attempt and the parking lot was dark, only a few scattered cars parked near to the all night Laundromat.
Roy started the engine, let out a quiet sigh of relief and then reached for the radio handset. "LA, Squad 51 available."
There was a delay in Dispatch's response, not terribly long but just long enough that their eyes met in silent 'oh shit' communication.
"Squad 51, assist Station 36 at their incident. Pacific Telephone Company building at S. Main and West Lomita. Pacific Telephone Company building at S. Main and West Lomita. Time out 2245."
Roy confirmed and Johnny didn't even try to hide the sinking feeling in his stomach. He knew that address. He knew that location. He knew people who worked at that location.
"Roy, that place is full of electrical equipment…"
"Yeah," Roy agreed as he activated the Squad's lights and siren.
"…and insulated copper cable, and you know what that's like when it burns."
"PVC wrapped," Roy said, eyes straight ahead. "Which'll turn into chlorine, among other things, when it burns. If there's a fire, I'll be glad we refilled all our bottles earlier."
"If there's a…."Gage trailed off and considered his partner's point. "Well, okay, you're right. He didn't actually say…"
If he'd thought he'd lost that point, it was moot the second they turned from W. Sepulveda onto S. Main St. Even at a distance, they could clearly see the light truck, the confluence of LA County FD apparatuses, the blur of rotating red lights and the smoke.
"Well, shit," he said quietly.
"You said it, partner," Roy agreed, just as quietly.
On the other side of the throng of Engines and Trucks, the intersection of S. Main and W. Lomita was almost completely shut down. Through the red glare of LA County FD and law enforcement vehicle lights, Gage thought he saw the two southern lanes on W. Lomita moving slowly, directed by a phalanx of police officers. He counted the Engines that he could see, and the Trucks, and the Squads.
"Who's here?" Roy asked
"Squad 51, Battalion 14," squawked over the radio and Gage grabbed for it.
"Squad 51," he acknowledged, leaning forward and squinting through the windshield, wondering if there was anyone inside, wondering if any of the guys he knew from the bowling league worked the evening shift. Now that they'd cleared the outer police-enforced perimeter, he could see the flames leaping angrily from the doors and windows of the first floor and the front of the second floor of that little fortress of a building. A tangle of hoses led directly into the main entrance on S. Main, Engine and truck companies ringed the building streaming water at it and a Light Truck was set up just inside the entrance to the parking lot on their right.
"Squad 51, set up a triage area in the Northwest quadrant, rear parking lot near Engine 51 and stand by for further assignment."
He saw Roy frown. 'Further assignment' probably meant search and rescue. He hoped like hell there were no employees still inside that building breathing in that smoke.
Roy turned into the parking lot and carefully navigated through the Engines and Trucks parked in what might seem a haphazard fashion but which were actually positioned in a way that made sense to him. Most of the time.
"Squads 22 and 43 are here," Gage said. Squad 36 was presumably there too, but he didn't see them.
The drove past both Squads - the doors for all of the compartments on both were wide open but he didn't see any of the paramedics – and found an open spot near their own Engine three-quarters the way towards the back of the parking lot.
It was a little smoky when he climbed out of the Squad. He took a cautious sniff, waiting for an irritation that didn't come and then grabbed his turnout coat from the compartment and with Roy, begin spreading a yellow blanket and arranging their equipment. Then he took a good look around.
To his left, Station 43's Engine and Truck seemed to be working the northeast corner of the building. They'd passed Engine 38 on the way in and its crew was working the midpoint of the building with a 2.5" hitting the first floor. Truck 86 was covering the northwest corner, its hoses fighting back the flames from the second floor. And Engine 51…
He looked at the charged lines running from Engine 51 and followed them with his eyes to a group of firefighters in the distance, none of whom worked on 51's A shift.
"Yeah," Roy agreed, as he tightened his chin strap. "Let's go find out."
They jogged the short distance to Mike Stoker, who was standing with one hand resting on the panel, the other hand holding a HT, gaze moving from the gauges to the firefighters at the other end of the lines to the burning central office building.
"Hey there, Mike." He flashed a big smile. "How'd it start? How long has it been burning? Anyone inside? And, hey, where's the rest of our Engine crew?"
He said it nice and casually but Stoker scowled and looked away, back toward the building.
And just about when he was getting warmed up for a couple of probing questions and maybe, just maybe, some color commentary, the HT in Stoker's hand crackled to life and a familiar, slightly nasal voice stopped him before the first word left his already opened mouth.
"Battalion 14, this is HT 51."
"Go ahead, HT 51," Chief Miller said almost immediately.
"The third floor is clear. We are beginning search of the fourth floor. Be advised that the northwest staircase is now unstable and unsafe for egress."
Stoker swore – a nice, quietly intense "Damn" – but it carried a lot more impact from Stoker than it would from anyone else. Gage looked at him and then at Roy, feeling uncomfortably like he was missing key information.
"10-4, 51. Alternate points of egress are the staircase in the southwest corner or aerial ladder. Trucks 86 and 43 are available on the north side of the building, Trucks 28 and 106, the west. Maintain radio check-in every five minutes."
"10-4. HT 51 out."
Well, that was… Gage turned back to Stoker.
"Are there civilians still in there?" Roy asked.
Roy sounded worried, but it wasn't clear if he was worried about possible trapped employees, worried about Engine 51's crew already inside searching for someone, or worried about having to conduct an additional Search and Rescue mission. Of course, since it was Roy, he was probably worrying about all three at the same time.
"The evening shift's out," Stoker said. "Fire started in the cable vault. One of the employees tried to put it out." His shrug at the flames conveyed his opinion of that effort. "36s was first on scene, went right in but by that time the whole basement was involved." He scowled their shared opinion of basement fires. "By the time we got here as part of the second alarm, the fire had already spread through the cable conduits to the first floor."
"So all the employees are out?" Gage asked, trying to remember if he actually knew the shifts that Cleveland and Renner worked.
"They are now. The guy who tried to put out the fire ended up with second-degree burns; 43's paramedics took him in. The guys from Squad 36 ate a little too much smoke getting two other Telco guys out and ended up taking themselves and their patients in to Rampart. 22s got here when we did, and their Squad went in after a missing employee on the third floor. Ferrara brought him out with pretty bad smoke inhalation."
"Wait," Gage said, waving a hand to stop the Stoker version of a briefing. "Wait a minute. You said Ferrara brought him out. Not Kelleher and Ferrara brought him out."
"Kind of my point, Johnny." Stoker's face once again set in grim lines. "They got separated inside. Ferrara said it was like a huge maze, lots of racks, pitch black and easy to get lost in there. Plus the Pac Tel guys weren't sure if the missing guy was in the frame on the third floor or in the switch on the fourth floor."
His heart starting thumping a little harder than usual and he took a steadying breath. "So where's Kelleher?"
Stoker's face twitched and he shook his head.
"Don't know. Ferrara went straight to his Cap, told him that he'd lost contact with Kelleher inside. They both had HTs but Kelleher wasn't answering and the guy Ferrara found was in respiratory distress, so he had to get him out right away. Captain Wozniak told Ferrara to take the vic to Rampart and got the okay from the Chief to take a search team inside."
Stoker took a deep breath and Gage knew he wasn't going to like what was coming, and based on the way Roy's shoulders sagged, he knew it too.
"They went in, reported in a few times while they were searching the third floor and then they went silent. No radio contact."
"How long ago?" Roy asked.
He noticed Roy starting to pat his pockets to check that he had all his gear, which was a part of his normal routine to mentally and physically prepare himself to go inside. Assuming the Chief gave them the order. Gage started checking his own pockets.
"A bit over twenty minutes since they lost contact," Stoker said quietly enough that they almost didn't hear him.
Gage mouthed the word 'shit' this time, for emphasis, but Roy's expression froze and then started to shift from grim determination to alarm.
"Don't tell me," Roy said.
"Yeah," Stoker said. "They are."
"How long ago?" Roy asked again.
Now he was completely lost.
"About fifteen minutes," Stoker said. "They've cleared the third floor so the guys from 22s have to be on four."
It came together in his head with an accompanying buzzing sound, and Gage dropped his face into his hands.
"Shit," he said, voice partially muffled. "Thirty Rescue Squads in the county and we're sending our engine crews on Search and Rescue."
He felt rather than actually saw the hard look from Stoker and as he raised his head, he saw Roy shaking his head, lips pressed into a flat line.
"Okay," he raised his hands in supplication. "That totally came out wrong. You know that if it was me or Roy in there, there's no one I'd want coming in more than Cap and you guys, right? You know that, Mike." It wasn't flying. "Oh, come on, you do so know that. You guys have saved my ass more times than I really like to think about. I'm just wondering why the county didn't call in more squads."
"Cap took Chet and Marco inside, right?" Roy said quietly."Who did 22's Captain take in with him?"
"Ostrander and van der Heijden," Stoker said. "I know. Four guys from 22s, including Kelleher, and three guys from 51s doesn't add but that's what was available and the plan was that Ferrara or the guys from 43s would be back around now. We already had three squads on scene and from what Cap said, all the other squads in the whole area were tied up on calls, including you guys."
"Well, we're here now," Roy said flatly."We can meet them on the fourth floor. Search'll go faster with five of us."
"Cap said the staircase was unsafe for egress," Stoker countered. "That means it's unsafe for access too. The Chief told you to set up a triage station and stand by for further assignment. You stand by."
Roy turned toward the building and just looked at it. Gage did too and then spun back to Stoker.
"What's their exit strategy? Now that the staircase is out, how are they getting out of there when they find the guys from 22s, or if it goes bad? The truck companies?"
"You heard the Chief," Stoker said. "There's a staircase in the southwest corner, a Snorkel on the south side, Ladder Trucks on the rest." He shifted his jaw. "The backup is the roof if they need it and they've got ropes, of course."
Gage studied the building, the odd arrangements of windows and the long span of concrete between the second and fourth floors without a hint of glass. Ropes weren't much help if you couldn't actually get out through some point of egress and axes weren't going to cut one in a concrete wall.
"Okay," Roy said. "Cap's going to need us to be set up down here. Probably a safe bet 22s has some injuries. Let's get the Stokes ready in case they have someone who can't be helped down the stairs or ladders. O2, compresses, splints, anything he might call for."
"Air bottles," Stoker said. "Our guys should still be good but 22's has to be sucking fumes and Kelleher is probably completely out."
"22s and 43s should have some we could borrow," Gage said. "I'll get 'em."
Running to the other squads was a good excuse to burn off a little nervous energy. Being on scene at a major fire and waiting was not something that he did well. Either send me in or give me someone to treat, he thought and then gave himself a mental slap. Okay, give me something to do, he revised; sounds like there have been plenty of people that needed help already.
Squad 22 had two full spare bottles and so did Squad 43, but he left those alone because Shafer and DeAngelo were probably on their way back from Rampart and might need them. Instead, he placed Squad 22's bottles in the triage area and ran over to Engine 22 to chat up their Engineer.
Bobby Harrison, like most Engineers he'd met in his career, was watching everything and had already figured out what Gage was doing. He had a spare bottle waiting for him.
"Get my guys out of there," Harrison said, the tendons in his neck practically vibrating.
"We will, Bobby," he said. Twenty minutes inside without any word, inside this fire, was not a good thing. "Our guys will find them and get them out of there and Roy and I will take good care of them. I promise."
With the three bottles he'd borrowed, plus one from the back of Squad 51, they had everyone covered. At least until an unsmiling Roy told him to put their spare back.
"Johnny, who knows how long we'll be here or whether we'll need to go inside. We're going to need our own backups."
"That leaves us short," he protested. "We've got seven guys in there, Roy, at least four who are either out or running out of air. We need four bottles. You or I can always borrow one from 43s if we need it."
Roy gave in and sent a worried look towards the burning building and then glanced at his wristwatch.
"They're two minutes past check-in," he said, lifting his own HT to check that it was still on the right channel.
"Two minutes, Roy," he said with an impatient exhale. "You know what it's like when you're inside searching, focused on what you're doing; you lose track of time. Plus, it's pitch black and smoky in there, which makes it even more of a hassle to read a watch. They're fine, they're just busy."
Right about now would be a good time for Cap to chime in on the HT and prove him right.